Saying no (gracefully) to the wave of requests to volunteer at school

The minute your children start school, the requests for volunteer help start rolling in. And since there is nothing more critical than your child’s education, it can be very, very difficult to turn down the requests. After all, there is a definite correlation between active parental participation and school performance.

But getting it right is another matter.

Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, work-at-home mom, or work-outside-the-home, there’s just a boat-load of guilt that comes with this territory. You can feel guilty you’re not doing enough, guilty you’re doing too much and shortchanging your family of quality time…guilty for saying no…guilty for saying yes…

So what’s a mom to do?

Fundamentally it comes down to committing to do fewer things, better. When you take on too much, you don’t end up doing anything as well as you could. So, if you struggle to say no without guilt, here are five simple strategies to help:

1. Follow the rule of one

Allow yourself to participate in one volunteer event per school year. Do that one event well. Whenever someone asks you to pitch in, if it’s not the one you agreed to help with, simply say, “I’ve already committed to work on Project X and that’s all I can really take on this year.”

2. Put a policy in place

If you struggle to balance your checkbook, let’s face it, you’d make a lousy swim team treasurer! Make it a policy to only take on volunteer projects that are a good fit with your skill set. When someone asks you to lend a hand with something you’re not terribly good at, all you have to do is say something like, “Oh, I’m the wrong person to ask for help with that…I’d make a mess of it.” You can also make it a policy to only volunteer time that involves interaction with your children. Shelving the library books vs. chaperoning the school trip, for instance.

3. Beg for time

Swap your “sure, no problem” for “that sounds really interesting; let me think about it and get back to you.” Then use the time to determine whether or not you really want to take on the task.

4. Script some no responses in advance

Sometimes it’s easier to have a canned response than to figure out how to respond in the moment. A good one: “my heart says yes, but my calendar says no.” For over 1000 canned “no’s” check out our iNo app for iPhones.

5. Use email

If you feel the pressure to say yes in-person, use strategy #3 and then deliver your no via email or voicemail.

How do you say no to requests to volunteer? Do you feel guilty when you choose not to participate?