motivation My Thoughts Writing

How to Write Meaningful Thank You Notes

Here are a few things I've learned over the years about writing effective and meaningful thank you notes. I hope you're able to pick up a few helpful tips and put them into action soon. That's my biggest wish. Not that you would just learn about writing thank you notes, but that you would actually write them.

I’ve been writing thank you notes all my life. Even when I was a little kid, my parents would have my siblings and I send hand-written thank you notes to grandparents and family members who gave us birthday or Christmas presents.

Thanks for that Mom and Dad, because as it turns out it you were right (as always). This is important stuff.

Fast forward 20 some years to my first “real” job out of college. I was working in fundraising for a small nonprofit and one of the first things I learned in this role was the importance of thank you notes. Whether they were for donors, volunteers, board members, or simply people who came for a tour, a hand-written thank you note goes a long way. Partly because they aren’t used as much anymore and partly because they are so personal.

Earlier this week on my Facebook page I asked you what you were most interested in learning about when it comes to writing. Many of you said learning to write more meaningful thank you notes intrigued you. So this post is for you.

Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years about writing effective and meaningful thank you notes. I hope you’re able to pick up a few helpful tips and put them into action soon. That’s my biggest wish. Not that you would just learn about writing thank you notes, but that you would actually write them. They have the power of making someone’s day, changing someone’s perspective, and giving them the gift of appreciation. So learn how to write them better, and then start practicing.

#1 Never start with the words “thank you”

The first sentence is arguably the most important, so make sure they know you’re sincere by avoiding the bland “thank you statement.”

  • Thank you so much for the gift of…
  • Thank you for coming to our wedding…
  • Thank you for hosting us…

Can you say blah? This is a very small thing, and I’m not implying people who start this way don’t mean it. It’s just a bad habit when it comes to writing thank you notes, and it can appear somewhat lazy.

Nothing says routine and obligatory more than starting with “thank you…” It’s as if I was 10 years old again being forced to sit down and write to my family members. “Thank you for the birthday present. I really liked the Barbie.” Can you get any more vanilla? Again, I don’t blame you, I used to write this way too, until I learned a better way.

Instead you want to lead with sincerity. So try something like this.

  • “It was an incredible honor to receive such a personal gift from you. I shouldn’t have been surprised knowing how kind you are, but it was so perfect it just amazed me. Thank you.”
  • “You never cease to surprise me with your thoughtfulness, thank you so much for planning the baby shower.”
  • “You’re amazing! I can’t imagine how many hours you spent preparing to host that party, but thank you for allowing me to spend the evening in your home.”
  • “The work you do on a daily basis is worthy of so many awards. I just wanted to make sure you knew how thankful I am to work alongside you.”

Get the idea? It’s a subtle difference that makes your writing more meaningful and personal right away.

#2 Write about them, not about you

In fundraising the rule of thumb was always to use words like you, your, yours 2-3 times as often as words like I, me, ours. The point of the thank you note isn’t to write about you and your experience, the point is to remind the person you’re thanking they are absolutely amazing. Because they are, right? Otherwise you wouldn’t be writing this note.

Everyone likes to hear nice things about themselves. This doesn’t mean you’re doing it insincerely, it simply means you’re acknowledging the things you admire and appreciate about the person you’re writing to. After all, they already know what gift they got you, you probably don’t need to remind them. But do they know how much you appreciate their attitude, work ethic, personality, smile, serving heart, or sense of humor? Focus on the person you are thanking and less on yourself.

#3 The sooner the better

This is one you probably already know, but for some reason it’s one of the hardest. Sending a note soon after your experience with someone goes a long way. It shows her gift or effort was so appreciated, you couldn’t wait to make sure she knew it.

A good window is to send the thank you note within 48 hours. If you go to a dinner party at a coworkers house, set a reminder on your phone for the next day or two and then knock out the thank you note and put it in the mail. Just do it. (No address? No problem. Hand-delivered thank you notes are just as powerful, so if you can’t find an address via a sophisticated Google search, just hand it to them the next time you’re together). 

Please note, this says ‘the sooner the better’ and not ‘now or never.’ And that means, if it takes you a week or two or even a month to get the thank you note in the mail, still do it! It’s never a bad idea to send a note, it just seems more meaningful the sooner you do it. (If it’s been a year however, maybe it’s time to cut your losses. Waiting too long can be awkward. If you still want to send a note consider doing something focused more on an idea like #6).

#4 Have thank you cards on hand

This is a rule in our house. We always have a stack of cards and thank you notes handy, because you never know when you’ll need one. It’s much easier to stick to #3 when all you have to do is write the card instead of having to go to the store, pick up a card, and then proceed to write the note.

Plus if you buy a box of cards you’ll save yourself a lot of trips and money from not buying them one at a time. So next time you’re at a store be sure to find a box and throw them in your cart. Your future self will thank you.

#5 Show them the difference they made or the impact they had

We already talked about how they don’t need to be reminded of the gift you gave them, but what they would like to hear it how that gift will be used, or how it will make a difference.

This is especially true in fundraising. “Your gift of $100 means you’re giving 6 kids school supplies this year. ” He already knows how much he gave, but he might not have known the details of how his gift is making a difference. And that’s a powerful reminder. Notice it says ‘you’re giving 6 kids school supplies’. The nonprofit could step in and steal the thunder and say ‘your gift means we can give 6 kids school supplies,’ but it’s so much more powerful when you paint the donor as the hero of the story (another example of point #2).

A personal example would be, “Your hard work was a beautiful reminder of the way we’re all called to serve others, and it meant a lot to us.” She already knew how much work went into organizing your anniversary party, but she might not have known her actions caused you to reflect on the importance of serving others. Now she’s thinking, “Wow, I did that? How cool.”

So focus on the impact, not just on the gift.

#6 Don’t wait for a gift

Last, but certainly not least, remember a thank you note doesn’t have to only be in response to someone giving you a gift or doing you a favor. As mentioned earlier, maybe someone had you over for dinner, maybe you haven’t told your boss thank you for leading your department lately, maybe your old mentor would like to know you thought of her recently and still appreciate all the time she invested in you, maybe your pastors could use some encouragement.

In other words, don’t wait for a “big reason” to write someone a thank you note. Often, when you do it for a seemingly mundane reason, it means even more. It helps people know they are seen, valued and important.

Show people you appreciate them. Appreciation is a very powerful thing, don’t miss your chance to extend it. Write that thank you note.

Seriously, I challenge you to write one note in the next 24 hours to someone you’ve been thinking about lately even if it’s not a big thing, just thank them for being who they are. Everyone wants to hear that. Then leave a comment below to let others know the trend is catching on and encourage them to take action as well. Let’s spread the appreciation!

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