How to Give Holiday Gifts to Clients

For many professionals, holiday gift-giving isn’t limited to friends and family. Sending small gifts to clients is a great way to show your appreciation and strengthen relationships. But as with most things in the business world, you can avoid pitfalls by following a few best practices.

First, make sure that your gift-giving adheres to all applicable HR policies and ethical standards — both your company’s as well as the recipient’s. Avoid giving gifts during any sort of bidding process, contract renewal period or negotiation, as this could be perceived as a bribe, even during the holidays. You don’t want to get your client in trouble or create an awkward situation in which they have to decline the gift.

After determining that it’s OK to give a gift to a particular client, you’ll need to make sure that you’re sending the right gift.

For example, the first time a basket of chocolate or cookies or processed cheese and meat arrives in your client’s office during the holiday season, it may be met with, shall we say, enthusiasm.

The second time, maybe folks will casually graze on it in the break room.

The third time? Oh, no. Not another basket. The holidays have just started, and I’ve already gained five pounds.

When giving a gift, you never want the recipient to think, “Get that thing away from me.”

You don’t want to be the sender of that third basket. Or the thirteenth basket, for that matter. Even if the caloric content doesn’t cause your client to recoil in horror, food is out of sight and out of mind once it’s eaten or thrown away. It’s far better to give a gift that your client will use over and over again — and think fondly of you each time.

Speaking of which, your client won’t think of you at all if your gift is relegated to a junk drawer. So while it would be easy to put your logo on a gift and send that exact same thing to each of your clients, it’s usually not a great idea. Brand awareness is important, but remember that the point of a gift is to make the recipient happy, not to serve as an overt advertisement.

Instead, consider what the client likes (within the bounds of what’s appropriate for business, of course), whether it’s fishing or flowers or felines. They’ll appreciate that you took the time to choose a gift that speaks to their interests, rather than your self-interest in promoting your company. If you absolutely must put your logo on the gift, make it understated. Either way, always include a personal note to the recipient.

Finally, familiarize yourself with the IRS gift-giving regulations. In general, the limit for deductions is $25, but be sure to review the full guidelines.

– Matt Rehm