How to choose the right holiday gift for clients, employees and colleagues

The holiday season is fast approaching, and that means it’s time to start thinking of the perfect way to thank clients, employees and colleagues for a year of hard work.

But what to give?

Choosing gifts in a corporate setting can be difficult, especially when budgets are tight.

That doesn’t mean presents should be overlooked. In most cases, the simple act of giving is more important than the gift itself.

“Gift giving is one of the things that shows we’re not always taking,” said Susie Overton, owner of the Corporate Gift Concierge in Denver. “The amount spent is typically not as much of an issue as is the fact that someone remembered and thought of you. Having someone walk in and see something beautiful on their desk can go a long way in perpetuating good will for a company.”

What to give and how much to spend are case specific. A company’s biggest client probably shouldn’t get the same present as a client who did business with the firm three years ago, nor should a Strip resort give the same gift as a mom-and-pop grocery store.

Even so, there are basic do’s and don’ts that any corporate gift giver can follow to help compile their lists.

    • Spend wisely

      Most businesses budget about $50 per gift, although small businesses can get away with spending as little as $25. Experts suggest that in most cases, budgets remain under a few hundred dollars.

      Spending exorbitant amounts could actually work against a company.

      “More often than not, anything extravagant might be looked at as — I don’t want to use the word bribery — but you are swaying them with a financial gift,” Overton said. “That can backfire on you.”

      For the same reason, experts advise against giving gifts to companies that are bidding with or receiving bids from your firm, to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

      Some companies consider “client value” when deciding what to spend on gifts. With that approach, clients who spend a few thousand dollars a year with a company might receive a gift worth $50, while $50,000-a-year clients might get one worth $100 or $150.

    • Remain professional

      Avoid presents that might be considered racy or too personal, such as jewelry, clothing or perfume.

      Except, of course, if those items are integral to your brand.

      A monogrammed bathrobe, for example, is a perfectly appropriate gift from a spa company or luxury hotel — but not from a banker or lawyer.

    • Keep image in mind

      Stay away from low-quality gifts that reflect poorly on your brand. A small gift basket filled with a few quality ingredients is a better choice than a big basket crammed with budget items.

      Similarly, consider your audience when choosing gifts.

      “If you are a high-profile casino like the Bellagio or Wynn, your giving should be very reflective of that elegance,” Overton said. “If the gift is coming from New York-New York or Circus Circus, it has to be a little more fun.”

    • Customize gifts

      Not literally. Blankets or pens emblazoned with a company’s logo might feel overly promotional and turn clients off.

      Instead, consider your recipients’ likes and needs when choosing presents. Don’t give a bottle of wine to a person who doesn’t drink, but do give Rebels tickets to a proud UNLV alumnus. A travel company might distribute airplane pillows while a tire business could hand out rubber pens.

      Also keep in mind a client’s job. A tastefully branded thumb drive might be the perfect present for a techie on the go, and a digital picture frame could be better suited for an office-bound exec.

      Gifts that can be used repeatedly help keep your company fresh in a client’s mind.

    • Be different

      Back away from the popcorn tin. If you are going to the trouble and expense of giving a gift, why not make it stand out?

      A little creativity can go a long way in making gifts memorable.

      That isn’t to say food baskets are off limits. But instead of a box of chocolates, how about giving individually wrapped chocolate pears? Why not replace the typical bottle of merlot with a bottle of vodka adorned with an LED screen that flashes a personalized message?

      Also, if you have a consistent client base, be sure to choose different gifts each year. Getting the same calendar year after year loses its impact and appeal.

    • Pay attention to details

      Spell names correctly, especially if you are sending gifts that are personalized.

      If you order presents online, make sure the company sending them doesn’t include a bill in the packaging.

      And pay particular attention to how your gift looks. A tin of tea will make a much louder statement when placed in a basket with tissue paper instead of a plastic bag or cardboard sleeve.

      “The most important part of the gift is the presentation,” Overton said. “Gifts are most well received when they are beautifully wrapped, when they catch you by surprise and give you an ‘aha!’ moment. Most companies will get a bigger bang for their buck if they consider presentation rather than just dropping something in front of someone.”

      Even gift cards can be wrapped in attractive boxes rather than plain envelopes.

      Also, add hand-written notes and personally deliver gifts when possible.

      “One of the biggest don’ts is just doing something for the sake of doing something, as opposed to doing it for value and meaning,” Overton said.

      If you are sending food, make sure to label boxes with instructions such as “perishable” or “keep cold.” An ice cream treat can quickly turn into a sticky mess if not handled properly.

    • Know your audience

      Companies and agencies have different rules about receiving gifts. Some companies prohibit employees from accepting alcohol. Government workers often can’t accept gifts of any kind. Do your research.

      Also consider religious differences. When choosing or writing cards, nondenominational messages such as “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” are always safer than holiday-specific wishes.

      Similarly, keep cultural considerations in mind. It is in bad taste, for example, to send gifts wrapped in white to associates in Macau. In China, white symbolizes death.

      If you are giving food to clients or employees, keep people’s dietary restrictions in mind. There’s no joy in sending a box of candy to someone watching their weight, or worse, who is diabetic.

      And be sure to remember support staff. Office administrators can be your biggest allies in getting someone on the phone or in a meeting.

    • Know the law

      Save yourself money. The IRS allows businesses to deduct up to $25 per gift on tax returns. But keep in mind that incidental costs, such as engraving, wrapping and mailing, typically are not deductible.

      Also, when sending wine or liquor to a client or colleague, check the legal guidelines for alcohol deliveries in his or her state. Some jurisdictions prohibit out-of-state drink deliveries or those sent to private residences.

    • Don’t procrastinate

      Now is the perfect time to get started on your holiday shopping. Cut-off dates for personalized gifts typically land in early December.

      Also consider that many companies shut down the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Nobody may be around to receive your gift if it arrives then. That’s especially bad if you are sending food.

      So aim for presents to arrive the first week of December. That way, you’ll beat the holiday rush at the post office, and your gift will be among the first your clients receive.

      If you really want to stand out, consider giving a holiday gift during Thanksgiving week. It will likely be the only one your business associates receive and will make a big statement.

    • Giving to employees

      Even if your company can’t afford to give workers gifts or cash bonuses this year, giving employees at least a token gift will go a long way in keeping them happy and productive, the experts say.

      “People are being much more careful about how they are spending their money these days, but to totally negate the idea of giving to employees or coworkers is the wrong thing,” Overton said.

      Some companies offer employees time off with pay. Others distribute gift cards. Nearby coffee shops or restaurants are popular choices.

      Just be sure to give all of your employees the same gift to avoid comparisons and hurt feelings.