The Art of Giving Thanks

This week, Americans will sit down to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends, taking time out to give thanks for their good fortune, health, loved ones, and the joys of the past year. Next month, however, small business owners will give thanks in a different way, with the corporate holiday gift.

Particularly in a still-struggling economy, holiday gift giving on the corporate level can be tricky. Too costly a gift, and your company may be seen as wasteful or extravagant. Too

frugal a gift? At best, simply not memorable. At worst, insincere in your gratitude. The key to holiday gift giving among companies is to show genuine appreciation in a thoughtful, honest way.

In addition, however, the holiday gift exchange is also an exercise in subtle marketing. It’s a token of appreciation for past business interactions, a gesture of good will, and a reminder that you value your business associates and hope to continue working with them in the year to come. It’s a chance to associate your company name with a positive feeling and a sense of gratitude (both gratitude from your company and on the part of the recipients). So the gifts you send and the messages they carry are important. As much as any marketing campaign, they represent your company, your people, and your values.

Who Gets What?
Traditionally, small businesses send corporate holiday cards to nearly everyone in their networks. Ask your staff to compile lists of contacts (clients, vendors, service providers, distributors, etc.) who should receive cards from the company, and, if feasible, have key personnel add hand-written notes in cards going to those contacts they work with most. Always keep in mind that religion is a sensitive topic for some, so unless your company is specifically affiliated with a religion (i.e.: a Christian book store or a Temple gift shop) a “Season’s Greetings,” “Happy Holidays,” or “Happy New Year” card is typically more appropriate than one with a holiday- or religion-specific message.

However, for outstanding vendors and valued clients, most companies step up their game a bit by sending a gift in addition to the standard card. Always send gifts to those companies who’ve sent your team gifts in previous years if you are still engaged in business with them. If you’re unsure who sent gifts or cards in the past, start keeping a list this year so you’re better prepared the next time around.

Choosing A Gift
Choosing the right gift is the trickiest part of the entire corporate holiday gift exchange. Keep in mind that what’s appropriate for your top client may not be the right thing for your favorite vendor. Of course, choosing individual gifts to send dozens of contacts can be overwhelming
and inefficient. The simple solution is to choose one or two gifts and then send variations of those gifts to everyone.

For example, you might choose chocolates and wines as your categories. A single bottle of wine with a hand-addressed and -signed corporate card is a thoughtful gift to send an individual client, but it doesn’t work as a gift for a whole office. In that instance, a shared gift, such as a large box of high-end chocolates, would be more appropriate.

When sending to a large office, some people choose to send individual gifts to the team members they actually have contact with, but this is a bit of a rookie error. Yes, you work with the sales team, but they’re supported by product development, IT, and customer service. Demonstrate that you recognize their entire staff is a team by sending a gift to the entire organization whenever feasible. If the company is very large, consider a card for the company and a gift for the department(s) with which you work the most.

Making it Memorable
Yes, holiday gift giving is about generosity and thanks. But if no one knows who sent that Edible Arrangement or those popcorn tins, your actual message has been lost and the gesture is mostly wasted. Consider starting a tradition so that even if your cards become separated from your gifts, everyone still knows who sent them.

In discussing this topic, one of our team members recalled working for a small non-profit and how excited the staff would get each December when “the box” arrived. One of their vendors sent the same giant box of Godiva chocolates each year, enough for everyone to share, and it became a tradition the entire team looked forward to and remembered. How do you want people to think of your company? What message are you sending with your holiday thanks?