Sunday, November 4, 2012

Charity calls off “Quiet phase” of campaign because staff can’t handle not talking for months, years

Office poster at the Trust

Metro’s largest charity is throwing in the towel on the “Quiet phase” of its new $65 million capital campaign because of a rebellion by staff and volunteers about not talking.

The Metro University Trust started the new so-called “Quiet phase” of the Big Vision Campaign last month. The plan was to have the first phase of the campaign last for at least  a year, possibly two.  But after less than 30 days, staff and senior campaign volunteers started pressuring the Trust’s leaders to start talking again.

“We followed the plan that our consultant laid out for us,” said Trust Executive Director Bif Snidely said. “And so we outlawed all talking at our office. On the plus side, we had much lower long-distance phone calls and that saved us money. But the staff couldn’t take it. We had to stop it.”

Under the plan, no talking was allowed during Trust business. Staff couldn’t talk at the office or when attending outside events. Phone calls were not answered and donors who paid a call to the Trust’s building were greeted with huge signs that read “We can’t talk to you. Please write down what you want on this piece of paper.”

“We tried our very best. Many of us were skeptical when we heard about this quiet phase stuff, but we thought that our consultant knew what he was doing, so we put our heart and soul into it. But not talking for a month is really, really hard,” said Snidely.

“I don’t know how the Ivey League schools do it. They must hire all mutes or something.”

Initially, not talking actually led to more productivity. Meetings which used to last hours were done in just a few minutes. Idle chitchat, the bane of all time wasting in modern offices, was eliminated. The lengthy consultations that were the norm before the change were radically reduced to just a few emails.

“Things went well at first,” said Snidely. “It was strangely refreshing to have complete silence in our offices. But then things started happening.”

A staff member injured themselves carrying paper to the photocopier a week after the new policy was implemented.

“When you hurt yourself you want to say something like ‘ouch’. But Jill couldn’t. Do you know how difficult it is to text profanity to your co-workers?”

Returning phone calls became a major issue, especially for major gift officers. Their initial plans to learn American Sign Language took too long. And carrying bulky computers to turn text into automated-speech often didn’t work, mainly because of typos.

Snidely says he will be in touch next week with their fundraising consultant to help them navigate a re-start to their campaign without a ban on talking.

“We also want to talk to him about this idea that we have to get half our campaign goal ‘in the can’ before we start. We’ve tried to fit the money we’ve raised to date into a variety of different sized cans and none of it will fit.”