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The Long and the Short

Guest Post: Tony Proscio

By raising this question, I risk putting myself out of business. But it’s a sincere question, and I honestly don’t know the answer:

Is there a future for the long-form report in philanthropy? Does anyone read even the most crisply written Big White Paper? Fifty or sixty pages on the benefits of preventive family medicine in Oakland? Or the economic development multiplier of community arts organizations in Cincinnati? If, as we’re constantly being told, the attention span of even the most educated and sophisticated person is plunging, do we still have an appetite for 25,000 words on the intricacies of foundation affinity groups or high-engagement philanthropy? Or do we need to start breaking most topics down into 400-word blog posts and 5-page fact sheets?

I enjoy writing long, reflective reports. I even like reading (some of) them. I think it’s possible to make them more than worth the time they take to digest. But just because something is important and worthwhile doesn’t mean that people will actually do it. If the length of a paper scares readers away, they won’t ever find out how rewarding it would have been to invest an hour in reading it. There’s a place for everything, and I can’t help wondering: What place do long reports still have in our work? And if there is still a place, what pieces belong in it, and what makes those successful?

If anyone has a thought on this — especially if it involves not giving up my livelihood — I’d love to hear it.

Tony Proscio, a planning, evaluation, and communication consultant to foundation and large nonprofit organizations, is also the creator of the Communications Network’s Jargon Finder.


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