Adeela Warley: The power of 'no'

The word 'no', when used wisely, lets you focus on what's really important

Adeela Warley
Adeela Warley

Saying "no" sounds and is negative. But it can be positive and powerful too.

Much has been written about the power of saying "no", from scientific papers to self-help books explaining how human psychology drives behaviour.

The journalist William Leith has written about the freedom of replying in the negative and the necessity of saying "no" in our fast-moving world, where an instant response is expected and "yes" is our default.

In the charity world it is tempting to try to please everyone. Communicators in small charities are often lone workers, trying to be helpful while juggling multiple demands and keeping everything on track.

Stopping to think strategically feels like a luxury, yet every decision about time and resource needs to be directed to where it can have the most impact. 

Clarifying what your charity wants to achieve, the best way to get there and who you need in your corner will help guide you through the maelstrom of opportunity.

For example, the equality think tank the Runnymede Trust created a yes/no checklist to help filter out media requests that would distract from its core messages and feed unhelpful race narratives.

The women’s empowerment charity A Mile In Her Shoes had to say no to supporters donating old running clothes when participants explained the negative impact it had on their self-esteem. 

Clarity of purpose gives you the confidence to say "no" to press opportunities that distract, "no" to partners that don’t share your values and "no" to committed supporters when your beneficiaries tell you to change track. As a colleague said to me recently, a strong "no" is worth much more than a weak "yes".

Adeela Warley is chief executive of CharityComms

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