Getting a No

written by Kat Bair
7 · 18 · 23

The first rule of volunteer recruitment is to make direct asks. You’re more likely to succeed with direct asks than a general appeal. The downside is that while direct asks do work, you have to make a lot of them. As a youth pastor, I remember going about one for ten when recruiting for mission trips, so it wasn’t abnormal to make 60 or 70 asks to fill a trip.  

Even when I got a no, it gave me a chance to connect with a parent and tell them I thought of them as a leader and wanted to work with them. And every once in a while, we got a yes we would have never expected. 

But this advice has to be given over and over and over again to youth pastors because people just don’t want to do it. They are desperate to find some other way to fill their rosters because, although we all know logically it’s worth it, it’s disheartening to hear no over and over and over again. It makes it feel like you’re wasting time and effort and getting nowhere. 

Author and entrepreneur Robert Glazer says we should think of those “no’s” not as a deterrent to progress but as an important part of its process. He argues that we can think of the proportion of yeses and nos that a person receives as a relatively stable ratio, and with no cost for the nos, the most successful strategy is to ask as many times as possible. 

I wouldn’t go quite as far as Glazer, and in my experience, those nos do have a cost, even if it’s an intangible one. I left many a day of work embittered toward the community I served after listening to dozens of adults explain why it should be someone else who should carve out the time to volunteer with their kids. 

So how do we balance the advice that often the best possible strategy for our ministries, businesses, and organizations is to take as many shots on goal as possible, and the reality that we aren’t robots, and that all those nos, especially in response to something we feel passionately about, have a real cost to us and how we feel about who we serve? 

Here are some strategies for “getting to no” with as many people as you need to without wearing yourself down:

  1. We aren’t robots, but Robots are. Utilize mail merges, AI, and email clients to send “personalized” emails to broad audiences of people without spending much energy on your end. Getting a response to these emails, even if it’s a no, will feel like a win. 
  2. Multi-level Marketing. Once you have a yes (from anyone), ask them to help you get to your next one by asking a few of their friends they would enjoy serving with. This will help participating feel more appealing and take some of the work off of you.
  3. It’s not personal; it’s just business. I found that when I tried to do too much recruitment in one day, I wound up frustrated and emotionally exhausted. It was hard not to take it personally when people gave very legitimate reasons for their no because they didn’t realize it was the twelfth one in a row that I had gotten. This led me to be less gracious than I should have been to people who are just trying to balance their busy lives. Pacing yourself will allow you to retain the emotional detachment necessary to keep getting the nos you need. 
  4. Have some faith. Hold out hope that you’ll get a yes on every single call. No matter how unlikely it seems, God might have been doing a work in someone a long time before you called them. Consider it a spiritual discipline to believe that God is asking you to continue to think the best of people, believe in your program, and give your community a chance, even when it seems hopeless. 

We need to endure a lot of nos to build the kind of programs we want, and while those nos don’t have a tangible cost, they can have a significant psychic one. Learning how to get all the nos you need without it costing your soul is an important step in the building process and is one that we’re all continuing to build. 

What strategies have helped you manage your nos? What tools, tricks, and mantras in the mirror have helped you keep the faith? We would love to hear from you and pass your wisdom to our community of leaders! 


Kat Bair

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