In a world of DMs, online chats, text messages, emojis, and email, a handwritten thank you note seems more than antiquated, it seems unnecessary. Why send a thank you when you can tag the person on Instagram when you post a pic of you using their gift?
I would argue that this little bit of old-fashioned etiquette is less about politeness and more about personal connection. It's about being kind instead of simply being nice, a distinction we could use a bit more of in our current world. When you reach out to someone, especially in a form that takes times and effort, you're offering a kindness of gratitude by way of direct communication.
We've got some advice on when and how to write a thank you note.
When is it Necessary to Send a Thank You Note?
If you're looking for a hard and fast rule on when to send a thank you note in response to a gift, the answer is: There's never a wrong time. The same goes for any sort of assistance, kindness, or offer of help. There may be times when a thank you note isn't technically required, but it's never incorrect to send one.
Emily Post has some solid guidelines for when you must send a handwritten thank you letter in response to a gift. If you receive a wedding gift, shower gift, or other congratulatory gifts (think graduation, etc), you must send a written note even if you had the opportunity to say thank you in person.
If you received notes, flowers, or donations to an organization as condolences on the death of a loved one, you must send a handwritten thank you card or note. The same goes if you receive a note or gift during an illness, for example, if a neighbor brings over a casserole or a friend arranges to drive you to doctor's appointments. However, for these type of notes, it's completely acceptable if a friend or family member writes them. Thank you notes are about kindness and there's nothing kind about burdening yourself with extra work during a difficult time (and there's everything kind about asking for help and allowing someone to give you a hand when you need it).
How to Write a Thank You Note
The best thank you notes are sincere and from the heart. Just as giving a gift should not feel like an obligation, your thank you should not feel like you're merely checking a box. If you need a bit of help getting started, here's a good structure.
Open by saying thank you for the specific gift. "Thank you for the lovely serving platter." "Thank you for the beautiful flower arrangement." "Thank you for your time and thoughtfulness."
Let them know what the gift means to you or how you plan to use it. "I can't wait to have this on the table at Thanksgiving." "These were Mom's favorites and seeing them brings me comfort." "I wouldn't have made it through last week without that casserole. It was the perfect dinner."
These two tips hold true even if the gift is money, though you can be less direct about it. "Thank you for your kind donation; the organization has always meant so much to our whole family." "We really appreciate your generous gift. I'm already planning on putting it towards a special dinner on our honeymoon that we wouldn't have been able to do otherwise."
Keep your thank you message personal and simple. A good thank you note doesn't have to be complex or lengthy, but it never hurts to include one or two sentences about your life in relation to the occasion connected to the gift. "It was wonderful to see you at the wedding/We know you were there in spirit." "Being new parents has been a roller coaster but we've loved every minute of it."
Close by saying thank you again. A concise note is best; you don't need to go on and on. Sign off with something simple like "Sincerely" or "All my best."
Are There Any Exceptions?
There is a place for an email thank you note. For example, if you know that the person to whom you're writing has trouble with their snail mail delivery and does most of their communicating through email, it's not out of bounds to send an email. Or if they are committed to an environmentally friendly lifestyle and would prefer that you not waste paper by sending them a card or note. But the rules of the structure still hold -- be timely and thoughtful in your note.
For holiday and birthday gifts, if you thanked the gift-giver in person, a handwritten note is not strictly necessary, but it's also never "wrong."
If someone hosted a get-together or dinner party, you likely thanked them in person before you left, but taking the time to follow up with a note shows sincere appreciation. If they hosted a party specifically for you, for example, a birthday party or baby shower, you definitely need to send a thank you card.
Remember to be kind when thanking people; that personal connection really does make the world a better place.