Thursday, January 12, 2012

The art of the thank-you note

As I've said before, Matt and I have so much to be grateful for in regard to Baby Awesomerod. The first is simply the fact that she was conceived. The second is the fact that I've had a relatively easy and complication-free pregnancy. The third is that throughout this process we've been surrounded by generous friends and family who have thrown us multiple showers (parts 1 and 2) and given us lots and lots of amazing physical gifts (in addition to the comfort of their presence right down to these final countdown weeks).

I am a firm believer in expressing gratitude. I think this is best done in written form, preferably in the form of a handwritten thank-you note, though there are plenty of times when a nice email does the trick as well. When someone does something awesome for us it's the least we can do to send a nice note saying how thankful we are for what they did and for our relationship with them in general.

Here's my miniature thank-you note station that I keep in our desk with stamps readily available to reduce the chances of procrastinating on note writing because supplies aren't handy.

To toot my own horn (why do we say "not to toot my own horn" when that's obviously what we're doing?), on more than one occasion I've been told I have mad thank-you note writing skills. Although I do not consider this to be a particularly impressive skill, I think this came from years of training at the hands of my mother, who is a huge proponent of handwritten thank-you notes. Here's what I've learned.

First of all, a good thank you note needs to be timely. 

I know everyone has these Emily Post-esque timelines they could follow that give us all some leeway and allow for several months to pass before a note must be sent, but I always think the sooner, the better. As a gift giver if I get a note in the mail months after sending a gift I'm usually like, "Wait, what did I give you? When? I forgot." Everyone likes more immediate feedback. Of course, when life gets in the way of giving timely feedback, "better late than never" is still the best policy.

Second of all, and perhaps most importantly, a good thank-you note needs to be personal. 

This can be achieved by:

1) Specifically mentioning the gift(s) received along with some explanation of why they're great. When the gift is money I think it's always best to give some hints as to how the money will be used.

2) Specifically mentioning something about the occasion being celebrated -- wedding, baby, birthday, new home, etc. Reveal something about yourself. Where are you with wedding planning? Baby prep? Home renovations?

3) Specifically mentioning something personal about the person to whom you're writing. How does he/she fit in with this celebration?

Third of all, a good thank-you note should be of reasonable length. 

A couple sentences just doesn't cut it once you're older than a third grader. Most greeting cards allow space for two or three paragraphs of text, and I like to use the space given to me.

Of course, the most important rule of thank-you note writing is that you actually write the note. 

Almost everyone writes notes for wedding and baby gifts, but I'm always shocked by how, for example, few students write thank-you notes for college letters of recommendation. Those suckers are not easy to churn out and are frankly something most teachers I know dislike doing. Perhaps if more than a handful of students each year would actually send a follow-up email or handwritten note to their teachers there would be fewer of us begrudging the task. (Steps off soap box...)

Do you have any other thank-you note how-to tips? What other ways do you express gratitude?

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