Professional Excellence Starts with Good Manners


How is professional excellence achieved? Professional excellence begins with good manners that can be learned at home, at school, at work, from experience, and by adopting an attitude that embraces growth, continuous development, and learning from mistakes.

Ask and Thank in Person

When you are asking someone for something – a gift, a donation, or to assist your organization in some way – always ask in person. This means face-to-face or by telephone. Never by email: email suggests you think the request is unimportant. Respect, acknowledgement, and gratitude never go out of style. Thank people for their hospitality, generosity, and gifts of time and money. People can never be thanked too often so say thank you in person or by phone and send a handwritten note – nothing makes a greater impression.

Communicate Appropriately

How and when do your volunteers, your donors and other stakeholders want to hear from you? Respect their preferences and ensure that the method of communication suits the topic. Some messages such as praise or thanks are best delivered in person or over the telephone. A congratulatory email does not have the same impact.

Email Tips

  • Use the subject line to inform
  • Treat e-mails like business letters. Keep messages brief, but not abrupt
  • Don’t shout – avoid using all upper case letters
  • Remember no e-mail is private
  • Never email when you are angry
  • Respect others’ privacy
  • Use Reply All selectively
  • Think twice before sending humorous messages and don’t send anything you wouldn’t want in your organization’s newsletter
  • Use the out-of-office auto reply feature to tell others when you are unavailable
  • Prevent frustration: include attachments, check your email, clear your mailbox so new emails are accepted, and avoid sending chain letters

Telephone Etiquette

  • Begin by identifying yourself and your organization
  • Ask permission before putting a caller on hold
  • Give the caller the name and extension of the person to whom you are transferring the call if you cannot help them yourself
  • Give priority to the person on the phone rather than to the person who just walked into your office
  • Ignore call waiting
  • Advise the person you are speaking with that you are expecting an important call – do this at the outset of the conversation
  • Return phone calls promptly – always

Cell Phone Musts

  • Avoid cute, quirky ring tones in professional settings
  • Give precedence to the people you are with rather than to the calls or text messages you want to receive or send
  • Let your voice mail take your calls when you are with others
  • Turn off the ringer when you are in meetings or at events
  • Be courteous to those within hearing distance
  • Use your phone responsibly when you are driving

Watch Your Language

While casual language and abbreviations are acceptable in personal emails and texts, they are inappropriate for professional communications with donors, volunteers, suppliers, and others. The importance of good grammar, correct spelling (especially people’s names) and clarity cannot be overstated.

In the context of fundraising and asking for a gift, language must be respectful.

Avoid the following and similar expressions:

  • hit ‘em up
  • target – lock and load
  • block and tackle
  • take the order

Like other professionals, fundraisers have their own jargon. It serves a purpose in conversations with colleagues but should not be used with external stakeholders including donors who might not understand the jargon or worse, might be offended by it.

Donors make charitable gifts voluntarily and should be treated with TLC – tender, loving care. Show respect, be considerate, express genuine thanks. Good manners never go out of style and are a sign of professional excellence.

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