CXO

Learn the rules of business gift giving

If you're planning to give a gift for the holidays to a business client or associate, brush up on business etiquette first. Elisa Suiter puts on her Miss Manners hat in the first of a two-part series.


Your supervisor just received a promotion. You have a client who just delivered a much-needed CBT ahead of schedule. It’s the holidays and you’d like to give a gift to your training team. If you’re planning on giving a gift to a business associate, do you know how to go about your purchases? Let’s take a look at proper etiquette in the workplace in the gift-giving arena.

When is it appropriate to give a business gift?
Timing is everything! In training, here are some occasions where gift giving would be appropriate.
  • When a client or staff member does a good job on a difficult training project.
  • When you want to strengthen your business relationship with a client.
  • To celebrate a business associate or employee’s promotion or retirement.
  • To celebrate a personal event of an employee, such as marriage or the birth of a child.
  • When a holiday comes around.

You’re probably wondering when is it inappropriate to give a gift. According to GreatFood.com , it’s considered inappropriate to give a gift if:
  • The gift could be seen as a bribe
  • You're trying to obtain a new client’s business.
  • There are contract talks.

Educate yourself
Just because you think it’s an appropriate occasion to give a present doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the clear to go shopping yet. You need to do some research to find out some things about the recipient.
  • Call his or her company to discover whether it allows employees to accept gifts or if it places a dollar-value limitation on gifts received.
  • Find out whether religious or personal issues prohibit him or her from receiving holiday gifts?
  • Learn what items he or she likes. Is he or she allergic to certain foods or flowers? If you don’t know, don’t be afraid to just ask the person as a last resort.

How much should I spend?
It has been my experience that most larger and established companies have a price range for business gift giving. If your company has no policy, consider the occasion and your relationship with the gift recipient. Some occasions, such as recognition for a job well done, may call for small tokens of appreciation. Others, retirement or personal events, for instance, may necessitate larger gifts. If you’re not sure, ask a few key people in the office what they think of your idea.

I’m only sending a card
I can hear you now saying, “There can’t possibly be anything to consider in giving a card.” Think again. When it comes to holiday cards, Mary Anne Rickert, founder of Protocol Inc., which specializes in business etiquette training, was quoted as saying, “In this age of political correctness, it is a good idea to stick to non-denominational cards that say ‘Season’s Greetings,’ ‘Peace,’ or ‘Happy Holidays.’”

Rickert also stated, “On the inside of the card, you should include your handwritten signature, even if your name is engraved, because it’s more personal.” It’s traditional to hand-address all envelopes, but it is acceptable to use computer-printed labels, according to Rickert.

Handling an unexpected gift
Surprise! Your client or teammate gives you a gift out of the blue. As long as the gift is considered business appropriate, you’re okay. If the gift breaks any business rules, consult your management and give the gift back with a thank-you note expressing your appreciation and explaining the business reason for the gift’s return.

If the gift is given during the holiday season, what are some options?
  • Send a simple personal thank-you note.
  • Give a small token of appreciation.
  • Bring in homemade treats.
Please post any additional tips for business gift giving at the bottom of this page.
In the next installment of the business gift giving tips, we’ll discuss how to select the right gift for your client or colleague and provide you with links to Web sites that specialize in helping you select the right corporate gift.

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