Not too long ago, I traveled to Disney World for a conference. One night, while having dinner in France at EPCOT, it struck me that the server — and really everyone we encountered throughout the day — had a focus on saying “yes.” For them, the priority was on delivering an experience, rather than worrying overmuch about strict rules.

So often, in our lives as well as in our management decisions, we say no. We get caught up in rules and policies, and we look for reasons that something is impossible. When asked about something that doesn’t quite fit into what we consider the “normal” routine, we immediately start thinking about excuses and why it’s not going to happen.

But what if we started by saying yes? What if the default position was “How can I make this happen?”

The Magic of Saying Yes

We spend a lot of time coming up with rules, policies, and procedures. Sometimes these things are necessary. They offer a unified approach, or they offer a certain level of legal protection.

However, there are times that policies and procedures do little more than impede the mission. When working with members, prospects, and the communities we serve, as nonprofit associations, it’s important to carefully think through what’s possible.

Saying no might be easier sometimes, and having a rule to point to might give you some cover, but the reality is that it can disappoint members and prospects — and get you in the habit of letting others down.

Instead, consider how you can say yes. When someone asks about something, and you’re not sure how it will work out, start by assuming that you can make it happen. Think about how you can focus on the experience you intend to deliver and move into problem-solving mode.

The magic of saying yes is that you start to see that different outcomes are possible. You start looking for creative solutions to questions. This can permeate all levels of your association. When you look for what’s possible and focus on providing a top-notch experience, whether it’s with online content, an awards gala, or providing an educational seminar for members, the magic of saying yes can be powerful.

When you get in the habit of looking for what’s possible and looking for ways to move forward, pretty soon nothing seems impossible anymore. It’s a way to empower your association and its members.

Focus on Core Principles

Rather than getting caught up in the policies and procedures, start with your guiding principles. If you don’t know what those are, consider getting an outside perspective to take you through the strategic planning process so you can identify what really matters to you and your association.

Focusing on your core principles and your mission can also help you feel more empowered to say yes. When you know what matters most, and you want to provide an experience that aligns with your principles, it’s much easier to say yes — even if it means bending a rule or two.

It’s true that some regulations and laws shouldn’t be contravened, and you might have certain duties to stakeholders. However, when you understand your principles, and you start from the premise that the answer should be “yes” if, at all possible, you might find a little more flexibility than you expected.

Bottom Line

In all of our interactions, whether they’re with members, volunteers, prospects, or the communities we serve, we have to think about how our principles can be implemented in a way that furthers the mission and contributes to positive experiences.

How can we use our mission and principles to create experiences that uplift others?

Sometimes, that means looking at outdated policies and procedures and revamping them so that they are more in line with values and principles. Sometimes it means looking at a general rule and bending it a little to account for a specific and personal situation.

No matter the situation, though, the idea is to look for ways to say yes. Even if, ultimately, there’s some compliance or legal issue that ties your hands, consider all other options before actually saying no. Make yes your default position, and only admit defeat if there really is no other way to accommodate a circumstance.

When your association shifts into a “make it possible” mindset, it does more than just offer great experiences to stakeholders. Assuming that you can say yes in almost any circumstance sets the stage for achieving amazing results, no matter your mission.