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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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What to Say in a Thank You Card

I am beginning to wonder if sending thank you cards is becoming a lost art. It seems these days, at least for me, when I send a gift it’s hit or miss whether or not I receive a thank you note for it. This can be particularly frustrating if the gift is sent in the mail – you are left wondering if it was ever received. Yes, I know, I can pay for tracking through the postal service, but knowing it was delivered is not quite the same thing as knowing the intended recipient got it, opened it, and had some sort of reaction to what was inside.

OK, maybe I don’t want to know if they hated it, but I would still like it to be acknowledged; for the time and effort I took to find something I thought they’d enjoy to be recognized. Is that selfish on my part? To want a simple note of appreciation? Am I being too demanding on the part of etiquette standards? I don’t think so.

So in order to help my own cause, I am offering here my guide for how to write a thank you note. It’s really simple. And I wonder if some times thank you cards don’t get written because “I just don’t know what to say”. Well, so much for that excuse! It’s easy. Pick up pen and paper and follow the rule of threes (basically things are always better in threes).

Well, OK, there are actually 6 lines to a basic thank you note, but three substantive lines. Here goes:

  1. Salutation
  2. Thank you for the [specific item]
  3. Provide one or two reasons why you specifically like the item. If you didn’t like the item, be kind, be vague, refer to the effort the giver put into choosing the item for you
  4. Add a sentence about how you will use the item / have used the item and enjoyed it. If it doesn’t seem likely that you will you may need to skip this line, or include a line about the sender’s thoughtfulness in thinking of you.
  5. Repeat your thanks.
  6. Sign your name

Oh, did I mention that thank you notes are most effective if sent in paper form?

There are some occasions I’ve sent electronic thank yous, but I’ve then followed up with paper versions. For example, when I got out of the hospital earlier this year after unexpected surgery, I sent a quick electronic thank you to a coworker who, out of the blue, had sent me flowers. She had sent me an e-mail to check in on me so I was replying and mentioned my thanks for the flowers. But her gesture was so kind (she had missed the opportunity to contribute to the office flowers and felt she needed to do something on her own) that it deserved a special written thank you as well.

My mom and I still exchange handwritten thank you cards for birthdays and Christmas gifts and even for “listening to me on the phone last night when I needed to talk”. It gets a bit ridiculous at times, since we usually see each other, particularly for Christmas and those notes sometimes end up looking like laundry lists, but still, it’s the sentiment behind them that counts.

If you’re still not sure what to say, here are some sample thank you’s following the layout given above:

To a relative:
Dear Aunt Mary, Thank you so much for the set of hand towels you sent us as a house warming gift. The colors match our new guest bathroom so perfectly, and you know how much Steven is a fan of penguins. We can’t wait until you can come visit us to give them a work out yourself. Thanks again for the best wishes on our new home. Sincerely, Jane

To a boss:
Dear Marilyn: I just want to say thank you for allowing my husband and me to use the company’s tickets to the city’s orchestra last night. Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons has always been one of my favorite pieces and I so enjoyed hearing a live performance of it. It was a wonderful evening out. Thanks again. Eleanor

To a friend:
Dear Rachel, Where do I begin to say thank you for the salon day for my birthday? As you know things have been rough for me these last few months, and a day of pampering was just what I needed. Not to mention spending the day with my best friend to gossip and vent! We have to do that again sometime SOON! Thank you thank you thank you. Kim

For the unwanted / unliked item:
Dear Emily, Thank you for the cat and dog salt and pepper shakers / figurines that arrived the other day. They were such a surprise to find in the mail. As you know I am quite an animal lover and I am always amazed at what you are always finding and sending my way. I know these will find a special place. Thanks again. Sarah

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I hope these samples and the 6 simple steps outlines above will help you out the next time you face any thank you note angst.  Remember, as with the gift itself, it’s not so much what you write, but that you do write — it’s the thought that counts.

Thank you for reading!
Cindy

 

 

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To Send an E-Card or a Paper Card…That is the Question

I seem to have a number of friends, co-workers and acquaintances who celebrate their birthdays in the spring and summer. So needless to say, I’ve been sending out a number of greetings lately, both in electronic and paper form. And that got me wondering what the criteria is as to when you send an electronic greeting, or when you send a paper one.

So, of course, I turned to the source of all answers these days….the Internet. And, of course, the answer was “it depends”. How more crystal clear could it be than that!

Here’s some of what I found. That the question has been around since at least the turn of the 21st century, according to an article from the Baltimore Sun and then in 2011, the Emily Post Institute announced that electronic greetings were perfectly acceptable for holiday cards. And, as those closest to me know, I am, if nothing else, a stickler for the rules of etiquette. (For those of you who don’t know me that well, please read that last sentence tongue in check.)

I also found some interesting commentary that men were more likely to send e-cards than women. And I suspect that’s true. Think about it. The last time you were in Hallmark, or the card aisle of the grocery store or drug store, were you in the company of men or women? Yes, that’s what I thought your answer would be. Me too. And also that younger people were more likely to send e-cards than those of the older generation. No surprise there either. It’s simply a matter of being more familiar and comfortable with the technology involved. Sorry Mom.

And it may be more than that. I wonder if sending cards simply isn’t on the radar of some members of the younger generation. (Oh dear… Am I dating myself when I start speaking of a “younger generation”?) So posting a Happy Birthday on someone’s Facebook page is sufficient. But I don’t mean to judge here, I’m just as guilty of a simple wall posting, even when I’d rather send a card, but these are acquaintances that are “just” Facebook friends, or have become “just Facebook friends” as our personal contact has faded. You see, I don’t actually have mailing addresses for them. Yes, that’s a poor excuse. In this day and age of cyber tracking, it’s fairly easy to find a mailing address for just about anybody. I’m just being lazy about it, at least for birthdays.

Whatever the reasons, laziness, unawareness, ease of use, environmental considerations (hadn’t even thought about that one until I started this research!), apparently the printed greeting card industry is taking a big hit from the popularity of e-cards and of custom printed cards, according to a 2013 Market Watch report: a 60% decline in sales of traditional greeting cards (and other printed matter) from 2003-2013, compared to a jump in the sales of e-cards and custom printed ones created and ordered online from $65 million in 2002 to $3.5 billion in 2012. As a couple of sources pointed out, it’s not that sending e-cards is the easy way out. In fact, it can take quite a bit of time to choose an e-card, play around with fonts, colors, and other creative elements during the design process. It may even take more time than it would to drive to the store, pick out a card, pay for it and put it in the mail!

So, what’s the answer for me? Yup, you guessed it…..it depends. The important thing is that you make the effort to reach out to someone. Birthday, illness, anniversary, or other occasion worth noting. Or even “just because”.  I think I’m more likely to just use an electronic greeting for birthdays, particularly for acquaintances. Serious illnesses, sympathy cards, and weddings however still seem to warrant a paper card where a handwritten message is required. Other instances, such as a light-hearted “pick me up” card, could go either way – a cute, animated e-card could work just as well as a humorous paper card.

So what’s your preference?

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