20 new rules regarding handwritten thank-you notes we must all adopt immediately

[Image description: A beautiful fountain pen of wood with gold trimmings, lying on a blank sheet of stationery, its cap off and resting nearby. There is a white feather in the background. Image by Bru-nO on Pixabay]

Hi everyone, before we get started, it’s Black History Month, so let’s all remind ourselves that only about 2% of philanthropic dollars go to Black-led organizations. Funders, release all the statements of support you want, but increase funding and donations to Black organizations, movements, and individual leaders. Have more grants like the Washington Women’s Foundation’s Rest and Repair Awards, which provides $100,000 grants each to individual Black women leaders. The rest of us, meanwhile, should be donating to Black-led orgs, supporting Black-owned businesses, and calling our representatives and writing op-eds to protest the banning of AP African American Studies, among other actions.

Handwritten thank-you notes (HWTYN) have been a contentious topic in our sector of late. Some people think they are an absolute necessity for proper etiquette and relationship-building, while others believe they are an outdated relic of ancient times, like denim jackets and fair elections. Even Dr. Glaucomflecken weighed in. I have written about the cultural and equity implications of thank-you notes, so I won’t rehash.

But given that society is changing rapidly, we need some new rules. So forget everything you’ve been taught about thank you-notes, and instead follow these guidelines, which are in no particular order because I am not that organized:

  1. In general, at least in the US, it’s good to express gratitude, so try to do it from time to time. This is an excellent way to demonstrate that you are a human being, which will be increasingly vital as Artificial Intelligence takes over our world.
  2. Texts, emails, phone calls, videos, voicemail, or verbal expressions by themselves are sufficient demonstrations of gratitude: We must stop this elitist notion that writing, and especially handwriting, is somehow the morally superior form of communication. I mean, have you met most writers?
  3. Job candidates (or applicants to any program or position) are no longer obligated to write post-interview thank-you notes: Are employers writing handwritten thank-you notes to job applicants? No? Then why the hell should candidates?
  4. Instead of expecting job candidates to write HWTYN and punishing them for not, employers should compensate for candidates’ time spent in multiple rounds of interviews when the company was going to promote Brayden anyway.
  5. Always consider the equity implications of HWTYN: People may not have the time or resources to sit down and compose heartfelt letters when they’re working multiple jobs trying to survive. Need I remind you eggs are now $800 per dozen.
  6. It is, and this is vital, “stationery” not “stationary.” Yes, it is confusing because stationery is usually stationary. Unless your house is haunted.
  7. Let’s make sure we’re thoughtful about accessibility: Blind people or people with low-vision, for example, may have challenges reading or writing HWTYN. They may prefer a phone call or email that can be read by a text reader.
  8. Donors or funders of nonprofits are not owed a handwritten thank-you note unless they write one too: Beyond an acknowledgement for tax purposes, no donor is owed a handwritten thank-you note UNLESS they also write one to thank the nonprofit for all the work it’s doing.
  9. Remember, there are different cultural dynamics regarding gratitude. In at least one culture, it may be insulting to express gratitude. Do you want to write a HWTYN, offend someone, and start an international war or something? I didn’t think so.
  10. White allies, if you feel strongly in favor of HWTYN, take a moment to reflect: Ask yourself this question: “Am I feeling this way because it’s right…or is it because I’m white?” Whether you agree with that or not, you must admit that it rhymes.
  11. Respect people’s Gratitude Languages: It’s kind of like Love Languages, but about how people like to be thanked. There are at least five: HWTYN, lunch, swift dispatching of a mortal enemy, sharing passwords for streaming services, and large binder clips that make perfect chip clips.
  12. It’s fine to write HWTYN if you like them: Besides the international war potential, which is low, few people will have issue with you writing notes to them. It’s when you expect others to do the same that we need to sit down and have a tête-à-tête, which, if I can recall lessons from my high-school French classes, means “tête to tête.”
  13. Nonprofits must cover 100% of all HWTYN-related medical expenses: Carpal tunnel, arthritis, and ink poisoning are just some of the potential injuries resulting from excessive fundraising-related note-writing.
  14. People with terrible handwriting are excused from writing HWTYN. They may substitute with text, emails, or other forms of communications they can manage that won’t be an embarrassment to humanity when alien archaeologists sift through remnants of our civilization in the distant future after we lose in the War Against AI.
  15. If you send a gift or donation and receive no acknowledgement of some sort, it is acceptable to inquire: It is perfectly fine to call or email someone to ask whether they did, in fact, receive the vegan-jerky-of-the-month subscription you gifted them.   
  16. When someone helps you move, the proper thank-you note is pizza: Preferably with “thank-you” spelled out in pepperoni or tempeh-bacon, depending on their dietary needs.
  17. Foundations should write more HWTYN to nonprofits: Although, the best thank-you is for some of y’all to cut out your shenanigans and release more funding.
  18. Let’s send more gratitude to those who rarely expect to receive any: Hotel housekeeping, restaurant staff, postal workers, cashiers, teachers, garbage collectors, mechanics, etc. These folks rarely if ever get HWTYN, and they arguably do more for society than many donors and funders.
  19. If you must write a HWTYN, make sure you use the appropriate tone: Generally the best practice is to sound like you’re a soldier in the Civil War writing to a lover: “Dearest Gary, it has been seven sunrises since you arrived at my abode. The jar of Nutella you brought me I shall treasure, though no chocolatey hazelnut spread can bring more joy to my being than your mere presence and the music of our light banter…”
  20. If your grandmother gives you $12 for any reason, you must write a HWTYN: Also, would it kill you to call and visit more often? I mean, how many grandparents do you have? Treat every grandparent or older relative like the precious treasure they are. Unless they’re racist.

OK, I hope that helps clear up any confusions you may have on this topic. Let me know other rules we should have.

Thank you for reading.

Yours sincerely,


Oh, another reminder: Check out this free webinar taking place on February 14th at 10am PT, where I and the other co-authors of Unicorns Unite: How Nonprofits and Foundations Can Build EPIC Partnerships, will be discussing what we learned. Auto-captions will be enabled. Use promo code UNI50 here to get 50% off your copy of the book.