Thank-you Notes: Obligation or Opportunity?

Q. Hello Peter,
I really need some help with these issues.
Question: What is the appropriate protocol for giving token gifts of appreciation in business? Please advise on the protocol for additionally sending thank-you notes after a gift was given.
Situation Summary:

  • My women’s group gave a women’s leadership forum event.
  • We hosted approximately twelve panel speakers.
  • At the conclusion of each panel discussion, we gave each panel presenter a token thank-you gift to acknowledge their participation. [The gift was a silver coffee mug engraved with our organization’s logo.]
  • Subsequent to the event, one organizer of the event asked if we sent follow-up thank-you notes to the panelists.
  • The president responded by saying we gave thank-you gifts.

Please advise on etiquette protocol for this type of situation. Is it proper etiquette to send an additional thank-you note to each speaker for their participation?
M. P., New York City, NY

A. First, the issue of a gift. Really it’s very nice of you to give a gift, especially if the speakers were also being compensated for their participation. If they were participating without compensation, the gift becomes a more important gesture to acknowledge their effort on your organization’s behalf.


Now, the thank-you note. Because your organization gave each speaker a gift and, in the process of giving the gift, acknowledged its appreciation for their contribution in front of the audience, your organization has fulfilled any obligation it had to send a thank-you note.

That said, what is really important about a thank-you note is not the idea of obligation, but rather that of opportunity. The president’s perspective is one of “Do I have to do it,” rather than one of “I want to do it.” The “have to” is a vestige of an attitude about thank you notes that implies they are an obligation and a dreaded task. The “want to” evolves out of a desire to reach out and touch people and build relationships. It’s not that the speakers will be miffed they didn’t receive a thank-you note. It’s more a matter that a thank-you note after the event is one more way for them to appreciate your organization and to encourage them to want to be involved with you in the future. Essentially, there is no downside to sending a thank-you note, and there is potentially much to be gained by it.

And, by the way, the thank-you note recipients will not think, “Why did they send me a note?” Rather, they’ll think “How nice” and appreciate the kindness your note conveys.


So think opportunity rather than obligation, and send the thank-you notes.


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