Friday, September 30, 2011

Communications manager at public institution proud of not communicating

No one knows who this person is
Jana Snidely is very happy with the results of her first five years as Metro Health Sciences Centre's Director of Communications. Under her direction the hospital has done hardly any communicating at all.

"I'm so pleased that our strategy of basically shutting up and not saying anything to anyone has proven to be widely successful," said Snidely in her annual report to the Board of Directors. "The public don't know who we are or what we do. If it wasn't for the big "H" sign at the front door, they would drive right by and think we were a big, drab office building or something."

When she took over five years ago the hospital was trying to do too much communicating, including a community outreach program, an external newsletter, ads  in the local newspaper and self-help articles published on its website. All those were shut down in the first five months after Snidely took over.

"We took all of those things and threw them in the garbage. We were talking way too much to regular people about what goes on in here. The public was actually beginning to understand their health care system instead of looking at it in dumbfounded amazement and awe. We'd lost control of our message," said Snidely.

The new program Snidely put in place reduced the entire communications program to press releases that reacted to bad news and an internal newsletter that few of the staff at the hospital actually read. In the process she cut the communications budget by half.

"We couldn't just ignore the outside world totally. So, we did issues press releases when something really bad happened. Terrible accidents, hospital viruses and stuff -- they couldn't be helped. But we tried to cover them up as much as possible," said Snidely.

"Our award-winning internal newsletter was tweaked so that most of the stories were about individual departments without any regard to the big issues of the work place. By and large, most people now just look at the pictures and throw it away," she said.

The hospital's website was also changed to make navigation more difficult and make key files and services hard to find.

The results were overwhelmingly successful. According to Snidely, negative letters to the editor in the newspaper dropped 75%, with most now complaining about bad service at other hospitals by mistake. Patient complaints fell 60% and web traffic fell 35%.

"We are in total control of our message and our image. No one is saying anything negative about us like they used to because they practically don't even know we exist," said Snidely.

One recent letter to the editor shows the power of Snidely's communications strategy. "I had to wait nearly two days in the ER because they were no beds in a local hospital that I can't remember the name of," said a recent letter to the Metro Morning newspaper by Mrs. Dibble Brewer. "Whenever I find out who they are, I plan to complain about it."

More important, recent government reports on the hospital’s performance have been not been negative at all. Before the strategy was created, the hospital used to get lots of government attention about its huge deficit, labour problems and poor service. Now, the reports often forget to mention the hospital at all. Snidely calls that a great victory.

"The credit has to go to the people of this hospital. It took them a while to understand our strategy of not communicating. Initially, they would keep coming to me with ideas about social media or new content for our websites or even school demonstrations and I would have to turn them down. Now, they don’t even bother. In fact, many of them now believe that the hospital doesn’t even have a communications staff at all. That’s exactly the result I was looking for,” said Snidely.

Snidely is now working on a new communications strategy that takes not communicating to new heights. Called “Just send the money”, the integrated campaign will feature a number of initiatives that will make the hospital harder to find on a map and will promote the idea that Metro is not in fact served by any hospital at all and that people need to go to another city for service.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

New direct mail technology allows letter to plead "Don't throw me out"

The system in action
A new breakthrough in direct mail technology is giving fundraisiers the ability to stop recipients throwing away charity appeals. Called the Snidely Fundraiser Talkback, the new system from Snidely Direct Marketing can actually tell recipients not to throw it away.

"We've brought together a host of existing technologies to revolutionize direct mail. Basically, we've married a talking greeting card to a tiny audio sensor and powerful mini-computer that actually talks to direct mail recipients and pleads with them to open it," said Snidely Direct Marketing CEO Larry Snidely.

The system, demonstrated last week in Metro to top national fundraisers, looks like a normal direct mail piece from a charity hungry for donations. The only difference is a one inch sensor on the front of the envelope which listens for sounds and also acts as a stereo speaker. When the recipient picks it up, looks at it and begins to throw it away the Snidely Fundraiser Talkback system begins to plead with them.

"Our system is very smart. It can figure out when someone has picked it up and not opened it. That's when it starts talking. But the real beauty of the system is not that it can talk, but what it says," said Snidely.

