Thursday, January 31, 2008

Association Rejections

A very real aspect of association management is that we are in the people business. A really difficult aspect is talented people are selected from a group of talented people; and talented people are rejected from a group of talented people. Rejection sounds like a harsh word - but many times it's going to sound harsh no matter how well crafted the communication or how talented the competition. Does anything work?

1. The phrase "it's not personal" doesn't work. As one person said, "well it's personal to me".

2. End of a term. When someone not reappointed to a committee so room for new people to serve - "I guess you don't need me anymore since I wasn't asked back". Is there a need to tell someone they aren't going to be asked back if appointment to one year term? Even if thanked at the end of the year, doesn't change anything if disappointment ahead when not reappointed.

3. Saying goodbye via a big thank you. Friend given a plaque of appreciation instead of a reappointment; he thought it insulting because "if really appreciated [he'd] still be serving not collecting a goodbye thank-you." Do we hope no one notices they don't get to come back?

4. If send rejection letter it's going to be remembered and repeated - especially if it attempts any explanation beyond regret. There's a chance that as historically rejection arrives by mail (e.g., colleges rejections, employment decisions, "Dear John") that mail triggers even more negative feelings. At dinner with colleagues last night one was quoting from memory reasons given for why she didn't get selected for an office at an association. Unhappily quoted language many associations likely use too: lots of great candidates, need wide range of representation, more chances ahead, we're so fortunate to have level of interest. Yep, same words colleges and employers used to reject also used with volunteers.

5. Awards programs can mean some don't win. I love when great people are recognized. It makes me sad that when winners announced, we could be hurting others.

6. Nominating Committee means some aren't selected - and they know it. The "what did I do wrong" is torturous when the actual answer is they nothing wrong. Could be had to pick one of three stars. But still, it's personal to them.

Possible solutions:

1. I believe formal rejection letters to volunteers need to go away. I know there's typically great debate about appropriate times to use email, but a personal note by email rather than a formal "we had so many great choices" letter to a volunteer seems less harsh.

2. Better communication at the start of terms about philosophy of bringing in new people. Remind they once started as new person.

3. Phone calls from Nominating. Candidates frequently great and were willing to give up part of their lives to be officers. That deserves an immediate call. And no follow-up added rejection letter. Once a decision is made, don't make volunteers wait to find out one way or the other.

4. Do not break the news with an appreciation ceremony for those not getting reappointed.

5. If candidates for an award are known, there's no way around the winner/loser thing. But it's very possible to provide collective recognition. If candidates for an award are not known, keep it that way. As the saying goes, "first, do no harm".

It's the part of the job that completely breaks my heart. Because there are lots of great candidates, need wide range of representation, have to have room for new people, or only one can be selected. The answer is the answer. And like preferred method of communications, people may have a preferred method of rejection - and it could vary by individual, which is tough too. But the rejection can still feel "personal" to a volunteer even if the organization doesn't see it as a rejection.

Are there better ways?

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