Learning to Say No – When a Business has to Draw the Line

We always want more from a relationship - no matter what type of relationship it is. In terms of a community business relationship, there often comes a time when the business partner decides that there is a limit on the amount of time, money, goods, services or resources they are able to offer a partnership. There comes a time when - despite the best intentions - they need to draw the line and know when to say 'no'.

This by no means should indicate any major problems in the partnership, or that the partnership is going to end.

What it does mean is there is a recognition that any partnership has boundaries and that it is better to recognise where you can stop and remain comfortable supporting a partnership than to continue on and get to the stage where an over-commitment results in an end to the partnership altogether.

It is about finding the right balance so that all partners are comfortable and committed.

Reasons to Say No

There are a number of reasons why a business may say "no" to certain community business partnership activities. For example:
  • Lack of time.
  • Lack of resources/goods. (A rush on certain items, delays in other items coming into stock or arriving from the supplier, or your equipment being booked up by others can all contribute to a lack of resources or goods available for some partnership models).
  • Lack of staff (because you're busy or because of illness, resignations, retirements or holidays).
  • Lack of cash. 
  • Too many approaches for assistance.
If you recognise that your business is feeling the pinch in delivering on your partnership obligations, then it is time to talk to your community partner. A good, strong and vibrant community business partnership will allow for the general ups and downs - or differences in priorities -  associated with any partnership.

Some of the steps you should consider when talking to your community group partner about these issues are:

  • Being open in explaining what is happening and why it is happening.

    • Be up-front about how this is going to affect your partnership and for how long.
  • Talk to your partner.
    • Sit down with your community group partner face-to-face to discuss ways that you can alter the current arrangements to ensure the partnership continues.

  • Reaffirm your commitment to the partnership.
    • Make sure your partnership partner is not left in any doubt as to your business’ continuing commitment to your arrangement.

  • Emphasise the change is not forever (a strong partnership is also fluid and will change to cater for the changing needs and situations of all partners).
  • Discuss with them what can be done, not just what can't be done.
    • Talk to your community group partner about what can be done to make up for any shortfalls or delays the problems may cause and see if there are alternatives that can be put in place to address the situation.
    • They could include:
      • Not holding meetings as frequently for a little while.
      • Cutting back on services temporarily.
      • Delaying activities dependent on staff until numbers have increased.
      • Altering the partnership's nature for a set period of time - for example, halving the amount of volunteer time available for a period of three months. Following that time, partners can review.
Sometimes a community organisation will outgrow its business supporters and will need to search for bigger businesses to provide extra services or support. It is important that all partners acknowledge when the business partner is not in a position to take up a larger opportunity. The jobs then are to ensure that the business remains as a supporter in either a similar role or a scaled-back role, and that the community group seeks out an additional partner and grows.

Too Many Approaches?

Another problem which may arise - and which can prompt your business to say "no" - is if it is approached by too many groups, community or otherwise, for assistance.

If you find you are being approached by too many groups:
  • Honest and respectful communication are important.

  • A letter or phone call to the community group in question is probably best.
    • Either of these can be based around a polite “thanks but no thanks” with an explanation of the reasons why.
    • Of course, don’t feel you are compelled to tell the group which approaches you absolutely everything as to why you can’t help … some private business matters are best kept private.