I love to send handwritten notes. Some might say that is one of my trademarks. I like to think I know when to send and how to write a thank you note. But one truly never knows. So I had to ask my BFF and card queen Heidi Kallett about her thank you note rules. If you don't know her, she is the 4 foot 11 Texan powerhouse behind mid-Atlantic luxury stationery boutiques The Dandelion Patch.
She begins: "There are thank you notes, and then there are thank you notes. At the very least, you should be sending hand-written thank you notes when the rules of graciousness call for it. And then there are the unexpected thank you notes. Thank you notes for random acts of kindness."
She continues: "A handwritten note is an extension of a certain attitude. It is an overt act of gratitude."
Here are the rules she recommends keeping in mind when writing and sending thank you notes. (And please note that unless otherwise specified, we are talking about handwritten thank you notes sent via the old-fashioned postal system).
When to send:
- Anytime you open a gift in absence of the giver. Really, anytime you receive a gift.
- As soon as you can possibly write the note is the most opportune time to send them.
- Keep in mind it is worse to never send the note than to send it six months after receiving a gift. While more timely is better, the time for a thank you note never has lapsed. Not sending a thank you note is always worse.
- The most memorable thank you notes are thank yous for random acts of kindness, because those are the most unexpected.
- Anytime you question whether you should or should not send a thank you note, you should send one.
- There is never a wrong time or occasion to send a thank you note.
- Always send a thank you note to a prospective employer who has taken the time to interview you.
What to say (and what not to say):
- Always mention something specific about the gift, preferably how or where you are going to use it; this specificity is particularly important if you received a gift card.
- Remember that even if you do not like the actual gift, you are thanking someone for his or her thoughtfulness and for the fact that they put time and effort into the gift.
- Never say you won't enjoy the gift, have a duplicate of the gift, or will never use it. (Yes, this seems obvious, but you would be surprised...)
What to use:
Let me preface this by saying that it is Heidi's belief that everyone should have a set of personal stationery. (And keep in mind this is always a most welcome gift for friends, children of friends, colleagues, and more). She also believes that most people will need two sets of thank you notes, one for personal use and one for corporate or business use. If you are married, you may actually have three sets: your personal thank you cards, your business thank you cards, and a set that reflects you and your husband (for example when you thank someone on behalf of the family).
- Choose cards that reflect your personality.
- Initials are a classic that are always appropriate.
- The return address goes on the back flap, typically address only, no name.
- The card itself will typically be more formal and professional.
- The return address still goes on the back flap; you would typically put the company name as an identifier in addition to the address.
What not to do:
- When sending a thank you note in the context of business, including your business card is never appropriate.
- Using your married initials as the initials on your cards before your actual wedding date is never appropriate.
Modern day rules:
- It is always appropriate to send an immediate thank you email, but only in addition to the hand-written note that will follow.
- An email thank you is never a replacement for a handwritten thank you note.
- Because of the prevalence of email, actually, a handwritten thank you note will have even more of an impact.
And one more thing:
In speaking with Heidi about thank you notes for this piece, I realized that while I am well stocked in thank you cards, I am seriously lacking in what I learn are called "gift enclosure cards." They are Heidi's best friend when it comes to gift giving. She has a number of them. These are cards, typically the size of a business card, that have happy messages printed on them such as "happy birthday from Heidi" (and from her husband and her two kids) or "from the Kallett household" or "congratulations from the Kalletts." As I listen to her speak, I realize that this would solve all of my "I don't have the right card for this gift" problems. With a few of these cards, you cover birthdays, holiday gifts, graduations, weddings, new jobs, new babies, and pretty much any other gift-giving occasion.
Ada Polla is the Founder and CEO of Alchimie Forever skincare.