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Business gifting can be a challenge, but it's an opportunity to stand out in a good way. Your dad will love you no matter how many ugly ties you give him; a client might not be so forgiving, especially if you send a get-well tin of sugar cookies after her hospitalization for diabetes. If you can't remember that she's diabetic how can she trust you to remember IRS code when you're doing her taxes? In business you can't count on second chances.
Business Gifting During the Holidays
No matter how you choose to celebrate you should be sensitive and courteous. For many the holidays are a difficult time of year, personal, family or financial problems are magnified. In addition, people celebrate in a variety of ways. There is Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, just to name a few. The last place you want to upset someone is at work, so consider the following: Going desk-to-desk to collect money is not acceptable, neither is sending out a mass email specifying the people who still haven't anteed up. Holiday drives and donations are great, but if they single people out who can't afford to participate they are not in the holiday spirit.
Celebrate Thanksgiving. Find out if there are any non-profit organizations that deliver meals to needy families. Make a list of the items they require and post in the break-room. People can sign up without feeling pressured.
Host a gift drawing, but again make sure it's not mandatory. Be considerate about the gift you submit. Sweets, alcohol, etc. are off limits in a day and age of strict diets and struggles with addiction. Sweets are fine if sent to an entire office, alcohol is not (except to my office it won't offend me). A fun Smiley Journal or commuter mug is always welcome and say a little more about your gift giving efforts. By giving something unique and thoughtful you are also standing out at work in a positive way.
Direct supervisors should always try to do something for their employees. Don't over buy. An extravagant gift can be irritating to someone who would rather have the money to buy groceries. Likewise, if there is a significant salary gap between you and your staff don't be cheap, they will notice. Treat all staff fairly. A $5 coffee house gift card, a gift set with whimsical office supplies (think Jonathan Adler highlighters, sticky notes, etc), or even a business card holder.
If you feel compelled to buy for a boss the same rules apply. Extravagant gifts can make people uncomfortable. A lovely notebook or journal is useful and thoughtful. Don't push your own ideals on others. You would love to get your boss into yoga so she stops complaining about her neck pain, but your gift of a yoga mat will not likely be a turning point in her life. So give in and buy her the new commuter mug you know she will use.
Business Gifting Anytime
Although there are no definitive rules when it comes to business gifting, you should be aware of industry practices and customs within your office. The best way to find out what those might be are to ask.
Gather information. If you're a realtor you can certainly ask other realtors, but they might not be completely forthcoming with their ideas. Instead ask your friends and family what gifts they've received from realtors, take their ideas and make them your own. One friend got a silver bowl from their realtor; another received a gift basket with paper plates, cups, and a gift certificate for take-out, both great ideas that say a lot about that realtor's personality.
When giving a business gift outside the office it's important to remember that this is an opportunity to reinforce your brand message. Choose a gift that considers the recipient, but also says something about your business or service. After tax season a C.P.A. could give cookies (but not to a diabetic) shaped like numbers with a clever message “It was fun crunching numbers with you.” It's memorable and says something about the recipient. If you're not known for your sense of humor, then give a serious gift like a calculator (logo on the back). Bottom line, be true to yourself.
Say it don't scream it. An engraved pen or portfolio may have your name and logo on it, but if it ends up in the trash the message is wasted (literally). A stylish business card holder with your business card inserted in it is both clever and useful, but your branding can be removed so that the recipient is not a walking billboard for your company.
Be careful what you wish for. If you start giving out little birthday gifts around the office you risk creating a practice that you will have to maintain; you also risk annoying others if they are left out. If you must give a gift, then communicate clearly, "I don't usually buy birthday gifts for coworkers, but I really appreciate the work you did on the Smith Project and feel bad that you had to work overtime on your birthday."
Be courteous and thoughtful. Although I mentioned this in the holiday business gifting section, it's worth repeating. Be considerate about the gifts you give. Unless you know the person well sweets, alcohol, etc. are off limits in a day and age of strict diets and struggles with addiction. Sweets are fine if sent to a group or an entire office, but alcohol is not (except for my office you can send me champagne or wine).
The Short Version:
Be sensitive to other's beliefs.
Be sensitive to other's financial situation
Be practical (executive Zen gardens are out)
Buy reasonably priced gifts
Buy gifts in keeping with your brand
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by Holly Bohn Weiss - Copyright © 2013