You are here:

Business Etiquette/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.  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.

Good morning, Christina, and thank you for sending your question. Your nonprofit start up sounds like it's beginning to take off, generating interest in the community even before the group is official. That's great news.

I am not a lawyer so can't advise on obtaining your official status, but I have some thoughts on the business etiquette aspect of your question. My suggestion is to create different kinds of meetings for hopefully greater efficiency. For example, you could create a "meet and greet," where community members can network with each other and learn the future goals of your organization. If you wanted more input from these future members, you could create a survey and unofficially poll them that way. That way you'd be getting their feedback without having your meetings unravel. The process would also help your team develop a list of potential members once your nonprofit becomes official. Once it does, of course, a critical step will be to develop bylaws for your nonprofit to cover rules pertaining to voting, membership status, term limits, governance, and other key issues such as your organization's mission.

In the interim, if you find yourself in a meeting populated by board members and non-board members and a vote comes up, I think it would be polite to run through a "roll call"of the board members. "Just a reminder, folks, that our board members are... Shelley, Vincent, and George, and we're going to take a quick vote." Delivered with a smile, I don't think too many people's feelings will get hurt.

Lastly, try thanking everyone for their input even if there is a disagreement. When people feel they are being "heard," it really helps.

Thanks again for writing to me and good luck with your new venture!


Vicky Oliver
301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions
301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions

Business Etiquette

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Vicky Oliver


I am an expert on traditional American business etiquette, including dining rules and regulations for the 21st century, making a good first impression (and how to fix a bad one), meeting etiquette, conversational tips, and dressing for success. I also have written about new media etiquette--how to use LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to enhance your professional reputation. I am not an expert on wedding etiquette or international business etiquette.


I am the author of 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions (Skyhorse, 2010) and 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions (Sourcebooks, 2005). I have received over 301 media mentions on topics pertaining to business etiquette, job interviewing, and style on a budget.

Brown University Club in New York; Trinity Alumni & Alumnae Association

The Investment Professional Magazine; Crain's New York; The Charlotte Weekly;;; The Review Mom; Personal Finance

Brown University, B.A., English Honors; double major in Political Science

Awards and Honors
How-To Winner, Paris Book Festival; How-To Runner-Up, London Book Festival; Eric Hoffer Award First Runner-Up in Business;"Best Business: Career Book of 2010" in the National Best Books Awards.

©2017 All rights reserved.