Women – Say No To Philanthropy
Yes, I am advocating that women should SOMETIMES say no to helping non-profit organizations or to assisting others. This includes family. Why? Because we need to draw boundaries for our own survival.
Let’s be honest; as women, we have a hard time saying no when someone asks for help.
I care about my family, my friends, my community, the people I work with, the environment–the list goes on. We feel, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We care, and it’s a great thing. As women we bring emotions to the workplace. There’s good and there’s bad about it. The good comes from the passion, the multitasking and the different perspectives that we contribute. In fact, science supports the fact that women are better at multitasking. (1999 Journal of Neuroscience)
I’ve always enjoyed this song from Oklahoma because I have an automatic “yes” ready to spring from my lips whenever someone asks for help. This is where the bad comes in. Whereas a man’s brain is structured in a way that helps them compartmentalize things, women are not so fortunate. We feel guilty if we say no to others. We find it hard to separate emotions from business decisions.
When should we say no to our urge to help? Let me count the ways:
- You’re overwhelmed with juggling all the tasks already on your plate and you don’t have time to add more to your plate. Why are you sabotaging yourself?
- Your family needs you now. Our personal life should trump all other things. If your children, spouse or parents are going through difficult times, focus on what’s truly important.
- You’re being asked because you’re always willing to step up and no one else wants the tedious work. STOP! Does the request make sense as a part of your life. Is it something you would enjoy doing? Is it something that is a natural part of your existing philanthropic efforts. Or are you just being used or taken for granted.
- Are you volunteering just to build a resume but you don’t have real passion for the cause? Find something else you believe in and help that cause instead. It will give you more self fulfillment, credibility and you will make a real difference. Don’t shortchange the non profit organization by being a resume builder. There are too many of them out there already.
- It’s not a true need but a lazy request. This usually comes from family or friends. Judge the merit of the request before you automatically say yes.
- You can’t deliver. There is nothing wrong with saying NO when you can’t do the job adequately due to time or ability. You will be more respected if you are honest and say “I would love to help but my schedule is too hectic right now. Can you check back with me in a month for the next fundraiser.” It is better to say no than to say yes and never following through. Doing something half-heartedly hurts everyone.
Your time is valuable. You need to respect your self and your needs. We will be able to manage our “work/life balance” better if we give ourselves permission to say no.
Saying no to helping others does not make you a bad person. You just need to be very clear in your mind about priorities (including yourself) so that you can say no without guilt and without fear of being disliked. If you stretch yourself out too thin, you will snap. If this happens, you can no longer help anyone at all.
My Story: Confessions of someone who couldn’t say no.
My name is Kim and I am a serial volunteer who went from charity to charity for years without saying no. My parents taught me from childhood to make philanthropy a part of my life. Our family’s habits of helping others sometimes even at a detriment to ourselves stretched back generations. I did it all whenever I was asked. From Meals on Wheels and Headstart to college fraternal organizations and homeowner associations.
Year by year, I kept adding more responsibilities because people asked me to. I believe in doing things well if I commit to anything so I was putting in some serious hours to support my various non-profit activities outside of work and family.
At the height of this insanity, I was putting in long hours at work as the sole breadwinner, running five boards as president, worked as a director for twelve other boards and juggling my family responsibilities. All my personal free time slowly disappeared due to the demands of volunteering . The more successful we were at each non-profit, the more time it required. When I recruited more board members, I just had to work harder because there were more people to manage.
Then one day, I snapped. I woke up and realized I had nothing left to give. All my energy and passion had run out. I had used up my reserve. I was so busy that I took away the personal time I needed to power down and get in touch with myself. The monthly personal day had disappeared. The daily half hour snuggle with a fun book got subsumed. My two weeks of vacation became a series of back-to-back meetings.
I met with all my boards and explained that I needed a sabbatical to recover. Realizing this was not enough, I resigned from every board within thirty days. By not taking care of myself first, I had done a disservice to my non-profits causes.
Looking back I would have done things differently.
It wasn’t easy breaking the addiction to saying yes. I had to spend time in front of a mirror and practice. I slowly learned to break a lifetime of habit and unconscious behaviors.
I’ve been back in the volunteer world for over ten years now. It’s not easy to say no and I still struggle internally. I do care deeply about others but I donate my time with careful planning. I only commit myself to a maximum of three non profits. Sometimes it’s one. Life is not a race. When I have personal issues that requires more personal time, I tell the boards up front. They can make a decision whether I’m valuable enough for them to give me that time away or not. At the end of life, I will be more comforted by the memories I built with my family and the life I lived rather than wishing I had spent more hours in committee meetings or soliciting donations.
The choice to say no is up to you. Just make sure that you value and take care of yourself first before you take care of others. It’s not selfishness but survival of self.
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