Can Thank You Notes be BAD?

Published by Karen Osborne on

Just writing them is enough, right?

A few Sundays ago, I read an article in the Jobs section of my local newspaper, “The Journal News,”
“Don’t forget the ‘thank you.’”  The author, Susan Ricker of careerbuilder.com, was discussing the attributes of a good thank you note after a job interview and it got me thinking about our thank you notes, the ones we all write to donors, event attendees, volunteers, and colleagues inside and outside of our organizations.

Are we getting the job done?

To answer that question we first have to ask, “What is my purpose?”

If your sole reason for writing the note is to let someone know they’ve touched you in some way and you appreciate it, without thought about building a relationship, that’s fine.  For most of us, however, we’re trying to start or advance a relationship.

According to Ms. Ricker, “The best thank-you notes forward the discussion you started.”  I LOVE that.  Our thank-you notes should be a strategic step.  So, before you pick up the pen to write a handwritten note, or press the first letter on your keyboard, think about what specifically you want your note to accomplish.

Here are some tips for writing a great thank-you note.

  • “Make it real and authentic,” recommends Danielle Beauparlant Moser, author of “Focus: Creating Career & Brand Clarity.”  I agree.  I receive lots of lovely thank-you notes.  The ones that move me are specific and concrete.  “I especially appreciate your advice about…”  Ms. Moser suggests, “If the person was standing in front of your, what would you say?”
  • Speak to impact. We all want to make a difference, feel like we added value.  “Your leadership of the development committee last week inspired a fellow trustee to do more.  Joe just volunteered to host a vision meeting in his home.  He told me it was because of you.  Thanks so much for your dedication to the people we serve.” Or speak to promised impact. “Your investment in our organization will help the children we serve achieve…”
  • Timely is best.  It’s never too late to say thank-you (or I’m sorry).  But both are much better received when they are timely.  A sincere, authentic, specific, concrete thank-you that speaks to impact and arrives within 24 hours of the “gift” of time, treasure, expertise, wisdom, work, or advice is much more powerful than the one that arrives weeks later.
  • Should the right medium. Ms. Ricker says, “Consider the personality” and style of the person or the “culture of the company” or foundation.  Use the medium that is right for them.  Personally, I think handwritten notes are best for just about everyone.  Who doesn’t open a hand addressed note card?  It stands out. But voice mail and email thank-you notes can also work.

I don’t think there is such a thing as a “bad” thank you note.  But, why not “up your game,” and write really good ones.

Karen Osborne

Internationally recognized as an expert consultant and excellent presenter, Karen receives invitations from all over the United States and the world to make presentations and consult with NGOs, universities, justice, social service, and health organizations. The Council for Support and Advancement of Education (CASE) awarded Karen the Crystal Apple for outstanding teaching and Ashmore Award for Outstanding Service to the Profession. Published and often quoted in industry books, newspapers and magazines, Karen serves on the board of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and teaches a graduate course on philanthropy for Johns Hopkins University.


Brid Hehir · September 27, 2012 at 17:38

I’m sure others share my problem with handwritten notes – very poor handwriting made even worse by lack of practice!
I’ve noticed however that it looks better -passable even, if I use a certain brand of pen with a medium nib!

    Karen Osborne · September 27, 2012 at 22:36

    Oh, we can all write nicely when we have to. I too have a crummy handwriting. Sometimes I type a note, sign it in blue ink of course and then fold it and put it in a card. Feels pretty personal and the recipient can read it!

Paul Nazareth · October 2, 2012 at 17:10

Fantastic post and an important one for fundraisers trying to break out of computer generated donor contact. I write a card to a donor, peer or staff person almost every single day. I’d add three small items:

1) Remember to code it! A tip I took from Karen herself at an AFP conference. It’s a little more work but your successors will thank you. Strategic moves management is always best.

2) Include your business card. I use double sided scrapbook squares, if the donor wants to call and talk to you as a result of the note they have to look up your number? Make contact easy.

3) To up your volume game, cheat a little! At the same session Karen blew my mind when she said it’s important to hand write the address too ( after all what do YOU open first when you get home ) but why does it have to be your handwriting! Especially at holiday season involve your staff and volunteers to hand write envelopes so you can write more cards yourself.

Thank you Karen for standing up for the power of cards! In a digital world they add a touch of human civility, an increasingly dwindling natural resource.

Paul Nazareth – @UinvitedU

ultrastudios.org · July 9, 2013 at 02:22

Thank you for utilizing some time to post “Can Thank You Notes be BAD?
| Karen Osborne |”. Thank you yet again -Darwin

schmitt's farm · April 29, 2024 at 10:46

I love how this blog tackles real-world issues.

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