The Art of Gift Giving, by Hilka Klinkenberg
"Give. That is one of the world's greatest messages." - John Loring
The purpose of gift-giving, whether by an individual or a corporation, is to please the recipient. Your reasons for doing so may vary but, whatever the reason, the focus must remain on the recipient if you want to elevate your gift-giving to an art.
Routine, careless or improper gift-giving can do your cause or relationship more harm than good. Gifts are never a substitute for a caring attitude, good business practices, goodwill or company manners. Nor should a gift ever be given as a bribe or when it could be misconstrued as one.
Corporate Gift Giving
Corporate gift giving can enhance a company's image and improve customer relations. A gift can convey many messages like power or sophistication. Most importantly, it must reflect the image of the company, be it conservative or cutting edge, all the while considering the recipient.
The ideal corporate gift is the company's product, imaginatively packaged with a twist to make it interesting, perhaps by adding the latest gadget that can be used in conjunction with the products. For instance, a publisher might want to give a selection of paperbacks with a book cover that has a battery operated reading light.
If the company's products are targeted toward a particular market based on sex, age or interest, don't give the product as a generic gift. Women may not appreciate the latest electric drill any more than men would appreciate a set of electric rollers; however, the latest travelling hair dryer could be appropriate for everyone.
Tickets to company sponsored events or exhibitions are also appreciated gifts as long as the recipient is interested in that sport or cultural activity. A balletomane may not be particularly thrilled with tickets to the basketball game.
Some suggestions for corporate gifts are: pens, small calculators, clocks, watches, glassware, desk sets or baskets of fruit. Diaries and desk calendars can also be good gifts, but they must be spectacular and of the highest quality to be appreciated because executives usually receive a number of them. A gift that is useful or practical will always be valued as long as it is appropriate to the intended receiver. Beware, though, of sending the same gift every year, or it will be taken for granted.
Logos should always be used with discretion on any gift. Don't put a logo on just anything. Logo gifts must be of the highest quality and in good taste. Always keep the logo small so that it doesn't look as though the gift is really a corporate advertisement.
If gifts have a logo, they can be considered promotional and not restricted to the deductibility constraints that the IRS normally imposes on the price of gifts. But, check with your accountant to see how this fits your personal circumstances.
If you've developed a closer relationship with certain clients, the gift should be much more personal than the standard logo item or the generic gift purchased by the corporation.
There is no excuse for being unable to come up with an appropriate gift for someone with whom you have an established association. Yet it happens all the time. A classic example of thoughtless gift giving is the wine an owner of one of the finest wine shops in Manhattan regularly receives...purchased from other stores! I can quite appreciate her perplexity at these gifts and admire her ability to receive them gracefully none the less.
If you expect the client to make the effort to give you his or her company's business, you had better make the effort to buy a gift that shows you care. "It's the thought that counts," does not mean remembering to buy a present, it means thinking about buying a gift that is appropriate to the recipient.
Giving a gift that is just right is really a fairly simple process that involves three steps: the research, the shopping and the presentation. The more time you allow yourself, the more likely you are to be successful...without 'last minute' stress!
Research and Planning
Keep a file on your clients and anyone else who might be on your gift list. Note any interests, hobbies and other personal information that arise in conversation throughout the year, like the person's alma mater or the purchase of a new home, that may be a source of inspiration. The file does double duty because it can also be a source for casual conversation or a reason to stay in touch throughout the year, like calling a sports fan to discuss his team's victory over a major opponent.
Often the clues might be visible in the person's office. If the office walls are covered with paintings of vintage automobiles, a comment about them may lead to a flash of inspiration, like a coffee-table book about the person's favorite car or a scale model. Friends and acquaintances with similar interests can also be a source of inspiration. While I know nothing about golf, many of my friends and business associates are avid golfers. Not only do I use them as resources for others, I make note of their suggestions as possible gifts for them.
If you've never been able to get any information from the person, or if you've mined a vein of ideas to exhaustion, call the person's secretary. Aside from the immediate family, who knows that person better? If you are acquainted with the person's spouse, you might even want to call him or her. Never call a spouse you've never met, though.
Should you not be able to come up with any information about hobbies or interests, then consider a gift for the office like a leather business card case, good desk accessories, a crystal paperweight or a crystal and sterling inkwell for someone who uses a fountain pen. Gifts for the home are another option, provided they are not too personal or stylized. A good crystal vase filled with seasonal flowers like Amaryllis is appropriate for men and women. Food always makes an excellent gift, whether it is a case of Florida citrus fruit, a wheel of Vermont cheese or a crystal jar filled with candy.
In your research, don't forget to note any dislikes. Nor should a gift reflect a person's shortcomings. Someone with a skin problem may misinterpret a gift certificate for a facial. And, while a sense of humor is wonderful, a gift should not be used to play a joke on someone. Avoid liquor and wine unless you know the person well because they or their company might look upon alcohol negatively. Smoking accoutrements and chocolates can also be taboo gifts.
International Gift Giving
Before embarking on a shopping excursion for your international business associates, it is necessary to understand the customs and traditions of that person's culture so that you don't give unintentional offense. The taboos of international gift giving can range from not giving a letter opener in Japan or Latin American countries because it looks like a knife and implies severing a relationship to not giving leather in India where the cow is sacred to not giving a clock in China because the word for clock sounds like the word for death. Colors and the way a gift is wrapped can also hold a great deal of significance. Major stores often have someone on staff in the corporate gift department who is well-versed in the intricacies of international gift-giving.
