The Lost Art of Thank You Notes

...nothing is more requisite than to write a good letter. Nothing in fact is more easy.
- Lord Chesterfield

In these days of instant communication, cell-phones and e-mail, it is a rare pleasure to receive a handwritten note in the mail. A thank you note tucked in with the bills, junk mail and business correspondence is a true treat. Part of the beauty of thank you notes is their simplicity. They are low cost, low effort and high return.

When to Write ~ The old adage is that if someone took the time to give you a gift, you should take the time to write the person a note. This still holds true. In addition to gifts, it is proper and appropriate to write a note when someone makes an extra effort on your behalf. Referring a client, suggesting a marketing strategy, hosting a meal, forwarding information of interest or even constructive criticism are all examples where a thank you note is appropriate. Your note should be sent as soon as possible after the courtesy is extended.

What to Say ~ Sincerity is the most important aspect in writing a thank you note. Let the recipient know why you appreciated what they did. Examples include:

  • "It was so nice of you to remember my birthday! Thank you so much for the beautiful writing paper. As you know, I am an avid correspondent. I look forward to using the stationery and will think of you each time I do."

  • "It was a pleasure to meet you on Monday April 24th. I truly appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to review my business plan. Your suggestions were right on target. I am going to begin working on the seminar initiative today. Thank you for your advice."
  • "Lunch was fantastic! Thank you so much for taking me out for a fancy meal. The food was delicious, the conversation engaging and the company, superb. I look forward to reciprocating in the near future."
Typed vs. Written ~ When you receive your mail, which do you open first? Unless your handwriting is horrific, I recommend handwritten notes for both personal and business thank you notes. There are many advantages to handwritten notes. They are opened first. In business situations they are more likely to actually reach the addressee (as opposed to being opened and filed by support staff). They are more personal as many type-written notes look like form letters. Plus, you only need to fill a note card instead of an 8 ½ x 11 piece of paper.

Paper Products ~ Crane's is my personal favorite writing paper. (Yes, the same people who make the paper on which our U.S. currency is printed.) Crane's stationery prices begin at about $12.00 for a box of 10 cards. But you do not need to spend a lot for nice stationery. Hallmark makes plain note cards which sell for about $6.00 for a box of 20 cards. I recommend plain paper as opposed to cards that have a pre-printed "Thank You" on the front. The plain paper allows you to use it for any occasion when you wish to write a note.

Great Gift ~ Whether for someone else, or yourself, personalized stationery is a great gift. The paper can be personalized with your full name, your first name, or just your initials. The envelope may be left blank, or have your address printed on the back flap. Personalized paper can be ordered from most stationery stores, copy centers or from individual dealers. Individual dealers are small business owners who will usually come to your home with their books to help you choose your order. The advantage of the dealers is that they are able to give you a 10% - 20% discount from what you would pay in a stationery store.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ There was an article in the paper recently that said if you thank the giver in person when opening a gift you were not required to send a thank you note. I could not believe it! My mother always made me send a thank you. What is your opinion?

A: This is a perfect example of how etiquette is evolving and there is a difference of opinion among etiquette experts. I am among the hard-liners who still believe in a written thank you note. If someone has gone to enough effort to give you a gift, you should properly thank him or her with a personal note.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ Last weekend I had houseguests. They were very kind and brought me a hostess-gift. After the weekend, they then sent an amazing gift-basket filled with teas and treats as a thank you for the weekend. Since this gift is a thank you, do I send a thank you note for a thank you gift?

A: Wonderful question! The best response to a thank you gift is an exuberant phone call. You should let them know that you have received the gift and that it was your pleasure to have them as a guest. If you are so moved, you may write a BRIEF note, but it is not necessary.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ I recently received a thank you note from a client which included an invitation to join her church as well as some religious materials. The thank you note was so sweet that I feel obligated to attend services at least once, but I am not interested in joining her church. What should I do?

A: You are the recipient of a bait and switch. This is a big etiquette no-no. Your client is using the pretense of a thank you note to proselytize for her religious group. You should verbally thank the client for the sweet note and explain that you are not currently looking for a church. I do not recommend going to the church unless you are thinking of joining, as it would lead the client on and only create a stickier situation in the future.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ We have an ongoing family feud about thank you notes. My brother’s wife says children only have to acknowledge "biggy" presents like for a sweet-sixteen or high school graduation. I disagree. What do you think?

A: Very simply, my feeling is that if the event is "biggy" enough to warrant the giving of gifts, then the event is "biggy" enough to warrant a thank you note.