Learning how to write a thank-you email is more than just good manners. It’s smart practice for any small business that wants to improve customer loyalty.

A little acknowledgment goes a long way to inspire repeat business or donations. When you show partners and patrons just how much you appreciate them, they’re more likely to invest in the relationship.

You may have mastered the art of gratitude in your personal life, but the small business thank-you email is slightly different. It can be hard to strike the right balance between personal and professional. Here’s how to do it well.

When should a small business send customers a thank-you email?

Small businesses depend on the goodwill of the community. You have to show appreciation to get it. Thank-you emails should celebrate new relationships and honor old ones — whether you’re a nonprofit or for-profit business. This means thanking customers after their first purchase or during business anniversaries or customer appreciation initiatives. It could also mean sending a thank you note to patrons after they’ve attended an event, donated, or volunteered. 

How to write a thank-you email

There are four key elements for how to write a thank-you email. While you can add your own flair, every message should include the following.

Be personal

No one likes to be addressed as “patron,” “friend,” “donor,” or — even worse — “user.” When writing a thank-you email, use the receiver’s first name. You can even personalize automated emails so that they sound less, well, automated.

For big favors, you might want to add a line to your standard template that recognizes some aspect of their contribution or your shared experience. Include something that a computer couldn’t have generated so that the recipient feels your presence behind your words.

Say “Thank you”

It may seem ridiculously obvious, but it’s important to explicitly say “thank you.” Include those actual words in your message. There are many words you can use to express your gratitude — phrases such as “I really appreciate…” — but the exact words “thank you” have a particular affirming power. Make room for them in your email.

Be specific

Why are you thanking them? What did they do? 

Without context, thanks are hollow. You could as easily be thanking someone for passing you the salt as acknowledging a volunteer’s week of work. 

Be specific. There’s also a difference between saying “thank you for volunteering your time” and “thank you for helping us organize our Christmas fundraiser.” The more narrowly you can target your thanks, the more genuinely recognized the recipient will feel.

Call to action (CTA)

This is the big difference between professional and personal thank yous. When someone gives you a gift, you write a thank you and that concludes the exchange. It would be inappropriate to add a CTA: “Thank you for the lovely gravy boat. Click here to see the set of ladles I’d like for my birthday.”

However, in a small business thank-you email, you want to encourage the next step of the relationship. You might ask them to leave a review, tell friends about an ongoing fundraiser, or simply to return. In some cases, you can incentivize their loyalty with special promotions or programs.

Sometimes it can be hard to find the right CTA. You don’t want to undermine your gratitude with a sales pitch that’s too aggressive. For example, a nonprofit’s thank you for Giving Tuesday contributions needs to encourage ongoing support without immediately demanding more money. 

Here are a few potential CTAs to adapt for your own thank-you email:

  • If you enjoyed your meal, please leave a Google review.
  • Sign up for our loyalty program, and get your 11th cup of coffee free.
  • Need new workout attire to match your shiny new shoes? Come back within 30 days and receive a 10% discount on all full-price athletic apparel.
  • Tell your family and friends about our ongoing clothing drive.
  • Thank you for volunteering. Registrations for our summer fundraiser are now open. Let’s work together to make it an even bigger success.

Keep your ask classy and upbeat. Show confidence that the recipient will want to return and that you look forward to a long, happy relationship.

Best practices for writing a small business thank-you email

An effective thank-you email will be timely, positive, and polished. Don’t forget these best practices when crafting your message.

Be prompt

Knowing when to send a thank-you email is just as important as how it’s written. Timing is everything — send your note that very day if you can. If you can’t, send it as soon as possible. 

Poor timing can undermine the email’s effect. If it’s put off for too long, the message can take on a sheepish or whiny tone. Also, while part of your email marketing strategy should include messages to lapsed subscribers or former patrons, your main focus should be on your current business relationships.

Have the right attitude

No matter the state of your campaign or business, remember that your patrons deserve to feel good about their engagement with you. Keep your message positive. 

That said, be sincere. Don’t thank someone who donated a few cans of soup for solving world hunger. And even if you have a strong brand identity with a snarky personality, leave that aspect out of the actual thanks. You can crack jokes, but not about their patronage or your gratitude.

Finally, be brief. Many readers will abandon long emails before finishing them. They may even feel annoyed if you ramble. It shouldn’t take you pages to thank someone. Get right to the point.

Edit and proofread multiple times

One of the best tips for how to write a thank-you email is getting some help with it. The use of professional templates is an important email marketing best practice

It’s also a good idea to let someone else take a look at your email before you send it. An outside reader can tell you how the message comes across and if there are any typos or grammar mistakes. Sloppy is unprofessional. A poorly edited thank you note will come off as ungrateful and sends the message that you couldn’t be bothered to take enough time to do the job well. 

