Giving (and Receiving) Holiday Client Gifts

Dear, Anita,

I manage our sales department, and since we’ve had a profitable year, we were thinking of sending out gifts to clients this Christmas. I know our company employees like the goodies that roll in during the holiday season. Any suggestions?

GiftDear, UnsELFish,

First, be sure the companies do not have a No Gift Policy in place, or if a gift policy imposes a dollar limit on tokens employees can accept from vendors and suppliers. HRHero conducted a survey on workplace gift policies and got an interesting sampling of employer responses:

  • Gifts from clients that can be shared with others in the office are acceptable.
  • Any gift of a greater value than $10 must be returned or donated to [a charitable] organization.
  • Nothing valued at more than $25 from a customer, vendor, or other third party can be accepted by an employee.
  • Employees are prohibited from receiving gifts from customers or vendors when the gift is valued at more than $50.
  • Any gift over $100 must be reported to HR.
  • Guidelines say no gifts can be solicited, and only gifts of minimal value, such as inexpensive cups or pens, can be accepted.
  • No cash or gift cards can be accepted.
  • Another employer reported that there’s no policy and the subject has never been an issue.

If your customer list is small, a personalized present based on the client’s interests shows you really pay attention and value them and their business. If your client list is larger, you may want to differentiate gift price points for various levels of patronage. Your top tier may get a $100 value gift, $50 for the next level, and $25 for less prolific customers. (Keep tax implications in mind – the maximum IRS business gift deduction is $25 per person per year but check with your accountant for any nuances.) If you have several contacts at one company, give a food gift basket for all to nosh on or a shared experience such as taking them out for a sporting event. You may go the democratic route of purchasing one item for all customers; this is definitely easier to organize and you may get a bulk discount for your purchase.

businessman in santa hatShould the gift do double-duty as a promotional item with your company’s logo? Only if the item isn’t cheesy (cheese is only acceptable with crackers in a food gift basket).

Don’t be a bad Santa. Use your corporate responsibility to make sure not to offend your clients’ social conscience. Some customers may have an aversion to leather, alcohol, tobacco, or even to a box of juicy steaks, if they’re vegan. Many people have nut allergies or gluten intolerance.

With all of these hurdles to being an elf bearing gifts, charitable donations may be the way to go. Employees are not receiving any personal gain, so they won’t (in theory) become biased. If your client base is primarily local, choose a well-respected community nonprofit and donate a certain amount in each client’s name. If your business reach is nationwide or global, choose a national charity or a gift that allows the recipient to choose, such as CharityChoice Gift Cards. Helping those less fortunate at the holidays is way better than unpalatable fruitcake.

Readers: What is the most unusual holiday gift you have received from a supplier, or given as a vendor?

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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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