Business Gift Giving Guidelines For the Holiday Season

Shhh, listen very carefully. I am going to share with you the secret to giving the perfect gift... Buy something the receiver would really like.

I know, I know. This is fairly obvious (and easy) advice. The tricky part is finding out what the receiver would really like. To do this, you must be a detective. Start to listen to the person. What subjects do they talk of often? What do they do when they are not working? Do they have any hobbies? Are they a fan of a particular sport? Do they have a favorite charity? If the person does not give you any clues about their interests, you must be an investigator. Start asking questions. "What did you do this weekend?" "Have you gone on vacation recently?" "What is your favorite restaurant?"

Giving Gifts to Clients

Not all clients are created equal. Following the old rule of thumb, 20% of your clients account for 80% of your revenues. For a business, it would be foolhardy, as well as costly, to treat all clients equally. You have three options:

  1. Send the same gift to all clients
  2. Send gifts reflective of the clients business (larger gift to larger clients)
  3. Send cards to all clients and gifts to VIP clients.
Please remember that a promotional item (i.e. something with your company's name on it) is not so much a gift as part of a marketing plan.

Giving Gifts in the Office

Most offices have guidelines on gift giving. If you are not familiar with these guideline, now is the time to investigate. The first place to check is the employee handbook. If there is nothing listed, ask a fellow employee what happened last year. Here are some of the typical rules:

  1. Employees can see gifts to a boss as a requirement. Employers should make it clear well before December that supervisors and superiors are not allowed to accept gifts. (The only exception to this rule is between a boss and their executive secretary. These are two individuals who have a special relationship as well as a symbiotic career path.)
  2. Small token of esteem from bosses to employees are always welcome. But employees tend to prefer bonuses and additional time off to a trinket.
  3. Gift swaps can be entertaining. However, when poorly executed can leave bad feelings behind. Gift swaps often go bad when not everyone brings in a gift or when some gifts are tasteless and/or thoughtless. Plus, gift giving among employees can be taxing for employees and their pocketbooks.
I recommend that for an office in the spirit of holiday giving, to donate to a charity. Employers can fund the contribution and allow the employees to decide where the fund will be donated. Oftentimes, employees prefer this charity fund to another little knick-knack from the company.

My favorite business appropriate gifts:

  • Writing paper – such as Crane's
  • Beautiful pen – Cross or Mont Blanc
  • Fruit baskets – Harry & David
  • Business card cases – monogrammed is nice
  • Business portfolios - leather
  • Calendars/planners/PDA
  • Watch/clock/timepiece
  • Crystal paperweight
  • Silver picture frame
  • Tickets to an event (not for December)
Gift Giving Guidelines:
  1. Know the person's preferences and try to match the gift.
  2. Be aware of cultural, religious or international taboos. Also be aware that some companies restrict their employees from accepting a gift over a certain amount.
  3. Use your common sense, no matter what the salesperson or website says is appropriate.
  4. Save the gag gifts for purely social occasions, and even then, proceed with caution.
  5. Save items with your company name on them for marketing campaigns.
  6. For business select a gift that reflects your business and your image.
  7. A gift for the client's office can bring greater good will especially if the staff participates in projects for your business.
  8. Wrap the gift. Half of the thought is the presentation.
  9. If you need some gift hints for a client, speak to his/her assistant.
  10. Start planning in advance. For extra help, contact a professional gift manager.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ I am the owner of a very small business and do not have a budget for sending my clients presents during the holiday season. What can I do?

A: A little trick for small business is to only send out cards during the holidays. Save the gift giving for another time during the year. This way you can spread out the cost of the gifts by sending a few per month. Plus, a gift that is received all by itself in March is much more memorable and has a bigger impact on the client than one that is found among all the others in December.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ One of my co-workers and I are very friendly. We enjoy working together and we get together often out of the office. Everyone in the office knows how close we are, but last year we got the cold shoulder when we exchanged gifts. Do I have to buy everyone in the office a gift?

A: No, you do not need to buy everyone in the office a gift. But if you are friendly enough with this co-worker to exchange gifts, you should be friendly enough to plan a get together outside of the office to do so.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ Should I be sending thank you notes for all the "give-aways" I receive in the office this time of year?

A: No, gifts and promotional items (calendars, mouse pads, pen or other items with another company’s name on it) are two distinctly different categories. As always, a thank you note should acknowledge all gifts. For promotional items, you can thank the person who sent it the next time you see them or speak with them on the phone.