Thank You Note Etiquette: What to Do (And What Not to Do)

Updated

There are many times throughout our lives that we are tasked with sending a thank you card. Whether it is a thank you card for a birthday, wedding, or baby shower gift, or a thank you to a caregiver or friend for being there, there are certain etiquette rules and guidelines to take note of.

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While generally, people don’t give gifts in order to be thanked, there’s nothing worse than wondering if the gift receiver liked and appreciated your gift. 

Worse yet, is feeling concerned that someone didn’t even receive your gift if you left it at a party or sent it in the mail. It’s always a good idea to send a handwritten thank you card even if you don’t think that your gift giver expects it.

It's nice to receive snail mail, and even better when it includes a personalized thank you. 

General Etiquette Rules and Guidelines for Thank You Notes

Regardless of the type of thank you note you’re writing, there are some general etiquette guidelines to follow. These include: being specific, getting personal, and being timely among some other rules.

1. Keep multiple gift-givers straight

If you are writing thank you notes for an event, you likely have multiple gift-givers to thank. Make sure you keep track of all your gifts and thank the correct person. 

Have a trusted friend, family member, or partner make a list as you open each gift. List the person’s first and last name with a detailed description of the gift they gave you.

2. Be specific

When writing thank you cards, thank your giver specifically for what they gave you and how you’re looking forward to using the gift. If someone gave you cash or a check, saying thank you for the “generous gift” is appropriate and specific enough. 

If you received china, you might say, “Thank you so much for the beautiful china set. We can’t wait to use them when we host dinner parties and eat our favorite meals.”

3. Make it personal

Using a template is okay if you have a ton of thank yous to write. However, make sure you add specific details and personalize it. Add a personal touch to your thank you note. 

If you are thanking someone for a wedding gift, for instance, you can say something along the lines of, “Thank you so much for the beautiful china set [insert above specifics]... It was so wonderful tearing up the dance floor with you at our wedding. Thanks for making the trip all the way from Florida!” If they were unable to make it, you can write how much you missed them and hope to catch up soon. 

4. Be timely

Following a major event, you have approximately two months to send out thank you cards. If you receive a stand-alone gift, you should send a thank you card as soon as possible.

Letting someone know over a text or email that you received their gift is a good idea. Follow it up with a handwritten thank you card within a few weeks.

5. Email thank you notes

Most of the time, etiquette rules dictate that a handwritten thank you note is most appropriate. If the gift was given at an event, handwritten thank you cards are required. 

If you are very close with the gift giver and know for sure that they are okay with an email or text message thank you, then it might be acceptable. 

6. Don’t send a thank you for a thank you

If someone sends you a thank you card or flowers thanking you for something you did, there’s no need to send a thank you card. A simple text, email, or in-person thank you for the beautiful flowers is sufficient. 

Otherwise, you risk the chance of getting caught in a game of never-ending thank-you-tag. The one caveat to this rule is that if someone sends you condolences in a card or condolences email, it is proper etiquette to thank them.

The same is true if someone attends a funeral you host even if the person doesn’t bring a gift or provide a service.

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Baby Shower Thank You Notes

Who should receive a card?

Anyone who plans or hosts the shower, gives you a gift, and anyone who attends even if they don’t bring a gift.

When should I send thank you cards?

Two to three weeks is appropriate for baby showers. Any longer and you risk having to write thank you cards while trying to survive the newborn days. If your baby does arrive early, it is acceptable to wait up to three months after the baby shower to send a thank you note. 

If this does happen, consider sending a birth announcement or picture of your newborn along with the thank you card. A quick text with a picture of your newborn using the gift can tide you over until you can get the formal, handwritten thank-yous in the mail.

I have baby brain! Is there a way to make thank you cards easier?

Ask your baby shower host to have an envelope addressing station at your shower. Have a book of stamps and pretty pens available. 

You can place it by your party favors, or throw all the envelopes into a hat and use them to raffle off a fun prize. Having envelopes that already have addresses and stamps on them makes the process quicker and easier.

Wedding Thank You Notes

Who should receive a card?

  • Anyone who brought a gift. This includes money, a physical gift, an experience, or a donation. Anyone who helped you plan or hosted any part of the wedding (including the wedding itself, engagement party, bridal shower, and bachelor/bachelorette parties).
  • Members of your wedding party and your parents and in-laws.
  • Any guest who attends your wedding even if they didn’t bring a gift. Not everyone is able to bring a gift, and proper etiquette is to thank them for celebrating with you.

Who should write the card?

Both partners should sign the card, and both partners should contribute in some way. You can split up the work by families, or if one partner has way better handwriting than the other, the other partner can address, stuff, and stamp envelopes.

Do I really have a full year after my wedding to send out thank you cards?

Diane Gottsman, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life says, “Let’s get things straight: You don’t have six months to a year after your wedding to write thank-you notes, that rule is outdated. You should have them all sent out within two months after your wedding.”

Birthday Thank You Notes

Are handwritten thank you cards still a thing for birthday gifts?

Absolutely! Handwritten thank you notes for birthday gifts are still expected and follow proper etiquette rules even in the digital era. This is also a great habit to get your children into. Expressing gratitude for receiving gifts in the form of a thank you card is proper etiquette and always appreciated.

I had 100 people at my birthday party. Is it okay to use a template?

Yes, it’s definitely okay to use a template. Just make sure that you follow the general thank you card guidelines above, including specifying the gift and what you plan to use it for as well as personalizing the card. 

How long do I have to send out the thank you?

Similarly to a wedding, you have a maximum of two months to send thank you cards. As always, the sooner, the better. You don’t want your gift giver scratching their head, wondering if you appreciate their gift!

Business Thank You Notes

What types of work events warrant a thank you note?

  • A job interview. A handwritten note is great, but an email thank you typically suffices here.
  • Receiving a gift, support, or condolences from a colleague or supervisor.
  • When a colleague or supervisor provides you with a reference. 
  • When a colleague or supervisor who has really supported you retires or moves on to another company. If you are retiring or moving on, it’s great to thank your team and anyone else who has made an impact in your career.
  • After a promotion.
  • If you are a business owner, it is appropriate to send thank you notes to customers.

How long should my thank you note be?

A length of two to three sentences is perfectly acceptable for a business thank you note. If someone went really above and beyond for you, or you have a very close relationship, a lengthier letter might be suitable. 

How long do I have to send a business thank you note?

For a job interview, etiquette dictates that you send a thank you email within 24 hours of the interview. Many hiring managers will automatically dismiss a candidate for lack of a timely thank you note.

For a gift, support, or following a promotion or recommendation, you really only have two to three days to send a thank you note.

Love doesn’t feel appropriate, and from seems so bland. What should my closing sentiment be?

“Best,” “Sincerely,” “Kind Regards,” “Warm Regards,” and a simple “Thank You” are all great sign-offs for a thank you note.

Say Thank You With a Gift!

If someone has done something above and beyond for you, you can always include a gift with your thank you note. Some ideas include:

  • Flowers
  • A plant
  • Edible Arrangement
  • Baked goods
  • Bottle of wine
  • Fruit or cheese basket
  • Desk or office decor

If you’re unable to splurge for a gift, a thoughtful, handwritten thank you card is thank you enough.

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