In the demonstration, the test scientist who began to put the letter back down after initially picking it up received a "Please don't throw me out -- I'm important!" audio message.

Most direct mail pieces from fundraising charities usually wind up in the garbage can, said Snidely. Fundraisers have been looking for a way to get more "opens" without success. Other methods, such as letters that smell like freshly baked bread or ones that include naked models cavorting on the back of the envelope haven't worked. Even strapping loose change to the outside of the envelope has not been that effective, except to enterprising postal workers. Snidely said that their new system is much more effective.

"As soon as the first message is played, the computer takes over and begins to interact with the potential donor. Initially, it just answers questions about being a computer and assures the donor that there is really no one inside the letter and that they aren't having a hallucination caused by drinking or drug use," said Snidely.

The system gives the recipient a predetermined series of points about why the letter should be opened and acted upon. These include a short overview on the charity and why supporting it is necessary.

"Please support Metro children's school lunch programs -- our children can't learn when they are hungry," the system said in the recent demo.

If, after several minutes, the recipient does not move to immediately open the letter the Snidely Fundraiser Talkback system switches to a second series of responses. These include stressing the need for the charity's work and also mocking the recipient.

"Hunger in our schools is a major problem in Metro," said the letter during the demonstration. "What's the matter with you? Do you want our children to be hungry?"

"We've given it the responses similar to that of a new major gifts officer who has a quota to fill and plenty of donors to see. We've determined that's the best tone to use in interactive direct mail like this," said Snidely.

"You getting this? Hunger in our schools! H-U-N-G-E-R!" the letter said in its mocking response during the demo.

If the recipient has still not opened the mailer at this point the system switches to a last ditch attempt to motivate them. This involves incentives, such as offering to send them a photo of the person who will be helped by their donation. It also involves "consequence" statements designed to cow the recipient into opening the letter.

"If you don't open the letter and make a donation I'm going to tell everyone," the letter said in the demo. "Everyone will know how hard-hearted you are. Do you really want that?"

"If at this point the recipient hasn't opened the letter we realize they never will, so the system shuts down and terminates after calling them 'bastards who don't give a damn about anything'. We feel that that is sufficient," said Snidely.

Under laboratory testing the Snidely Fundraiser Talkback letter achieved an astonishing 47% open rate and a doubling in actual donations. Snidely says there are still however a few bugs to be worked out in the system.

"Several of our test letters mistakenly activated during mailing. In one instance, it caused the Post Office to look through a pile of mail to see if someone was underneath it. We've fixed that."

The system was created from an extensive study of the verbal utterances of more than 50 hospital fundraisers. The voice was synthesized using one of the most shrill female fundraisers available.

"Research shows that most people respond better to women's automated voices because it reminds us of our mothers. Our research showed that the best voice to use with this letter system is a female voice that sounds like your mother scolding you for not doing something you should have," said Snidely.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Gift Planning Officer secretly hopes more donors will die

Peter Snidely
Gift Planning Officer Peter Snidely works very hard to give Metro University's donors a chance to leave a legacy for the students of tomorrow in their Wills. He also sometimes wishes more of those donors that leave a gift for the University after they pass on would in fact die. And sometimes in the most gruesome ways.

"I feel like I'm really empowering donors. They want to leave behind the best part of themselves after they leave this world in order to help others. I help them achieve that by placing a bequest in their Will or by using their insurance policies in such a way that gives them real tax savings now," said Snidely. "I also dream that I kill them after we sign the paperwork."

Snidely has been in gift planning for more than seven years after leaving a career in the investment industry. Known for his warm and charming personality, Snidely has talked to more than 300 University donors about gift planning opportunities.

"I meet all types of people. Many are graduates from the 40s and 50s who are in their golden years. Their own children are grown and have children of their own. They're in the twilight of their lives and looking to find some meaning. Giving them a chance to help young people get a great education at Metro University really appeals to them," he said. "I sometimes feel these strange urges to smother them. It usually passes very quickly."

