How to Volunteer with Intention (and Say No Nicely)

posted in: Organization 9



School blackboard with volunteer with intention written in white chalk


Now that a new school year has started there will be a veritable feast of organizations and groups you can volunteer for. PTA, your child’s sport or activity-the list can seem endless.

I was what I like to call a professional volunteer. I’m betting a good amount of you who are reading this have volunteered with me at some point in my children’s thirteen years of attending school (and counting for two more years.) And first I want to say:

I have loved getting to know upwards of 100 women who care (and some men too!),

people who go out of their way, selflessly, to give back to their children’s sports, dance, theatre, PTA and

countless other activities and organizations.

Out of love for their children. And their wish to raise up all children.

You know who you are and YOU ROCK!

I look back over the years and feel so blessed to have spent my time reading each week to my daughter’s kindergarten (and first and second etc.) classes, to help remove rocks from the cross country trail my son’s team uses. I have helped out in ways large and small. My daughter is now in college and I count myself fortunate to have had this time with her and I’ll feel the same way when my son goes off to college. I sent a message with my volunteering:

  • I love you
  • What you are passionate about matters to me
  • Nothing is more important than your education
  • I want to spend as much time with you as I can
  • I am proud of you

But friends, I made some mistakes in all those years of volunteering. And I don’t want you to make the same ones.

Sometimes I said yes, when I should have said no. I wasn't volunteering with intention. Click To Tweet

At times I was honored to be asked to volunteer. I felt I had unique qualities to fit the position. It sounded like fun. I believed in the cause or project.

Other times I just said yes because I always had said yes. People expected me to volunteer. I was their go-to gal. One time the vice principal of the school asked if I could go to local businesses and gather gift cards for a fifth grade math competition. Wait for it: I didn’t have a fifth grader. So what did I do? I said yes. And grumbled about it.

I wasn’t really the right person for the job. I didn’t really have the time. Adding this task put me over the edge. I was stressed out. Therefore I wasn’t really the best volunteer I could be. I wasn’t helping with joy in my heart. And you know what? I bet people could tell.

There were years where I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off. No time to use the bathroom let alone eat lunch. I was in chaos mode. Take my quiz to see if YOU are in Chaos Mode.

Did I think I was the only one who could help? Am I that amazing? No. Someone else would have said yes. And maybe that person would have loved helping. Maybe I denied that person the joy of volunteering.

Volunteer With Intention


I have learned the hard way that it is best to volunteer with intention. To do this:

  1. Take a good look at your schedule. How busy are you already? How much time can you realistically give?
  2. Think about what causes you are passionate about. Do what moves you. I believe we can do nothing greater for our children than to introduce them to great literature. Anytime someone asks me to volunteer for literacy I am 100% there.
  3. Be honest with yourself about your skills. Personally, I am terrible at asking people for free stuff. And I hate to do it. Need gifts from local businesses for a raffle? Don’t send me. On the other hand, need an entire binder full of mishmashed flyers organized for future use? Sure!
  4. Learn to nicely say no
  5. Search for others who can help. Sometimes people really are just waiting to be asked.


How to Say No Nicely


I am so non-confrontational. And that is how I got myself into some pickles. So I read up on some strategies on how to say no. This article from Real Simple gives real answers to some common questions it is hard to say no to. Try these:

  • Don’t immediately say yes. Tell the person you need to check your schedule. Then, really check your schedule. Do you have time to take this on? It may be easier to say no via email after careful consideration.
  • Give a counteroffer. Maybe you really don’t have time to be the fundraising chair for the year, but you could head up the special flower sale in the Spring.
  • Thank the person for asking you, but give them a brief explanation of why you cannot help at this time.
    • “Thank you for considering me for this position, but I have a conflict that day/I am already volunteering in this capacity for another organization” etc.
  • If you hope to help in the future, tell them.
    • “This fall is a very busy time for me with my work schedule, but the month of February is usually slow for me. Can I check back with you late January to see what your needs are?”

Please understand I am not advocating that you do not volunteer at all. Most school organizations couldn’t function without the generous support of parents both in time and money. Volunteering will make your life richer. I’ve made some of the best friends of my life painting sets at 10 p.m. There is nothing like the camaraderie of working together for the kids. Just make sure you are volunteering with intention and with joy in your heart. That’s what everyone deserves.


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I'm so excited you stopped by my blog! I'm passionate about helping others achieve peaceful lives through organization. I want to help you have less stress and more time for the things you love! Let's get started!

9 Responses

  1. Abby at Just a Girl and Her Blog

    Great post, Daria! I think this is something that so many of us struggle with, and your ideas are right on. Thanks for willing to be open and share your wisdom!

    ~Abby =)

    • Daria Harvey

      Thank you so much Abby. As you know, it was a hard one to write. Thank you for your inspiration and for stopping by my blog!

  2. Autumn Leopold

    What a thoughtful post! It’s taken me a few year but I have gotten the hang of this! I used to say yes to everything! Now I REALLY value my time and I only say yes to what makes me happy! It’s worked out well and I have not been asked to do things outside of my comfort zone for some time. It’s like people finally got the hint. I’ve also had to resign from a few things I committed to which is hard to do because you feel like you are letting those people down. But really it’s them or your family and you know which one should always come first. Can’t wait to share this awesome post! 🙂

    • Daria Harvey

      Thank you so much Autumn. I appreciate your kind words. I think as women we love to help-which can end up backfiring sometimes. And yes, you’re right-family first!

  3. Lisa Hutchison

    Great tips Daria! It can be difficult with helpful souls to set limits. You shared how to do so with compassion and kindness.

    • Daria Harvey

      Thank you for your kind words Lisa. I like your phrase-helpful souls. That’s beautiful.

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