Business Gift Giving Etiquette and Common Mistakes to Avoid

Business Gift Giving Etiquette and Mistakes to Avoid

For business owners, the holiday season is often a time for purchasing client, employee, and partner gifts for everyone who supports your business throughout the year. However, it’s important to give gifts in a way that won’t offend or create awkward situations among those who are important to your small business. Before shopping for holiday gifts for clients, colleagues, or employees, consider the following business gift giving etiquette tips for all occasions.

So, Just What is Gift Giving in Regards to Business?

Business gift giving etiquette emphasizes the importance of understanding the preferences and needs of the recipient. The aim is to present a corporate gift that holds some form of value, whether that be in terms of functionality, symbolism, or actual worth. The etiquette involves:

  • Understanding Preferences: Just as with personal gift-giving, it is crucial to know what the recipient might appreciate or find useful.
  • Choosing Appropriate Gifts: Gifts should be aligned with the recipient’s interests rather than a mere reflection of the giver’s interests or services.
  • Showcasing Appreciation: The gift must serve as a token of gratitude and should communicate appreciation towards the recipient.
  • Avoiding Generic Items: Avoid gifts that are too general or impersonal. Tailoring the gift to the individual’s taste is key.
  • Considering Cultural Sensitivities: In a global business context, it’s essential to be mindful of cultural norms and expectations related to gifts.
  • Ensuring Professionalism: Selecting a gift that maintains a professional tone without crossing any boundaries that might make the recipient uncomfortable.

Understanding Preferences: Just as with Personal Gift-Giving

Understanding the preferences of your business contacts is crucial in business gift-giving. Take the time to learn about their interests, hobbies, and personal style. This can involve subtle conversations over time or noting their comments about likes and dislikes in various meetings.

A gift that aligns with their interests not only shows that you’ve paid attention but also demonstrates a level of care beyond the professional relationship.

Choosing Appropriate Gifts: Gifts Aligned with Recipient’s Interests

When selecting gifts, it’s important to consider the recipient’s personal interests and tastes rather than choosing something that serves as an advertisement for your services or products.

For instance, if you know a client enjoys golf, a thoughtful golf accessory would be more appreciated than a generic company-branded item. Such tailored gifts show genuine regard for the recipient’s individuality.

Showcasing Appreciation: The Gift as a Token of Gratitude

The primary purpose of a business gift should be to express gratitude. It should symbolize your appreciation for the business relationship or the recipient’s contribution to your business endeavors.

The gift doesn’t have to be extravagant but should convey a sincere message of thanks. Whether it’s a hand-written note accompanying the gift or the thoughtful selection of the gift itself, the focus should be on the sentiment of appreciation.

Avoiding Generic Items: Tailoring Gifts to Individual Taste

Generic gifts often fail to make an impact. To make your gift memorable, tailor it to the recipient’s unique tastes and preferences. Avoid one-size-fits-all items and opt for something that speaks to the individual’s personality or interests.

Personalization can come in various forms, from a custom-engraved pen for a writer to a specialty tea selection for a tea lover, adding a personal touch can significantly enhance the value of the gift.

Considering Cultural Sensitivities: Mindfulness in Gift Giving

In today’s global business environment, being culturally sensitive is crucial. Different cultures have different norms and taboos regarding gift-giving. For instance, in some cultures, certain colors or numbers might be considered unlucky.

Doing your homework to understand these cultural nuances can prevent unintentional offense and shows respect for the recipient’s background and traditions.

Ensuring Professionalism: Maintaining a Professional Tone

While personalization is important, maintaining a professional tone in gift-giving is essential. The gift should be appropriate for a business relationship and not cross boundaries into personal territory. It should reflect both respect and professionalism.

Avoid overly personal items like clothing or perfume and instead choose gifts that are thoughtful yet maintain a professional context, such as quality stationery or a tasteful business accessory.

By adhering to these principles, business gift-giving can strengthen relationships and convey respect and appreciation in a professional context.

Here’s a word from Thomson Reuters Compliance Learning about Compliance Guidelines in Business Gift Giving:

Business Gift Giving Etiquette

When giving gifts in the business world, it’s crucial to know the right etiquette. Choosing the right present can strengthen work relationships and leave a good impression. Take a look at our business gift giving etiquette tips.

Choose Your Budget Carefully

business gift giving etiquette

Choosing an amount to spend on each gift is one of the trickiest parts about business gift giving etiquette. When it comes to gifts for your team, it mainly comes down to what you can afford.

However, buying gifts for vendors, service providers, or partners outside of your business can be a bit more sensitive. Some entities have limits for what they’re allowed to accept. So make sure you don’t surpass these limits with excessive gifts.

If you work within a business or organization, follow the guidelines outlined by your leadership team for any gift exchange spending limits.

Don’t Leave People Out

gift giving etiquette - left out implied with penciled faced egg collection

When giving business gifts, inclusivity and fairness should be top priorities. Overlooking someone can lead to hurt feelings and unintended workplace dynamics. Here’s a quick guide to keep your gift-giving equitable and thoughtful:

  • For Your Team:
    • Always aim for gifts of equal value for all team members.
    • It might be acceptable to allocate a slightly higher budget for the management team.
    • Consider tenure; it’s okay to acknowledge those who have served the company longer with a special token.
  • Outside Your Business:
    • Apply the same principles of equality and fairness for partners or service providers.
  • Within the Organization:
    • Always include everyone in gift exchanges.
    • Exceptions can be made for arrangements like secret Santa where only one gift is necessary.

Personalize When Possible

gift giving etiquette - women holding up gift card in a decorative envelope

It’s not always possible for business owners to purchase different gifts for each team member, partner, and client. But if you have a fairly short gift list, try to purchase individual gifts that are relevant to each recipient.

