There have been some organizational growing pains at a non-profit I am loosely associated with. This coincided with an article about the power of “no” as an organizational tool. The article seemed relevant to the organization and the on-list discussion so I wrote an email to the list.
From the The Power of ‘No’ article:
It’s quite natural that we want to please everyone when we can. But, we can’t. And most people figure that fact out over time — certainly the successful ones do..
Of course, saying “no” as a de facto response to anything or anyone new, or saying it randomly, arrogantly, or with a lack of respect for the recipient, can be worse than not saying it. “No” is a powerful tool, and can be — and frequently is — terribly misused sometimes. It’s critical that you know what you want to say “no” to, and why. It’s critical that you are polite and respectful in saying something that your recipient may not like.
I’ve been involved with a number of organizations over the years: activist groups, rescue groups, online groups, offline groups. You is a very successful group when measured against many other groups. What you are doing and accomplishing is pretty amazing. The fact that you have hundreds of volunteers and an actual management structure is very unusual for a group where the leadership is primarily composed of volunteers.
Look at what you’ve done.
You are self-sustaining. The leadership is not primarily funding the group out of their own pockets. Donations and sales cover most of your expenses. This is a significant accomplishment. Many other rescue groups rely on the leadership to not just provide leadership and work but also provide a significant portion of the funding. The board should be commended for managing to cover costs without relying on individuals to make up shortfalls.
You are is respected by local law enforcement and SPCA groups. <snip details>
You are is a national leader in animal rescue. <snip details>
Every organization is going to have people who disagree with decisions. The trap that many volunteer organizations fall into is that they are so dependent on a few volunteers that they accept all sorts of bad behaviour, politicking and troublemaking just for that extra pair of hands. In the long run, you end up with a few volunteers that drive any new volunteers away. I have not seen that happen with this organization. Yes, there are some people who have chosen to leave. This is not a reflection on either them or the organization, just because they don’t work well together doesn’t mean either party is bad or wrong, just that the two don’t get along.
The loss of volunteers is always a challenge, particularly when those volunteers are leaving because they are unhappy with the organization. The thing to remember, though, is that this is a natural part of an organizations’ lifespan. People are going to change and move on. That happens. This does not mean that the organization itself is on its deathbed, rather it’s actually a sign of a healthy organization.
You have done an amazing amount of work in a short period of time. <snip details>
It is very normal to feel sad about losing volunteers and for that feeling to lead people to reflect on the organization and it’s goals and progress. As you’re reflecting on that, though, please remember not to let the negatives outweigh the positives. There are a lot of amazing things all of the volunteers have accomplished. And none of that would have happened without the vision of the leadership team, and their ability to say no when appropriate albeit unpopular.
Generally, I just wanted to point out that while there was some stress and drama going on that this wasn’t necessarily a sign that the organization was falling apart and dying as some people had claimed. This kind of thing is actually part of a healthy group dynamic. Also, that all too many rescue groups fall into the trap of letting one or two people drive the organization into the ground because they are always there to pick up a project but start drama and screaming bloody murder if anyone in the organization says “no” to them.
Well. Apparently my email was scathing. And I have nothing better to do than dismiss the work of hard working volunteers. And who the hell do I think I am anyway. Oh and I don’t know anything about the group.
It strikes me as ironic that the two volunteers who are most angry about the group and who feel like their voices are not being heard are the ones that attacked me for that email. They think they are not being listened to, but how much are they really listening to what others are saying? Clearly, only important people are worth listening to as both of the replies demanded I explain myself, who I was and why I felt that my input was wanted or needed on this issue.
Oh, and the lurkers support me in email!
Seriously, there’s no use in engaging with either of them. They don’t really care who I am or what my explanation is. What they really want is to demonstrate that they are right and the rest of the group is wrong and if they are “allowed” to flounce off and not given everything they want then the organization will fall apart. I don’t believe that. My email wasn’t to or for them, it was for the other people watching the drama who may have been starting to feel icky about the organization because of the accusations that these two were throwing around.
I am kinda amused at the scathing email comment, though. Really, I can write scathing emails. This one doesn’t even make the list of “mildly peeved.”