Snidely has won two awards from the University for his work. He received the University Medal for doubling the gift planning portfolio. Last year, he was voted the most popular development officer by a group of alumni.

"We all love Peter," said Mary Brandenburg, Class of '47. "He's so very friendly and kind. I just love talking to him. We chat about our families and how we want to be buried. He makes the most wonderful jokes about passing on. He's such a kidder!"

"Peter is like a son to me. We get along that well. I've never in my life met a person so intensely focussed on talking to me. Sometimes, when I turn around suddenly I see him staring at me with this strange, angelic look on his face. I know he's always thinking about me," said George Smith, Class of '52.

Snidely says in his job the most important thing is create a sense of rapport with the donor. He sometimes spends hours at donor's homes talking to them about their lives and their time at Metro University. "You have to be a good listener," said Snidely. "They have a whole lifetime worth of stories they want to tell and I think it's part of my job to listen to them. I also sometimes imagine how best they should die."

Director of Development Diane Yawl says she's lucky to have Snidely on her staff. "He has a special way about him. He takes his job very seriously. He's a great planner. He'll plan out the entire ask from the moment he calls a donor to the time they are expected to pass on, and he has this uncanny way of always being right. I've never seen it before."

"Sometimes it's hard to work with someone and get to know them only to have them pass away," said Snidely. "But in a sense, I'm keeping their memory alive and that's comforting to me, especially after one of those episodes when I'm filled with a murderous rage."

Monday, September 19, 2011

Critics say Super Villain Foundation spending twice as much on fundraising as evil works

The charitable organization that supports the forces of evil on planet Earth spent millions more on fundraising costs than on actually helping do bad things last year. According to the study by the Snidely Charity Watch Centre, the Super Villain Foundation spent $500 million on supporting works of evil, but spent $657 million on raising donations.

"The donors to this charity wanted their money to go to the evil, nasty, terrible and in-human things that this Foundation does, not to pay for more fundraisers. But that's exactly what happened last year," said Snidely Charity Watch Centre CEO Dibble Snidely. "The Super Villain Foundation has their priorities all wrong."

The Foundation, created during the 1960s, is one of the world's largest charities with branches in every country in the world, except the Vatican. It employs more than 5,000 people worldwide, including 1,500 in its secret underground location in an extinct volcano on a Pacific island near Hawaii. The Foundation raises money for a variety of programs, including seed money for new evil projects, academic research into death rays and other evil weapons and education projects aimed at creating a new generation of evil leaders, such as the US-based Tea Party movement.

It is also the largest fundraising organization in the world, raising on average nearly $1 billion every year. However, an analysis of the Foundation's annual reports by the Snidely Charity Watch Centre show that fundraising costs have been steadily rising every year. Last year, it spent twice as much on fundraising costs as it did just four years ago.

"The Foundation's fundraising costs have gone through the roof. Partly, this is due to the new fundraising software they implemented this year based on Raiser's Edge. But most of the increased fundraising cost was spent on advertising and salaries," said Snidely.

According to research by the Snidely Charity Watch Centre, the Foundation has some of the highest paid fundraisers on Earth, good or bad. Chuck Armageddon, the CEO of the Foundation and Chief Development Officer, reported a salary of more than $27 million in tax filings last year. The Foundation's four top executives each made more than $20 million except one who was paid in human sacrifices and chicken blood.

The Foundation also spent millions on advertising, including a surprising $150 million on online fraud schemes involving a lawyer who has a client in Nigeria who wants to give you tens of thousands of dollars if you will only share your banking information with them. It also invested $45 million in publishing, including several tabloid newspapers such as the now defunct News of the World in London.

A spokesman for the Foundation, Johnny Deathshead, said that the increasings costs were a symptom of the increasing competition the charity faces.

"Are donors are busy. They have many things on their mind. Sometimes they don't have time to think about enslaving the world and such. We understand that," Deathshead said. "At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of evil charities vying for attention. They all do great work and we welcome their presence, even if we sent a few of them a time bomb disguised as a cake a few months ago. It just means that we're all having to have smaller slices of the evil fundraising pie."

