1. The verbal thank you
Your mother's right: always say "Please" and "Thank you." In most situations where someone has just helped you out, with no great inconvenience to them, a verbal thanks is appropriate. Also, if you were paid a favour which you know you will soon repay in kind – say another parent walked your daughter home after her play date with their child, and you'll do the same next week – a simple, "Thanks a bunch!" is all that's needed.
2. The e-mail thank you
While still on the casual end of the continuum, a short e-mail thanking someone for his or her thoughtfulness will be appreciated. An office admin assistant went out of their way to courier a behemoth of a file to your home so it would be waiting on your porch instead of loading down your bag on the subway commute home? Fellow parent committee member brought the refreshments even though the meeting was being hosted at your house? Drop them a virtual line. When won't it be appreciated? When the person in question just gave you a lovely gift or did something that actually put them out a bit – for that, a "hard copy" Thanks is required.
Tip: E-Cards offer are a more animated way to send thanks. But there's a chance it could get caught in your recipient's junk filter.
Page 1 of 23. The thank-you card or thank-you note
Busy moms know that it can be hard to mail out Thank You cards for kids' birthday gifts, so you're off the hook for kid-to-kid B-Day presents. The loot bag is a Thank You token, anyway. But you or your child should pen a card for gifts from anyone who didn't get a loot bag: grandma, adult friends and so on. Also, while cards aren't essential when gifts are exchanged at Christmas, any gifts you get where there isn't an immediate reciprocal action deserve a Thank You card. Adult birthday gifts, new-home gifts, and, that biggie, wedding gifts, all merit a Thank You card or note. Aim to get them in the mail within two weeks, although you've got an extension of up to one year for wedding gifts – though well-mannered newlyweds should aim for a six-month turnaround. Send a card as thanks for a lovely dinner, ideally within a couple weeks of your visit.
Tip: Attractive cards reflect well on you, as does personal stationery. Invest in one or the other and give your Thanks extra polish.
4. Thank-you gifts or flowers
Flowers are always thoughtful. Just don't go over the top or your Thank You gesture may strike the recipient as being grander than the actual favour they paid you, causing some embarrassment. If sending flowers to their workplace, include a vase so they don't have to scrounge around looking for one in the company kitchen. A shorter arrangement will be less likely to get knocked over and will be easier to bring home on public transit.
Tip: As for atypical deliverables like "cookie-o-grams"? Um, unless you are 100% positive that you're dealing with a cookie lover, opt for a more sophisticated gourmet basket with bottle of wine or mineral water.
If a material thank-you gift could be construed as inappropriate in any way, say, for a local politician, client or boss, or you know your intended is an earnest this-money-could-be-put-to-better-use type soul, consider making a donation instead. Some charities can provide you with a card notifying your recipient that a donation was made in their honour. Otherwise, a simple Thank You card mentioning you were moved by their help, and wanted to pass along your own good fortune, is perfect.
Tip: Choose a charitable organization that's non-controversial and has a proven track record of low-overhead and admin costs. The United Way, for instance. They allow you to specify where to send your funds, too, meaning if your honoree is a book lover you can dedicate it to literacy programs, or if they love kids, it can be directed towards after school programs, and so on.
Read more: E-mail etiquette tips
Page 2 of 2