Don't forget that the recipient may be required to pay duty on your gift which could affect the joy with which it is received. If in doubt, check with the nearest consulate of that country. A way to avoid this might be to place an order via telex or FAX with a major store in the recipient's country.
Flowers are an ideal solution to certain gift giving situations because they are easy to send anywhere in the world via your local florist. Again, certain cultures attribute meaning to certain colors or types of flowers. In Japan, for instance, white flowers and chrysanthemums are symbols of death; in Germany, red roses have serious romantic connotations. It is always a good idea to have your florist specify to the florist in the other country the occasion for sending the flowers.
Consider your budget, your position, your relationship to the client and the acceptable price range. While the Internal Revenue Service currently allows a deduction of $25 per recipient per year for gifts, many people, especially at a senior executive level, consider this too low and deem the additional non-deductible expenditure a wise business investment.
Beware of excessive spending. It is as much a faux pas as niggardly gift giving and may force the recipient to return your lavish gift. A gift from a junior executive to a client need not exceed $25. Mid to upper management should consider spending up to $50, while a senior executive may want to spend up to $100 for their best customers. A gift costing more than $100 would only be given in very special circumstances.
Most major stores have corporate gift accounts which entitle the company to benefit from store discounts on quantity purchases.
Specialty stores that cater to the person's interests are probably the best source of ideas within your budget. Don't be afraid to consult the sales staff, especially if you know nothing about the hobby. Don't forget catalogues from major department and specialty stores throughout the country; a quick phone call will usually get one in the mail to you. Most large stores have an in-store shopping service that will make selections at little or no extra charge. Specialized gift services and personal shoppers can also be found in your local Yellow Pages.
Many executives depend on their support staff to take on the task of gift shopping for people they don't even know. If your secretary has excellent taste, he or she may be the person to do your legwork, with several stipulations. Never expect the secretary to shop on personal time; the shopping should be on company time. The secretary should only be enlisted if it will not entail working overtime or getting otherwise backed up to complete the regular work assignments.
Always wrap a gift before giving it. Not wrapping a present implies carelessness and an uncaring attitude. It undermines the impact of your gift. If you are all thumbs trying to tie a bow, have the store where you purchased the gift wrap it for you. Or, have a wrapping service or a friend do it for you. In selecting the wrapping, consider the recipient just as you did in buying the gift. A pink and blue bow on flowery paper will probably cause the a male executive to raise an eyebrow while a young female administrative assistant might wonder if the gift wrapped in navy, burgundy and Hunter green stripes were actually intended for her boss.
Remember to enclose a gift card with a personal comment and your signature. A correspondence card is an ideal enclosure card. A business card is adequate, but only if you put a slash through your name, write a brief message on the back and sign it. If possible, give the gift in person. That you took the time to share the moment adds immensely to the occasion. More important, make sure the gift is timely. The impact of the gift diminishes with every passing day. Just think how thrilled you would be to receive your birthday presents three or four months after the day has passed.
Unless you are attending a celebration at which everyone else is giving gifts too, give your gift in private. Singling the person out with a gift in front of others can be embarrassing to the recipient and to the people who neglected to give a gift. When giving a gift, don't insist the person open it immediately; the person might prefer to open it in private when they don't have to worry about making the appropriate responses. Don't disparage the gift with remarks like "Oh, it's nothing!" because the recipient might believe you.
Always accept a gift gracefully, regardless of how you feel about the gift or the giver. Even if a gift appears to be a hostile act, like a health club membership for someone who is overweight, it may have been well intentioned, albeit misguidedly. A simple 'thank you' is always an appropriate expression of appreciation. Never diminish the giver's generosity with a statement like 'you shouldn't have' even if you wish they hadn't. How would you feel if someone did that to you after you had invested your time, effort and money?
Although a telephone call may be easier and more convenient, a 'thank you' note is compulsory. And, the note should be written immediately. Putting it off makes it an increasingly onerous task and diminishes the impact of your gratitude.
It is perfectly acceptable to refuse a gift and, under certain circumstances, it becomes obligatory. Always return a gift that is extravagant, too personal, has sexual implications or can be misconstrued as bribery. Although you may be furious about the gift, venting your anger can put you at a disadvantage. Enclosing a note that, because of the nature of the gift you are unable to accept it, is more than sufficient. Be sure to keep a copy of the note and return it in a way that ensures you have receipt of the return.
Company policy occasionally dictates that an employee is not allowed to receive a gift. It takes a great deal of the pressure off the employee if the company publicizes this beforehand. If your company doesn't send out notification, you may want to apprise business associates who might give you a gift of company policy well in advance of the occasion. Politely letting others know either beforehand or at the time the gift is offered that you appreciate the gesture but are prohibited by policy from accepting is good manners and should never create hard feelings.
When you've taken the time to find out what is acceptable and what the person may like and you allow yourself enough time, you relieve yourself of much of the stress associated with giving. Finding the perfect present can become a fun-filled adventure. A gift given with joy is the most wonderful gift to receive, and taking pleasure in gift giving elevates the act to an art.
© Hilka Klinkenberg - All rights reserved. Please contact for permission to reprint.
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