When to Send a Thank You Card

Following up on my last post (What to Say in a Thank You Card), I thought today I would address the companion issue of when to send a thank you note. There are all sorts of lists out on the Internet that answer this question, from that expert of all things etiquette, Emily Post, to one written by a high end stationary engraver (makes sense, you need to write your thank you notes on something after all). Even Oprah has had some experts weigh in on the subject in a Q&A format.

According to Emily Post, when it comes to thank you notes:

 The rule of thumb is that you should send a written note any time you receive a gift (even a ‘thank you’ gift) and the giver wasn’t there to be thanked in person. But notes are not always necessary. If, for example, the gift is from a close friend or relative (and it’s not a wedding gift) you can email or call instead if you prefer.

However, as with any rule, there are exceptions, and certain occasions demand written thank yous, even if you thanked the giver in person, for example for baby and wedding shower gifts.

If you are a daily Dear Abby reader, as I am, you’ll know that some people are sticklers for receiving thank yous for wedding gifts – as they should be. If I remember Dear Abby from years past, brides used to be given up to a year to get those notes off, but not any more. Current trends say thank you notes for wedding gifts should be sent within two weeks for gifts received before the wedding and within a month or two for those received after the wedding. That’s best for all concerned anyway – gets it off the newlywed bride’s “to do” list and is before the giver forgets what they gave! Oh, and don’t forget that the husband is just as capable of writing thank you notes as the new wife!

Other occasions where help may appropriately be sought in writing thank yous include for gifts and notes sent during an illness or for letters, gifts, and donations sent for condolence. At those times, the actual recipient might not be up to preparing the thank you cards, due to recovery or bereavement, so a close friend can provide some assistance.  (And so you don’t feel unduly burdened, note the distinction here: when ill or mourning, it’s not necessary to acknowledge every card received such as those where the sender simply signed their name.  It’s those with a personal message, and the letters, that need to be responded to).

Thank you cards are appropriate to send for gifts, hospitality or other kindnesses given on any of the following occasions:

  • Baby showers
  • Bridal showers
  • Weddings
  • Birthdays / Anniversaries
  • Other special age marking celebrations (Confirmation, First Communion, Bat / Bar Mitzvah, Quinceañera, Graduation, etc.)
  • Holidays (Christmas, Hanukkah, Valentines Day, etc.)
  • Thank you gift for hosting dinner
  • For hospitality for dinner / longer visit
  •  Housewarming gift
  • Retirement gift
  • Job interview*

[*An aside: My boyfriend and I have an ongoing debate about the proper format for a thank you note for a job interview – paper or electronic.) The last time I sent a handwritten thank you note for a job interview, I was called and told someone else had been selected for the position before the interviewer had even received the paper thank you – darn snail mail – I ended up feeling pretty foolish. So for a more recent job interview, I sent electronic thank yous to both interviewers. They felt “cheaper” but I felt safer with those since I knew the interviewers were making a decision about the second round of interviews within a tight time frame, and I wanted to make sure the “thank yous” got there more speedily. I think this is a case where that ever helpful rule “it depends” has to come into play. Use your gut instinct. What is important, however, is that a thank you is sent. If the interviewer is that offended by the format it which it was sent, and holds it against you, you probably didn’t want to be working for that organization anyway!]

Now, despite the extensive list above, I think the best reason for writing a thank you card is because you feel in your heart or your head that one is needed or appropriate. In the last few weeks alone I’ve sent a few of those “just because” sort of thank you notes.

One was to the veterinarian who had provided such good care to my cat Virginia during the last few months of her life. I wanted to let him know how much I had appreciated his assistance in determining what ailed her, and then, even though it turned out there wasn’t anything that could be done to change the outcome of things, how much I valued how well treated Virginia and I were every time we visited the practice, from everyone in the office. As I wrote in my card, I was made to feel like Virginia was the most important cat in the world (and well she was, to me).

The second such thank you card was to a departmental colleague who works in another building so the majority of our contact is by phone and e-mail. It always seems like I’m coming up with ways to confound the content management system he is in charge of and we regularly kid that I am ultimately going to be the reason he will some day put in his retirement papers. Kidding aside, he’s always willing to help me out with my conundrums on this particular software and I wanted to let him know how much I appreciated that and the fact that he is always good-spirited about it, no matter what the challenge is. After he received the card, he wrote that it was unnecessary, and that I was the least challenging of all those he had to work with. “Yes,” I wanted to write back, “but I figured none of the others take the time to say thank you, so I wanted to let you know that all your hard work is appreciated.”

Finally, over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll be saying good-bye to our summer interns at work. Each of them will receive a handmade thank you card with personal messages inside from me and my coworker who has also spent the summer supervising them. It’s our way of letting them know how their summer with us has made a difference to our organization.

So think about it.  Who do you want to thank today?

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