Despite the numbers, Foundation donors seem to be willing to give the charity a chance. The Rich Industrialists Trust is a giving foundation that gave the Super Villain Foundation a $45 million grant to help develop women's evil projects in Third World countries. CEO Fat Cat Jones said they understand the situation the Foundation is in.

"Donors are sometimes unfair in the way they judge charities. If the Super Villain Foundation was a for-profit business we wouldn't be having this discussion. People would just accept this as the price of doing business. So, we're going to be giving the Foundation the benefit of the doubt. They do good work. I mean evil work. Sorry," he said.

In a related story, someone stole the entire Snidely Charity Watch Centre building from downtown Metro yesterday. Bystanders saw a strange blue light appear from the clouds and minutes later the building and all the people who worked in it had disappeared. No one has seen or heard from them since. Authorities suspect it was vaporized in a gas leak explosion.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New Executive Director talks in buzz words, cliches

Metro's biggest charity has a new leader. Alice Snidely, a long-time fundraiser, becomes Metro Hospital Foundation's latest Executive Director next month. She only speaks in buzz words and cliches.

"I'm so very pleased to have this great honour of representing this wonderful organization and helping all the people of Metro be the best that they can be so that we can make this world a better place and give our children a better chance than we had growing up, and stuff," said Snidely, who employs a full-time PR writer to write all of her verbal utterances.

Snidely has worked for 20 years in fundraising at other hospitals and universities charming and then squeezing thousands of major donors out of more than $12 million. Her first job at the Metro Hospital Foundation will be launching the new capital campaign expected to start next year.

"We need synergies. We need to be simpatico with each other and our community. We need a deep brand to help deliver the main message that Metro Hospital is top-of-mind by using word of mouth strategies with key stakeholders. I know that we can do this, whatever this means," Snidely said.

Foundation Chair and Hospital CEO Eileen Burns said they hired Snidely because of her vast experience and her ability to say things that sound very important.

"I honestly can't understand her sometimes, but that's OK. I'm sure that whatever it is she is saying, it will be really good for Metro Hospital," said Burns. "Meetings are a lot longer now, but I feel more optimistic than ever."

Metro Hospital has struggled with cutbacks and poor donor retention over the year. The Foundation had to lay off a number of people. The 2007 "We Can Make It!" capital campaign failed to make its target. Snidely says the new fundraising campaign, "We Can Make It Again!" will be different.

"There comes a time when the jewels cease to sparkle, when the gold loses its luster, when the hospital room becomes a prison, and all that is left is a community's love for its children. This is that time. We are those people. Now, let's go out and kill the bad guys," said Snidely, using a quote from the 1982 movie "Conan The Barbarian".

Snidely's new staff are already at work on the new campaign, which is to be unveiled next Spring. Those staff left after the layoffs and recent firings say they feel better motivated than ever to help Metro Hospital make the campaign a success.

"Oh, she's great," said fundraiser Chett Jones. "After listening to her I feel like I've seen every buddy film or action movie where the good guys don't have a chance against the bad guys. She's quite a motivator."

"My message to the people of Metro is that together we will able to make our hospital the best hospital that Metro could ever hope to have under these economic conditions and considering that people don't give enough. I know if they all reach down inside themselves they will be able to find a piece of them that they will able to share with the community. Hopefully, it will be a pledge of $100.00 or more," said Snidely.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Outsourcing Clients helps non-profit fulfill mission, save money

Outsourcing clients results in better service In an efffort to deliver better service and fulfill its mission, a local health charity is replacing its regular clients with outsourced clients from the Third World.

"We found that it is just too hard to serve the needs of the poor and sick here in Metro," said Bleeding Hearts Health Care Executive Director Bernice Snidely. "By replacing them with client from Africa or South America we can do more and spend less. Plus, we don't have to smell them."

Local clients will be discharged from the service and replaced with needy and deserving clients from Ivory Coast, Peru, Somalia and Lichtenstien. To meet Federal standards, the new clients will all be refered to as "Chuck" or "Mary" even if their name is "Pedro" or "Machete".

"We can solve the problems of a small village in Africa so much easier than one of our clients here in Metro. It takes half the money, and they're so grateful."