No matter how old I get, my mom (hi, Mom!) still asks if I’ve written a thank you note for every single present she knows I’ve received. Well, every present I’ve received from someone older than 40. Perhaps my 20-something friends don’t deserve the stationery, or perhaps they just don’t care. I think it’s the latter. But whatever your personal views on thank you notes are, the fact is that lots of people enjoy getting them. I enjoy getting them! I don’t expect them, but it’s always a treat getting some mail.
Ultimately the goal of this is pretty obvious: you want to make the person feel appreciated. There are many times when this can be accomplished with a phone call or an email. Seriously. I give you full permission to just call your cousin and tell her what a nice time you had at dinner. But sometimes a handwritten note is really what’s needed.
That’s the first key to this: handwritten. With everyone typing nonstop to each other, there really is something nice about receiving something no one had to stare at a screen to do. Well, except you, staring at this screen, learning how to write a thank you note. Get a nice, blank card (signing your name at the bottom of a pre-written card is cheating) or stationery, and get at it.
Step 1: Who do you send thank you notes to?
If you sent a note to everyone who ever did anything nice for you, you’d probably be responsible for the genocide of the whole Amazon. I don’t write thank you notes for birthday gifts, or for holiday gifts I receive in person. For instance, I’m not gonna write to my mom about the sweater she gives me in person on Christmas morning, but I will write to my aunt in Minnesota to thank her for sending me new pajamas as a gift. I do write thank you notes for engagement/wedding gifts, gifts sent a long distance, and other instances where someone has really gone out of their way for me. (P.S. There are instances where you write thank you notes for job interviews and other business interactions, but that’s a whole other conversation). It is also generally recommended that you send one to your grandmother, even if you thanked her when you opened it. She will appreciate hearing from you.
You do not need to send a note for a thank you gift. So if you are a bridesmaid and the bride gives you a little gift to thank you for your help and participation, leave it at that, lest you end up in a never ending circle of thanking.
Step 2: How does this person want to be addressed?
When in doubt, use Mr./Ms. Firstnames Lastnames on both the envelope and salutation. I generally like doing something like Mr. Obediah Pennywitt and Mrs. Lucreca Pennywitt, instead of Mr. and Mrs. Obediah Pennywitt, because we’re all modern people who understand women have their own first names. But if you know how said person wants to be addressed, use that. If you’re a bit closer to the person in question, you can just use their first names in the salutation. For example, address Ms. Muffy MacSween on the envelope, and say “Dear Muffy” on the inside. For your signature, the rule is to go as formal as you’ve addressed them. If you said “Dear Ms. Muffy MacSween,” sign your full first and last name. If you said “Dear Muffy,” your first name will suffice.
Step 3: What do you actually write?
As usual, this depends on the situation, and on your relationship with the recipient. But whatever you do, make it personal. Saying “Thank you very much for the gift/meeting/reference, it was very nice” makes it sound like you’re 11-years-old and your mother is hovering over you and forcing you to write. Once, a friend’s mom got a note for a Bat Mitzvah present that said just “Thank you for the $50.” Don’t be that girl/boy/cat.
Did someone get you a nice gift? Tell them how you plan to use it. Cash? Say how generous it is and what you may be saving up for, but don’t mention the exact dollar amount. Did you meet with someone in your field who gave you some good advice? Tell them how it’s helped you, or a specific situation in which you’ve used it. It doesn’t have to be any longer than 3-4 lines.
Step 4: The tricky stuff.
There are times where you will have to write a thank you note for something you can’t be specific about. It may be a gift that you think is hideous and plan on returning, or something you already have, or to someone you just don’t know all that well and can’t get specific with. One way to solve this is to lie, which obviously you shouldn’t do because it can totally backfire. You don’t want to be writing “We loved the crystal bowl and will be so proud to display it in our foyer” only to return it and then someday have them come over and see that your foyer is decorated with some other bowl and feel hurt.
The better option is to be specific about the thought. Say how much it means to you that they thought to get you a gift, instead of the gift itself. Mention something about the last time you saw them, or the next time you’re getting together. If you take the focus off the physical thing they got you, they’ll rarely think to ask about it.
Sample thank you notes:
Thank you for a gift from a friend or relative:
Thank you so much for the lovely scarf. I can tell you put a lot of effort into making it for me and I can’t wait to wear it all winter. Purple is my favorite color! It was great seeing you at my birthday dinner the other night, isn’t Chez Fancypants a great restaurant?
Thank you note for a monetary gift:
Dear Aunt Trudy,
Thank you for the kind graduation gift. I’m sure it will come in great help when I am setting up my new apartment in New York City! It was so kind of you to come to the ceremony, I could hear you all yelling when they called my name!
Thank you note for a gift from a stranger (weddings/engagements)
Dear Mrs. Doolittle,
Thank you so much for the beautiful bowl! It is so kind of you to think of us at this exciting and happy time. Craig has such happy memories of playing with Tommy back in pre-school!
Susie and Craig
Thank you note for a favor:
Thank you so much for hosting me when I was in New York! It was so great to get the chance to catch up after my interview. What a great bar that was- I hope we will get to hang out there a lot if I get this job.
We are having a little launch party get-together thing on Friday at Otto’s Shrunken Head in the East Village, please join us! See the Facebook event here.