Polish your communication. 

Thank-you email examples

The following are real examples of thank-you emails, most of which popped up in my very own inbox. Some of this gratitude I earned. Other emails were obviously mass-delivered to a list. All were sent as part of a sound business strategy.

For a business-related anniversary

an example of a thank-you email that let's readers know they're celebrating an anniversary
Follow The Cellar’s lead and use your anniversaries as occasions to thank all of the patrons that have enabled you to thrive.

This local gym recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. The Cellar opened up in 2002, and its owners seized the promotional opportunity in 2022. It invites appreciated members to join in a month of related events and gives them a handy calendar.

The bottom of the email reads:

“A big THANK YOU to all of our amazing members (current and former) as well as our incredible coaches and staff. It’s been a wild ride and we truly wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for all of you! We hope to see you all during our month of celebrating!”

This gym knows how to write a thank-you email. It makes email recipients feel like part of the Cellar community and that they’re partially responsible for its past and future success. 

My only quibble? The thanks would have been more effective closer to the beginning of the message. Don’t defer your gratitude to the bottom of a long email.

For customer appreciation/loyalty

an example of a thank-you email that offers a promotion
Factor says thank you with an attractive promotion.

Looking for more ways to wow customers and encourage loyalty? Don’t hoard the gift of giving. 

The meal-service company Factor gives loyal customers a chance to earn more gratitude by passing on free trials of their food. 

It’s a great way to encourage customers to promote their business to friends and family. They’ll get twice the amount of positive reinforcement when those beneficiaries say their own thank yous.

For volunteering

Here's an example of a thank-you email template that's been branded for anyone on the team to use
UMass Amherst encourages its supporters to pass on their gratitude, a good habit for volunteer organizations. Image source: UMass Amherst Alumni.

UMass Amherst offers these readily available thank-you messages designed to be passed on through email and social channels.

In addition to having a template to thank volunteers, consider offering those volunteers branded messages that they can use on your behalf. It cuts down on the chances that you’ll overlook someone.

After an event 

This thank-you email example shows how to say "thanks" and ask for more at the same time
Minneapolis Cider Co. proves that a CTA can stay classy, using the success of one event to promote the next.

In this post-event thank you from Minneapolis Cider Co., the local establishment masters the flow between their thanks and their CTA.

Just read:

“For everyone who came out on Saturday for our Day at the Derby Anniversary Party, let us just say…wow and thank you. Saturday was absolutely amazing — thank you for making it possible and choosing to spend your derby day with us.

The only question now, is how do you follow-up a party like that? Well, you won’t have to wait long, fine folks of Minneapolis…next Friday, May 20th, we’ll be hosting Breizh Fest!”

The transition is seamless. Minneapolis Cider Co. does lose points for grammar, though. There are two mistakes in the same sentence. This is a reminder that you don’t have to be a grammar guru. There are free tools such as Grammarly that can catch errors like these. 

After receiving a donation

This thank-you email example shows how to personalize the right way
The Loft’s thank-you email gets its power from its clarity — with respect to both their mission and my contribution.

One of my favorite local organizations is the Loft Literary Center. As a literary-focused nonprofit, they’d better have some decent writers on staff — and they do.

Hooray, you just made our day at the Loft! By becoming a Loft Sustaining Member with a monthly contribution of $5.00, you are helping to build a thriving literary community in Minnesota and beyond.

That opening paragraph is masterful. It has a cute beginning, a precise acknowledgment, and immediately ties the contribution to the Loft’s mission. 

Write your own meaningful thank you letters to donors with similar levels of positivity and clarity.

After their first purchase

This thank-you email example shows how to say 'thank you' without being too wordy
The podcast DIG thanks new subscribers to their blog with a short but effective message.

Honor new subscribers and customers with a quick note of thanks. This email from the history podcast DIG is short, sweet, and heartfelt. 

You are wonderful, kind, good, and leading this revolution. Thank you for supporting us. Having you as a listener is exactly why we do this. 

This example of how to write a thank-you email proves that less can be more. It also proves that there are exceptions to every rule. There’s no CTA here, and the style doesn’t really allow for one. But it’s perfect as is.

Thank you for saying thank you

This is one of those areas where nice guys finish first. The good vibes you put out into the world come back to you with interest. 

Now that you know how to write a thank-you email, it’s time to start dispensing your gratitude liberally. Pick the type of thank-you email above that most often applies to your business. Then write a short thank-you email and use it to build a template you can reuse as needed.

And since most thank you notes don’t demand a response, let me speak for your recipients: you’re welcome.

Saying “thank you” is the first step in improving customer loyalty. Take the next step by learning more ways to reward loyal customers.