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How to Professionalize Your Shop From the Inside Out



Whether you are a small shop, large shop, or somewhere in between, how you portray your unit has a direct correlation on how you are perceived. Most of our donor relations shops manage a lot of output — from acknowledgments to endowment reporting to highly engaging events, we are dealing with a significant amount of work. But do we ever think about how others perceive us or our work? Are we putting our most professional foot forward? We may not be, but with a little attention and precision, we can turn that around.


As individuals, what can we do?


First, what does it mean to be professional? According to Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Espara, there are 6 Pillars of professionalism in the workplace:

  1. Follow through – do what you say you are going to do

  2. Respect – treat everyone with respect from the front office to the CEO

  3. Accountability – be accountable for your actions and words

  4. Punctuality – but don’t just show up on time, be prepared!

  5. Initiative – act independently

  6. Integrity – do the right thing

These 6 pillars should be used when communicating with our donors as well as our colleagues. Following these basic principles will help us maintain relationships with our donors and build deeper philosophical connections.


In a recent study on Career Readiness conducted by NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers), employers who hire college graduates were asked which professional competencies were essential to workplace success. Professionalism/work ethic topped the list with 97.5% of respondents identifying it as either “absolutely essential” or “essential” for a new college hire’s success.

We may not all be recent college grads, but we can all improve our professionalism in the workplace regardless of our tenure.


Here are 12 ways you can develop and practice professionalism from Virginia Tech's Career and Professional Development Center:


  1. Be productive - Use your time wisely and productively at work. Avoid social media, web browsing and phone activity while on the clock and focus on your job.

  2. Create a professional image - Professional presence and appropriate dress for your industry and organization are extremely important. Remember to dress for the position you aspire to!

  3. Take initiative - Ask for additional projects and/or think of new assignments that will meet your organization's goals.

  4. Keep effective work habits - Have a sense of urgency and prioritize and plan your assignments and projects accordingly, and always follow up and through with your team members and any supervisors.

  5. Manage your time - Prioritize projects, set achievable goals, and create action plans to meet deadlines.

  6. Show integrity - Be accountable for your work and actions, and behave in an ethical manner at all times.

  7. Provide excellence - Create work and produce results with pride and professionalism, and wherever possible, exceed expectations.

  8. Look for Solutions - When problems and obstacles arise, be a problem solver. Take the time to brainstorm solutions and alternatives before you meet with your supervisor or team.

  9. Be resilient - Develop your coping skills. Find ways to manage any setbacks and challenges with positivity and a constructive attitude.

  10. Communicate effectively - Be clear in your communications and practice professionalism in all communications whether its on-line and or in person.

  11. Self-awareness - Learn to manage emotions and work on knowing your own emotional triggers, so you can handle your reactions positively, professionally and productively.

  12. Develop relationships - Network with everyone! Build professional relationships with colleagues as well as donors, so you can collaborate effectively.

How can we professionalize our donor relations shops?

  • Brand your unit - use this branding on all internal documents — memo’s, communications, event program flows and PowerPoints, etc.

  • Define your shop’s purpose and values and share these with your organization.

  • Share your services with your institution’s partners. Tell them what you do and how you can help them meet their needs, and continue to share updates frequently.

  • Bring your people out from the “back office,” make sure they are seen and recognized. They have so much to offer!

  • Be known as trained experts. You don’t have to know everything but be an expert in something you enjoy about your work.

  • Reaffirmation of goals with our teams – Leaders celebrate successes in a manner that reflects an expectation of professionalism – Empower your team!

We’d love to hear from you, do you have any tips or tricks you’d like to share on how your organization can reach new heights of professionalism? Give us your feedback in the comments!

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