Wednesday, May 22, 2013


I’m not on Twitter, and I don’t frequent the message boards, so when I came across this acronym, I had to research its meaning:  TLDR.  Too Long; Didn’t Read.  The snarkiness all but oozes off the page.  Oh, you can apply it to War and Peace, or any impassioned response to someone’s offhand social comment—but where it becomes relevant to research is in respect to your audience: that fundraising administrator, your fellow researcher, that gift officer for whom you’re synthesizing data on a prospective donor and composing it into a profile, often with a recommended strategy.  You rise to the challenge du jour, finding obscure nuggets and including even a photo of their kitchen sink off Instagram—only to encounter a yawn and a blazing “TLDR.”  If a researcher fails in the forest, does anyone hear the sound—of frustration? 

It’s easy to blame the recipient.  But when a researcher does, how different is it from the chef who armors up into defensive mode when Gordon Ramsey tells him his foie gras is salty, or the poor tone-deaf souls (bless their hearts) who can’t understand why they can’t hope to compete as the next Peoria Idol?  You’ve got to consider your audience—and each one is different.  You have to research them first, in a sense—use your instincts, ask their colleagues and subordinates, or simply ask them:  What do you want?

Some gift officers wear it like a badge of honor:  “I don’t need research.  I suss out the deets myself and then tell YOU what I’ve found.  I ain’t afraid o’ no ghosts, or cold calling billionaires.  Have I told you about the seven-figure gift I got from Montgomery Burns?  I’m a tightrope walker, and for my part, researchers are little more than archivists, or stenographers.”  For these characters, the most they might ever need is basic contact information and whether or not there’s a dragon in the moat.

At the other end of the spectrum:  Needy Nellie.  “I simply MUST know everything!  Dogs or cats?  Bagels or biscuits?  Where do they vacation?  Are they on Twitter?  Heelllp meee!”  It’s easy to scoff at this kind of approach—except when there’s a method to what appears random madness.  One of my former development colleagues kept a calendar listing all his prospects’ birthdays, and sent a hand-written card to every one, every year.  That was a strategy, as well as just being a Decent Human Being.  If you have a Needy Nelson who asks for shoe sizes and blood types, it’s incumbent upon you to find out if that type of trivia is being put to good use or merely being used as a crutch.  Information control is an art, and a researcher should not be treated as a vending machine or a jukebox.

So it’s a no-brainer that you may have to customize your profiles for each of your constituencies—but does that mean you should similarly adjust your research logic for each:  cursory glances for the tightrope walkers, encyclopedic thoroughness for the completists?  Not necessarily.  The old cliché is right: Knowledge IS power.  You were hired to be the research professional, so don’t let an end-user get all up in your grill and mess with your routine.  Find out what they want, and give just that to them.  They don’t really want to know how sausage is made; they just want it on their plates.  It’s up to you to know if your regular customer wants links, patties, or boudin.

And there are times when you have to include information, at the risk of a TLDR, more or less in self-defense.  I once had a time-sensitive request for simple information about our commencement speaker, a columnist for a newspaper in New York (they didn’t want to ask him; how gauche!):  What synagogue in NYC did he attend?  I found out that not only did he not attend a Big Apple congregation, he didn’t live there either (they have trains and planes between there and DC; imagine that!).  I could have merely announced the name of his DC synagogue and left it at that; that was, in truth, all I’d been asked for.  But I made a point to include links to two recent articles citing his membership in that congregation.  Turned out that the college chaplain was the one who had suggested the New York residency; I had no idea I was in a cage match with a man of the cloth!  So—sorry, padre—but here’s the facts, and I was glad to have supported them by going just a bit beyond where common sense might have suggested stopping.  Know your audience and compose accordingly, but if you err, do so on the side of excess, and TLDRs be damned.

Tim Dempsey, Director-at-Large, APRA MidSouth

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