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At home or at the office, you can transform a “no” decision to a “yes” by following this advice.

Cicadas. It was 2020, and I was already getting nervous about the every 17-year invasion of cicadas these nasty insects, due in the Washington, DC area in 2021. I was more than nervous. I was panicked.

I introduced the idea of a screen-in deck as my solution to battle the (perceived) impending cicada doom originally in 2004.  I was told no.  Without asking for additional clarifications or specifics, I accepted the answer. But, each year I counted down as we moved from 2004, and each year was one year closer to the next cicada brood.

Preparing for the next invasion, I brought up the topic again in 2020. Same response:  no.

But wait. In the ensuing years, I have become a great fan of managing up, the idea that you can use your influence to reach your goals without the authority to make the final decision. Can the managing up skill be advantageous professionally AND personally?

“Wait!” I said. “You are giving me a no without details. Let’s find the real costs, the options, the real long-term impacts of getting a screen-in deck.” With that the request for more information before making a final decision began a very different path about when and how we might make my cicada-proof dream a 2021 reality.

Susan Sanow used her managing up skills to shield her from the cicadas. These same principles apply to your workplace goals.

I think volunteer directors, managers and coordinators see things that are necessary and incredibly impactful for our programs. Often without budget authority or even budget knowledge, we are told NO… even when the budget decision-makers have no idea of the costs, details and long-term impacts on programs and volunteers. “No” may be easier (dare I say “lazier”?) than asking questions, sharing the vision, getting logistical or financial details  or even giving the volunteer manager credit for finding new ways to achieve volunteer goals.

“I want to have an off-site storage unit for my fall and spring program supplies. My boss keeps telling me no!” What can you say to help you get serious consideration or even a yes? Don’t just accept the noBe empowered, be strategic, be an advocate for your volunteers!  Present options and solutions with prices, contract requirements, options. Questions with researched answers makes an immediate “no” less likely.

Sometimes the negative roadblock is purely financial. That is a very real “no”. That is why you need to understand your organization’s budget development cycle. If a new budget year begins January 1, budgets are likely to be discussed and developed months before you hear an approved number. It is during that development time when you need to speak up with your need and strategy.

I want to add a staff member to the volunteer department. My boss keeps telling me no.” Instead of accepting a no, ask with a drafted job description and salary estimate! With a new hire, what can an additional person take from your plate and what can you take from your boss’ plate?  What are the financial implications? Think salary, benefits, space, overhead calculations and calendar. Any great idea may need patience. An idea in August, may not even be in consideration unless you develop a budget next March for a July 1 fiscal year start.

Whatever your question that keeps getting a no, try it out for yourself or on others before sharing it with the boss. Draft a document that shows your vision, strategy, planning, finances, options and commitment to your solution. It might take multiple tries, but don’t let a no be a no forever. It’s just a bump in the road. Let’s manage up working to get to a yes.

And I did survive the Cicadas of 2021 while safely sitting in my screened-in deck. Thinking ahead, I am even ready for 2038, too.


Susan Sanow, CVA, has spent much of her career working to improve the capacity of the nonprofit sector in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. For the post 10+ years, she has been a part of Volunteer Fairfax (VF). She began as a VF Board member, and temporarily joined the staff for a 5-week assignment temporary assignment in 2011. She never returned to the board. As VF’s Special Projects Manager, Susan currently leads the volunteer management educational programs.

Susan spent 20+ years at the Center for Nonprofit Advancement (Washington, D.C.) where she had a wide array of responsibilities including membership, communications, awards programs and nonprofit outreach and education. She is an experienced meeting facilitator and trainer in nonprofit and volunteer management. Susan has presented educational programs for local area nonprofits, statewide conferences, and national meetings.

Susan holds a B.S. in Consumer-Community Services from Michigan State University. She became a Certified Volunteer Administrator in 2020. She joined the board of the Northern  Virginia Association of Volunteer Administrators in 2021.







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