For example, if you know that a particular client loves their morning coffee, getting them a Starbucks gift card instead of a generic Visa one could mean a lot more to them.

Adding a personal touch to gifts can deepen business relationships. This can be as simple as choosing a gift card from a store you know the recipient frequents or selecting a book related to an area in which they’ve expressed interest.

Gifts that Reflect Company Values

business gift giving etiquette

Companies often have core values that guide their operations and principles. Consider giving gifts that reflect these values. For instance, if sustainability is one of your company’s core principles, opt for eco-friendly or recyclable gift options. This not only shows thoughtfulness but reinforces the values your business stands by.

Keep It Practical for Vendors, Suppliers, and Customers

Though it may be fun to give members of your team items that call back to inside jokes or funny things that have happened in the office throughout the year, it’s not as easy to gauge how those outside of your business might view those types of gifts.

Unless you have a very close relationship with someone, it’s usually safer to stick with items that are useful, like gift cards or office supplies.

Use Caution with Humor

Even if you’re purchasing gifts for people you work with directly, make sure that any humorous items are appropriate for the office and for the recipient. If you’re not sure about someone’s sense of humor or if you think that a gift might be offensive to anyone in your workplace, steer clear.

While humor can be a great way to build rapport, it’s crucial to ensure that any humorous gift is appropriate for a professional setting. Avoid gifts that might be misinterpreted or that could potentially offend someone’s sensibilities.

Avoid Overly Personal Items

gift giving etiquette - don't give too personal gifts like the perfume shown here

It’s essential to strike a balance between personalization and professionalism. While you want to show that you’ve put thought into the gift, avoid giving overly personal items. These can be seen as too intimate and may not suit everyone’s tastes or preferences.

Steer clear of gifts that might be considered too personal, such as clothing or perfume. Instead, opt for more neutral items like tech gadgets, quality stationery, or gourmet food baskets that are considerate yet professional.

Don’t Assume Everyone Celebrates Christmas

To accommodate diverse beliefs and practices, consider giving end-of-year gifts or tokens of appreciation without specific holiday branding. This approach ensures inclusivity and respect for all cultural backgrounds.

Holiday parties and gifts are pretty widely accepted in workplaces throughout the country. However, if you make gifts very specific to Christmas, it could make people who don’t celebrate uncomfortable. If you’re not sure about a specific person’s preference, keep your gift and message fairly general.

Acknowledge Dietary Restrictions

gift giving etiquette - fancy chocolates in a gift box

If you’re considering edible gifts like chocolates, snacks, or wine, it’s critical to be aware of any dietary restrictions or preferences. Whether it’s due to religion, allergies, or personal choices, a seemingly innocent treat can become an awkward gift if it can’t be consumed by the recipient.

Research International Customs

If you do business internationally, your clients or partners may have different expectations when it comes to the etiquette of gift giving. You should research the holiday customs in that part of the world before purchasing a gift.

Keep Promotional Gifts Minimal

It’s pretty common for businesses to print their logos on items like tote bags or hats that they give out for holiday gifts. While this isn’t necessarily a no-go, you should try not to rely on gifts as a source of promotion.

Make sure they’re actually useful for the recipient, meaning they should be fairly high quality, and the logos should be small and understated.

Consider Charitable Donations

business gift giving etiquette

For a unique touch, consider giving the gift of charity. If you’re aware of a cause close to the recipient’s heart, making a donation in their name can be a thoughtful gesture. It’s a win-win: you’re giving back to the community and presenting a gift that carries a lot of emotional weight. Always provide a certificate or receipt of the donation as part of the gift.

Create Guidelines for Team Members

As a business owner, ensuring smooth gift exchanges among employees is as vital as the gifts themselves. Here are some guidelines to consider:

  • Set price limits for gifts to avoid disparities.
  • Establish policies on gift purchasing for everyone.
  • Encourage office-wide gift exchanges like Secret Santa or White Elephant, with clear price limits.
  • Note: Guidelines might be more flexible if coworkers exchange gifts outside the office setting.

Gift Packaging Matters

business gift giving etiquette

The presentation of your gift can make a significant difference. Ensure that your gifts are packaged neatly and professionally. A beautifully wrapped gift shows effort and consideration, enhancing the overall gifting experience.

If you’re not confident in your wrapping skills, many businesses offer professional gift wrapping services.

Say Thank You

business gift giving etiquette

Have you receive gifts from team members, partners, or clients throughout the holiday season? It’s also important to acknowledge them as quickly as possible. Send a handwritten thank you note to the sender when possible.

An email may be acceptable if the gift was sent virtually.

Business Gift Giving Etiquette Summary

Etiquette PointGuideline
Budget SettingDecide gift budget based on what's affordable; adhere to external and internal gift cost limits.
InclusivityEnsure gifts for all team members; aim for equal value with exceptions for management or tenure.
PersonalizationChoose gifts relevant to the recipient, considering their personal likes and interests.
PracticalityOpt for useful gifts like gift cards or office supplies for external contacts.
Humor & Personal ItemsEnsure humorous gifts are workplace-appropriate and avoid overly personal items.
Cultural SensitivityBe general if unsure of holiday preferences; research international customs for global partners.
Promotional GiftsEnsure high quality and keep logos understated.
Employee Gift GuidelinesSet price limits and consider group exchanges like Secret Santa.
PresentationPrioritize neat and professional gift wrapping.
AcknowledgmentQuickly thank anyone who gives you a gift, preferably with a handwritten note.


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Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 12 years. Annie covers feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. She has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College Chicago in Journalism and Marketing Communications.