Eventually, we will all do something for which we need to apologize. So, it’s essential that we all know the right way to do it.
Unfortunately, one of my readers reminded me recently that many people find it extremely difficult to say simply, “I’m sorry.” She told me about a secular charity that had scheduled an event to be held during Yom Kippur, the holiest holiday for the Jewish people.
If the nonprofit organization with the bad scheduling sense was based in North Dakota, there might not have been much of a problem. However, the charity is based in Philadelphia, home to a large and philanthropic Jewish community.
Ironically, the organization’s mission honors an individual who pioneered religious and ethnic tolerance in America.
My reader emailed the charity to alert it to the conflict, to let it know she would not be attending this year despite having attended in the past, and to express her displeasure with the organization’s scheduling decision.
Here is the response my reader received via email:
The choice of this date was not meant to offend anyone or exclude anybody. This event has been held on this weekend since its inception. . . .
[We] apologize for any offense you may take from us scheduling these events on Friday and Saturday.”
Let’s closely examine the message.
Regardless of whether or not the organization intended to cause offense, it did. The scheduling mistake was either a result of outright intent or oblivious carelessness. By excluding an important part of its donor base for this once-a-year event, the charity caused offense.
The nonprofit organization further offended my reader by lying to her in the email response. The charity claims the event has been “held on this weekend since its inception.” However, as someone who has attended the event in the past, my reader knows otherwise. She documented for me that, in recent years, the organization has hosted the event on a variety of different weekends. Even if the organization’s statement were true, it’s still no excuse for failing to consider a different date.
The person who responded to my reader then concluded by apologizing “for any offense you may take.” That’s not an apology! It’s a deflection. With this statement, the organization has not taken responsibility for its actions. Instead, of taking responsibility for causing offense, the charity put the blame on the donor who took offense.
While my reader was willing to forgive the organization for the scheduling misstep, she’s less forgiving after receiving the “apology” email. She tells me she will no longer support the organization.
Interestingly, Yom Kippur, the holiday at the heart of the scheduling conflict, is the Day of Atonement. It’s the holiday when the Jewish people seek and grant forgiveness, if forgiveness is sought. During services at my temple, Rabbi Jill Maderer made some brief remarks that are coincidentally appropriate to my reader’s exchange with the charity:
Has anyone ever hurt you, and then apologized by saying: ‘I’m sorry if you felt that way’? As if, the problem was not their harmful offense, but your excessive sensitivity. The essence of our Vidui, our confession, is taking responsibility. I can’t confess about how you feel. I need to confess about what I did wrong. And we have all done wrong.”
When you do something that causes offense, I encourage you to follow these tips:
+ Accept responsibility. Don’t try to push responsibility on to the person you offended. Don’t try to hide from responsibility by suggesting you didn’t mean it.
+ Sincerely apologize for your actions or, as appropriate, inaction.
+ Promise to do better in the future. Then, try to do better in the future.
+ If a complaint comes from a donor, be sure to acknowledge that fact and thank the donor for his or her support.
+ Invite the person to engage with your organization in a positive way in the near future.
Here’s how the organization could have responded to my reader:
I apologize for the scheduling conflict with this year’s event. I feel terrible about it, and I want you to know that I will miss seeing you this year. I have appreciated your ongoing support of the organization and your attendance at our events. I promise you that we will be particularly sensitive when scheduling events in the future. I hope I will have the opportunity to personally greet you at our next program.
Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention and for giving me the opportunity to apologize.”
If the organization had sent my reader that donor-centered message, it would still probably have this donor.
Unfortunately, organizations are not always given the opportunity to apologize. For every complaint received, there are usually many more offended people who never bother to communicate their displeasure. They simply stop giving.
To minimize offending people with poor scheduling decisions at your organization, visit the website When-Is for a complete listing of religious and American holidays.
If you want to read another one of my posts in a similar vein, read: “If You Don’t Care About Them, Why Will They Care About You?”
That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?