Thank You Letters are Important!

Thank you letters are important. My parents made me write them growing up. Often they were scribbled misspelled “thank yous” on a card sent to the grandparents after Christmas and birthdays. When I got older, it was suggested I write thank you letters and cards but I almost always forgot to, felt guilty when I thought it was too late (it’s never too late BTW) and eventually got over it. I lost track of writing thank you letters, even though I have always loved sending and receiving mail. My grandmother once told me that she stopped sending certain family members money and gifts because they did not send thank you letters back. This jolted me to make sure I continued sending thank you letters to at least that grandma unless I could thank her in person.

I learned recently though, that it’s a good habit to send a thank you “something” (note, email, letter) even if you already thanked the person face to face. It’s a good reinforcer that you do appreciate them and puts the relationship with the person above whatever they sent. This is something I had to learn too. We do not send thank you letters to our loved ones so they continue sending things, we send thank you letters to our loved ones because they are our loved ones and the relationship with that person is more important than what they can give us. A genuine thank you letter or a “thinking of you” card can say that better than a canned response in a generic card.

When I graduated high school, I had a giant basket full of cards. I wrote thank yous to everyone who sent me something for graduation. It was arduous work but it made me feel better that the people who took the time to send me something knew that it was important to me and that I appreciated it. I’m sure a thank you email or text would have sufficed and held the same meaning for more than half of those people, but I sent cards anyways. Each one was personalized, unless I did not know the person very well.

There is a time and place for every medium of letter. You have to analyze your audience. Who is going to receive that thank you? Would they rather have a letter, a text, or an email? Often letters are the way to go, but sometimes you don’t have that person’s address and the relationship is not one where sharing addresses is appropriate. I did have an encounter where I did not send a letter because of that logic. To this day, I still do not know how well it was received.

The CEO of my company sent me a gift when I started at the company and I called my mom to ask whether I should write her a thank you letter and send it to her office in the next city over or if an email would do? My mom told me it was okay to send her a thank you email because that’s what she would have done since it is a corporate environment. Not much later an “all staff” email was sent from our CEO about writing thank you notes. I’m still not sure if this was a coincidence or not. Regardless, the article was very helpful and I reference it to this day. The article is here.

So it’s a good habit to always make sure whether your grandma would prefer a hand written letter or a text. Maybe the CEO of your company would rather you send her a hand written note instead of an email. Maybe that all staff email was a compliment to my thank you note writing and not about the medium in which I sent it.  Maybe she hated the note and wanted it to be better. I will never know if it was a coincidence or not.

When I went to Paris, a lot of people helped me get there. I had budgeted that I would need about $3,200. Word got out to my family and half of that was gifted to me by friends and family members. When I came home I went through all the photos I took and were taken of me. I selected the ones that best represented what I did on the trip and the special experiences I had. Then I printed about 15 of each image (through WalMart’s printing center) and put three of each into 15 separate envelopes addressed to everyone who made it possible for me to go to Paris. Then over the course of three days, I wrote a short blurb of what each photograph was of and the impact that moment had on my life. Then I wrote a letter to accompany the images expressing my gratitude and letting the person know that their contribution to my trip really did change my life. This is an instance where a letter definitely is better than a text or email. Email is more convenient, but I think sending tangible photos had more impact and expressed my gratitude more than an attached .jpg file ever could.

What should go into a thank you letter?

The article my CEO sent the whole company is actually some of the best set of thank you letter advice I have ever received.

I think what makes a thank you letter special is what you say, not how you say it. How you say it is important, but that comes down to the medium, not the content. The article above references getting to the point in giving your thanks but I think the most important part of the article is suggestion  #4 “mention the past, allude to the future.” This is where you come out. This is where you reinforce how much this person’s presence in your life means to you. I think you could write this in one sentence, or five. It depends on the context.

I think this is important for non personal letters and notes too. Everytime I receive a scholarship, I make sure to send a thank you letter in some capacity. While I do not hold a personal relationship with people on the scholarship committees, I do like to reinforce the impact their contribution to my education has on my life. In regard to alluding to the future, I let them know what direction I intend to take my education towards an end product.I let them know that there is an intended end and they are helping me get there.

I came across this advice by chance, but I think it’s The.Best. advice on writing a thank you letter.

Lemony Snicket’s advice on writing a thank you note:

  1. “Do not start with the thank you
  2. Start with any other sentence. If you first say, “Thank you for the nice sweater,” you can’t imagine what to write next. Say, “It was so wonderful to come home from school to find this nice sweater. Thank you for thinking of me on Arbor Day.”
  3. Then you’re done.
  4. I recommend learning how to write a very good thank-you note. A child who can write a nice thank-you note can turn into a cocaine dealer five years later and be remembered as the child who wrote nice thank-you notes.”

In the end, take all the advice you can get and consolidate it into a guide or template that you can use over and over. When using a guide or template, don’t forget to let you come out. Thank you letter templates are helpful, but only if it is not a recyclable letter. I also do not follow my template every time.

Here is the template I use:

Thank you letter template
my Thank you letter template

This template is primarily for more personal thank you letters. For professional thank you letters such as one I would send after receiving a scholarship, I do not follow Lemony Snicket’s advice and always begin with “thank you.” I have a post about scholarships with a section on thank you letters here. 

Again, letters are about relationships. You send a card or a letter to someone you love or care about to let them know that you appreciate and care about them. You send a letter to someone who has helped you or provided for you to remind them that their assistance or gift is important and appreciated. A tangible letter also communicates that their presence in your life is worth the time for you to sit down, write a letter, address it, stamp it, and mail it. Thank you letters are important.

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