How to Say 'No' Without Looking Like a Meanie

noSchool's been in session where I live for not even two months, so of course we're already being inundated with requests from friends and family members to shell out for whatever fundraiser their kid's school is doing. Mind you, we just got done hitting up the grandparents to buy expensive cookie dough and popcorn for our own kid's school, but exactly one person who approached us for their child's fundraiser volunteered that she'd reciprocate.

And on top of all that, it's fundraising walk season; hardly a week goes by that someone doesn't post a plea for donations to their favorite cause on Facebook or via email.

And then there are the home sales parties, about which the less said, the better.

So how do you turn these well-meaning people down? Maybe you're broke, maybe you hate getting approached during the workday, maybe you have your own causes you support ... so how do you say "no thank you" and not feel like a jerk? 


For answers, I turned to the icons of modern manners: Miss Manners and the Emily Post Institute. Both have similar advice for the office solicitation: go to your boss and ask for a policy to be put in place that everyone feels comfortable with. This applies both to the fundraising sales and the practice of collecting a set amount for shower or wedding gifts for co-workers. It's best to come up with a draft policy and meet with your boss along with like-minded co-workers, so you don't come off as a complainer or Dwight Schrute-style killjoy.

What if your boss doesn't go for your idea, or heaven forbid, the worst offender is your boss? Calmly explain that you budget a set amount annually for charitable donations and would be happy to learn more about the school/pet rescue/triathlon they are trying to raise money for to consider it for inclusion in your annual giving. Most schools would much rather get a check for $30 than have to sell you overpriced wrapping paper for the same amount.

When it comes to soliciting money for gifts for co-workers, Miss Manners and the Emily Post crew suggest you should simply decline, without guilt, if the recipient is someone you don't know well. If it's a friend, give what you can afford, again, without guilt. And perhaps suggest that life events be noted with a card that everyone signs instead of a gift.

As for those in-home sales parties? The rule I have always followed (which probably came from Miss Manners in the first place) is that if the host isn't someone who would otherwise invite you to their home, you're absolutely in the clear to blow it off. If it's a friend, and you would just rather not go for whatever reason, Miss Manners suggests telling the person, "I prefer not to shop that way, but I'd love to get together purely socially." 

And if someone keeps clogging your email and Facebook inbox with invites to online "cooking equipment which rhymes with Hampered Jeff" parties? Which means, essentially, "buy this stuff so I can make money but I'm not even going to be bothered to tidy up my house or feed you in exchange for your spending your time and money"? Not only are you in the clear to ignore, I think it's fair to block them from your Facebook. At least that's what I did.


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