Just Say No


A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.” – Gandhi

In the charity universe, we all spend a lot of time trying to convince people to say yes. Yes to donations, yes to partnering, yes to programs and policies. And when opportunities come our way, our instinct is to always say yes, even if those opportunities are not the most strategic. We must all do a better job at saying NO. Here’s a few tips to help:

1. Have Conviction
Have conviction of your strategy and theory of change. Make sure you nail this down. Flexibility is fine, but in the words of George Harrison “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”

2. Use Extreme Criteria
Separate a good from a great opportunity. As Greg McKeon notes in his HBR article, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less “Think of what happens to our closets when we use the broad criteria: “Is there a chance that I will wear this someday in the future?” The closet becomes cluttered with clothes we rarely wear. If we ask, “Do I absolutely love this?” then we will be able to eliminate the clutter and have space for something better.”

3. Prioritize Like Warren Buffet
Warren Buffet has a great strategy for prioritization. (1) List the top 25 things you want / need to do, (2) Pick your top 5, (3) Make a plan around your top 5 (4) Marry your opportunities, and (5) Avoid everything else at all costs.

4. Stay Disciplined
Buffet’s point on avoiding everything else that is not a top-5 priority at all costs is for good reason. In How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins notes that one of the key reasons that some of the greatest companies fail is due to “the undisciplined pursuit of more.”

So go out there in the world and just say no.


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