Have you written a fan letter lately?

Taking the time to recognize the efforts of your peers, colleagues, or clients could make all the difference.


I am a San Francisco Giants fan. I became one when I married a lifelong Giants fan a few years ago. My wedding vows went something like this: “To have, to hold, and to be a San Francisco Giants fan for the rest of my life.”

To be honest, while I enjoy watching the occasional baseball game, most weeks I don’t even know where the Giants rank in the standings. But something brilliant happened this week that really caught my attention. The president and CEO of the Giants organization sent out one of the best thank-you letters I have ever seen written—EVER to anyone—to the fans. The Giants did not make the playoffs, but the letter Laurence Baer sent out made the disappointed fans in my house feel great about the year. In one short letter, he managed to specifically and personally call attention to all that the Giants organization had observed from the fan base. And, in a very personal way, he thanked them for their support.

This simple fan letter really made me think about how taking the time to communicate thoughtfully and graciously can go a long way in building relationships with colleagues and customers. So what constitutes a thoughtful thank-you letter or note?

  • It is personal: The best way to make it personal is to hand-write the note—it shows you took extra time and attention to share your thoughts with the recipient. While e-mail may be more convenient or efficient, it looks like every other communication a person receives in a given day. However, if you are uncomfortable with a handwritten note, e-mail can be made personal if you use the subject box to make your note stand out. Consider using “A Sincere Thank You” or “With Much Appreciation” to catch the recipient’s attention.
  • It is specific: Tell the recipient specifically what he or she has done that you value so much. This combines both the power of positive reinforcement and the power of recognition of when an individual goes the extra mile on your behalf.
  • It is timely: This one should be obvious. Make a point of expressing your appreciation to the recipient immediately following the event. If you are looking for a rule of thumb, send the note within a two-week window of the event.
  • It is unexpected: Take the time to recognize the contributions of a colleague for what he or she does every day to help you or the firm. It does not always need to be associated with a major event. In fact, choosing an occasion not tied to a major event or project can show that you do not take the colleague for granted.
  • It is sincere: Don’t go overboard in your praise or thanks. Keep your remarks simple and genuine. 

And who should you consider sending one to?

  • Interviewees for a new job or new position within your firm
  • Your teammates who covered for you while you were out of the office
  • Your business leaders when they have given you a promotion or a bonus
  • Your employee or team member who has demonstrated strong performance in a challenging environment or on a difficult project
  • Your repeat clients for continuing to trust you with their projects
  • Your new clients for either a new project or for final payment on a completed project
  • Your mentor or career adviser for helping you navigate your career decisions
  • Your current employer when you leave to take a new job outside the firm. 

In today’s business environment, many of us are just moving from one task or project to the next, just trying to keep up. Deadlines rule our lives. However, taking the time to recognize the efforts of your peers, colleagues, or clients could make all the difference during those times when a frustrated employee is thinking of leaving, a disappointed client is questioning its decision to work with your firm, or a colleague is annoyed with something you did or did not do that day. A well-thought-through fan letter is not just about being thoughtful, it’s about building and reinforcing strong professional relationships.

What are you waiting for? Let someone know they are on your fan list.

Jane Sidebottom is the owner of AMK LLC, a management and marketing consulting firm that provides market development and growth expertise to small- and medium-size firms. She has 20 years of management and leadership experience in both consulting engineering and Fortune 100 organizations. Sidebottom is a graduate of the University of Maryland.

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