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Business Etiquette/Meetings - How to stay professional without hurt feelings?


   I'm with a group that is in the middle of starting up a nonprofit.  We are in a very rural area, one of those towns where everyone knows everyone...who knows everyone's business kind of places.  

We haven't filed for an official IRS nonprofit status yet because we wanted to get a group together and organized and then move to that step.  We are having a really hard time keeping our meetings open but separate the board vs committee vs new people interested in joining....and not sure how to make a separation without coming across uninviting or "hurting" feelings.  At any given time our meetings have only about 5-8 people in them.  We are small but always looking for help or people who want to be involved.

A recent issue came up when we were discussing a fundraiser, and new people who weren't previously involved (on the board or any committee) ended up getting a vote on a split decision.  I think it really came down to no one knowing how to say "ok, thanks for all the input now 'only the board' is going to vote" because everyone felt like this would be rude or leave people feeling unwelcome especially because its such a small group.  In a group of 40 its not as noticeable when you are 1 out of 4 people not "allowed" to have a say.  

Sorry for the lengthy question, I hope it makes sense.   The point I'm trying to get to is we need some guidance how to keep our monthly meetings open and inviting to promote more people to join, but how to politely keep major decisions only among board members.   

We need to get over this hump before many of us feel comfortable filing for official status with the IRS.  I do feel the small town puts a lot of pressure on us to stay very polite and make everyone feel welcome/happy.  It is easy to make someone mad and the next thing you know you have a bad reputation the next day!

Thank you for any advice you can give on the matter.

Dear Christina:

Thank you for your question.  It is indeed difficult to keep everyone happy when you start a business.  You will have to get tough and set limits.  Decisions that the Board are supposed to make should be done only at closed Board meetings. It's a mistake to invite anyone other than the Board members to these meetings - you've seen what happens.

The next thing you need to have is an outside advisory group - not a Board per se.  This is for all interested parties to vent and express their interest in the organization.  This is voluntary and you need to make clear when someone joins this advisory group that they may be called upon to volunteer their time and effort towards a goal set.

So you can see - two meetings - one private, one public.  That should keep the town folk happy and involved and the important decisions in the hands that they should be in - the Board of Directors.

I hope this helps.

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Cynthia W. Lett


Author of "That's So Annoying - An Etiquette Expert On The World's Most Irritating Habits And What To Do About Them" . One of the few Certified Etiquette Professionals (CEP) and Certified Protocol Professionals(CPP) earned by examination through the International Society of Protocol & Etiquette Professionals ( I will be happy to answer your questions about business or social etiquette, international customs or protocol issues.


Ms. Lett has trained over 100 etiquette professionals worldwide to teach the subject to professionals and children. She has worked in 102 countries and is expert in doing business in unfamiliar cultures. Ms. Lett is principal of The Lett Group since 1983. Professionally, Ms. Lett is the founder of and serves as Executive Director of the International Society of Protocol & Etiquette Professionals headquartered in Washington, DC.

University Club of Washington, DC She is an active member of the National Speakers Association, American Society for Training and Development; Women Business Owners; Professional Convention Management Association; and past member of the American Society of Association Executives; Foundation for International Meetings (Board of Governors 1986-1987). She was elected into Who's Who of American Women; Who's Who of Advertising Executives; 2000 Notable American Women; Who's Who of the World's Women; Who's Who of U.S. Executives and Who's Who of the World.

Ms.Lett is the author of "That's So Annoying: An Etiquette Expert On The World's Most Irritating Habits And What To Do About Them" available wherever books are sold and at She has been featured and quoted in publications such as Successful Meetings, Meetings and Conventions, Meeting News, Business Travel News, Washington Business Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, Regardies Magazine, Wall Street Journal, The Robb Report, Entrepreneur Magazine, The Harvard Business Review, Ohio Business Review, Training and Development Journal, CIO Magazine and others

Certified Protocol Professional Certified Etiquette Professional Certificate: Adult Learning Techniques - George Washington University Master-Legal Studies - Antioch School of Law BS - Restaurant, Hotel & Institutional Management - Purdue University BA - Public Relations / Interpersonal Communications - Purdue University

Awards and Honors
Distinguished Darden Professor - Purdue University

Past/Present Clients
During 1990, Ms. Lett planned a series of Business Exchange meetings in the Soviet Union for entrepreneurs from the United States who wished to learn about joint ventures with the Soviets in many different fields. She is featured in the PBS special Pioneer Living as the protocol expert. Ms. Lett is also the etiquette expert for the Fine Living Channel and currently featured in Survival Guide Office Etiquette. She is also a frequent expert on etiquette issues for Fox Cable News.

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