How to Write a Thank You Note that Will Truly Be Appreciated

Yesterday I went to my student’s graduation party. This was the first time in nearly twenty years of teaching at University that a student has invited me to her commencement party. I feel deeply honored…also, a bit puzzled about why I’ve never been invited to one before. After all, I’ve been invited to students’ weddings, for goodness sake. I’ve gone out to lunch or for coffee with students whom I knew very well, mostly advisees. There have been plenty of students with whom I’ve developed close relationships over the years. But this was the first time I’d ever been asked to share in this special occasion. And I loved being there!

It got me to thinking about how we show appreciation for people. So I thought that in today’s post I’d share some tips on how to show appreciation through a written thank you note. I know many will be thinking about thank you notes at this time of year because of graduations and other such things, so I hope this post will prove useful!

By the way, in my office desk in the top drawer, I have collected all of the lovely notes and copies of special emails that I have received from students throughout the years. I call it my “happy drawer.” It’s very good, especially on some gloomy March day when it is snowing YET AGAIN and the school year seems as if it will NEVER END, to be able to open that drawer and see tangible proof of student appreciation scattered there.

Ah, so my tips:

WHO TO THANK?

I contend that everyone likes getting a heart-felt thank you, so you can send such a note to anyone you want to thank. However, may I suggest that you start with the people who receive few expressions of gratitude? You may be surprised to hear that teachers — especially middle school, high school, and college — do not receive kind words from students or their parents very often. In the younger grades, there seems to be a more concerted effort to thank teachers. There are classroom parents to organize elaborate gift-giving, etc. But when kids get older, parents no longer generally participate, and thank you notes, let alone gifts, go the way of snack time. 😦

Another surprisingly neglected category: spouses. Sure, we may send thank you notes to the mother-in-law for the beautiful birthday bracelet, but do we also give our spouse a thank you note for the unbelievably kind gift of a homemade ring? Or even better, do we thank our spouse for parenting so well, for remembering to do an onerous chore that we hate him/her to forget? A couple of years ago, my husband started sending me postcards and notes almost every day. Sometimes he sent me a funny quote. Sometimes he just said he was thinking of me. The best of all were the times when he thanked me for something small that he noticed I had done or something big for which he felt grateful. Amazing how much those cards have meant to me and strengthened our relationship.

Finally, think about sending a thank you note to someone whom you take totally for granted: for instance, how about the janitor at your son’s school (and if you have a boy child, think about how annoying it is to clean the toilets at home, and if that doesn’t get you to bring out the note cards, I don’t know what will!) What about your local police station — I mean, how often do you think the police get positive feedback, and yet they are out there working under difficult circumstances trying to help your community? Or what about the folks down at your local sewage treatment facility? Has your family enjoyed help from a staff person at the city library?

The point is to … stop … and … think. Who might appreciate, or perhaps even need, to know that someone appreciates their efforts? Then do it. Thank them.

HOW TO THANK?

Here’s a handy formula for a thank you note — this approach will give you a framework but enable you to customize your note and thus make it more personal. First, use an opening line that states clearly what you are thanking them for…. Example of opening sentence for police thank you note: “Thank you so much for all of your hard work in keeping our neighborhood safe!” For certain kinds of notes, I like this direct approach — maybe they are used to getting complaints, so a positive statement right away tells them to relax. πŸ™‚

Second, include something specific that is related to the thing you are thanking them for. Try to think of some detail that is both truly something you appreciate and also something you image the person will be happy to hear. Example: “Your work must be challenging yet rewarding in a neighborhood like ours. Our family chose to live in such a community because we value the diversity we find here, and it is through your efforts and those of others serving our city that we feel hopeful about our city’s future.” In this example, I don’t have anything in particular to thank the police for, but I appreciate how they help make our community safe. Obviously, if you have some specific thing to thank them for, you should put that in. So I might write something like: “I appreciate how you responded when I called about the attempted break-in of my car. Not only were you professional and competent, but you let me know it’s best to have a house number on our porch and not just on the mailbox in case of an emergency. I really felt like you were looking out for our best interest.”

Third, reiterate the thanks part and close. Example: “Thanks again for your dedication and professionalism. Kind regards, …”

Simple. A thank you note does not need to be elaborate or long to do its job. It is the pleasure of receiving anything at all that will carry the most weight. And of less but some importance is the content of the note. I like including something specific, something that shows I really thought about what I wrote, something that will put a smile on their face and lighten their load a bit for at least a little while. Of course, you need not follow the formula I discuss above; it’s just as fine to write any way you please. The point is to share your appreciation.

WHAT KIND OF NOTECARD?

I think this part is the least important. In the case of my son’s thank you notes, I keep him in good supply of blank note cards. When he thanks people, he generally draws them a personalized picture and then writes his note inside. If we are particularly busy, I let him use a pre-printed card. He picked out his own cards from the 50% off shelf at Hallmark. I am always buying remainders of thank you notes. I often get them for a dollar a pack at Michael’s stores or for a little more (but better cards) on the sale shelf at a local paper store. Unless I am sending a note to a dear friend or close family member, I use a generic thank you card. Oh, and I almost forgot the important thing — buy cards that are blank inside. You do not need sentiments printed on the inside — the whole point is that you will be writing the sentiments yourself. If there is the word “Thanks” printed on the front, that’s fine. I just prefer a blank canvass inside.

WHEN?

Any time. At the party yesterday a woman said she got a thank you card from someone graduating high school. The woman had been this kid’s kindergarten teacher! She did say that she had a hard time remembering the student, so if you write to someone from by-gone days, it might be nice to enclose a photo from back then (and maybe one from now). THAT would be very cool, indeed!

While it’s nice to receive a prompt thank you for a gift you’ve given, I try to wait, if possible, until I’ve actually used the item before sending my note. Then I can talk with more specifics about how much I like it. But in the case of thank you notes for what you just plain appreciate about a person, well, I’d say whenever you want to send it just do it.

Hope this is helpful!

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7 Responses

  1. Let me be the first to say it: Thanks for this post, WGB!

  2. Was this written specifically for me? Having just had a birthday, I have a few thank you notes to write πŸ™‚

    This was a helpful post. Thank you! πŸ™‚

  3. You’re welcome, Caveblogem and Strugglingwritter! I think sometimes these are the sorts of little things that fall through the cracks. Just hoping the blog can be useful every once in a blue moon. πŸ™‚

  4. Thank you very much for your wonderful advice.

  5. Very good thoughts here – thank you. I am an associate pastor and I find that writing thank you notes to those who willingly serve as volunteers in our church is a very important part of my ministry. Though being in my thirties and very accustomed to using email, I have found that taking the time to hand write a thank you note is a very important practice and an appropriate way of showing how thankful I am.

    Thanks again.

  6. That’s great that you take such good care of your volunteers. I think it is very wise of you to show your appreciation in such a personal way. No doubt your parishioners are pleased. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. […] Anyhow, I enjoyed the book so much I decided to let Cory know. I went to his website, found his email address, and wrote him a little message telling him how much I enjoyed the book and how rare it is for me to find a book that I don’t want to put down, one that when I’m not reading it I’m thinking about when I can next read it. I also told him it has inspired me in my own writing. Basically, it was a thank you note (partially inspired by writinggb). […]

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