How To Run A Successful Corporate Gift or Retirement Gift Program

There it was sitting front and center on his customer's desk.

The salesman had liked the classic timepiece watch at first sight and thought the gift would look perfect in his top client's office. Sure enough, it was prominently displayed for all to see. He couldn't have asked for a better response to a corporate gift.

With important clients, it is crucial for every interaction to say, "I value your business." If a customer dislikes a corporate gift, it won't end a business relationship, but the right gifts for business can create a positive impression and an opportunity to set yourself and your company apart from your competitors.

In markets with very similar products and pricing, a memorable gift can make you and your company more memorable to a client.

Remember the last time you received an unexpected gift from one of your business contacts? It gave you a good feeling, didn't it? Maybe you felt more inclined to continue doing business with that person rather than with the competition.

If that was the case, you experienced firsthand the power of corporate gift giving. A great corporate gift idea is one of the best tools available for building and maintaining a business. Clever gifts for business positions you foremost in the minds of your customers. When the client needs your product or service, you're the first phone call they make.

First-rate business gifts can work wonders for your reputation. Corporate gift giving is a remarkably effective, yet subtle, soft-sell form of promotion.

There are many times - not just the holiday season - when a corporate gift giving program is a great idea. Such gifts for business can be used to thank clients, congratulate someone for a promotion or other milestone and even boost morale among your employees. Also, you can easily tie your gift program to specific promotional efforts.

Running a year-round corporate gift program involves more than just cash and a catalog. It's an age-old art in the business world and requires a well-planned strategy. In the end though, the IRS allows deductions of up to $25.00 for gifts to be taken on a person's 1040A form at the end of the year. That incentive alone is enough to make the aspect of gift-giving much more enjoyable; not to mention, financially feasible.

This online booklet addresses some of the issues involved in operating an effective corporate gift-giving program.


The most significant trend in corporate gifts is the increasing number of items presented on non-holiday occasions. The goal is to recognize circumstances unique to the recipient, such as a promotion, a new project or even to apologize for a mistake. Many experts believe business gifts are more appreciated at unexpected times than during the holiday season.

There are numerous year-round occasions to send a gift. Here are just a few examples:


Send congratulations for a person's birthday, anniversary, retirement, new job, promotion, new account, new baby, wedding, new office, completion of a major project, achievement of an important personal or business goal, etc. Talented gift givers excel at discovering opportunities to celebrate.

For instance, to celebrate the opening of its new convention space, a hotel in the Southeast distributed gifts to all of its guests during the first month of operation.

Many experts believe business gifts are more appreciated at unexpected times.

Attendees of its first convention also received a small memento. Hotel management didn't forget about its employees. Everyone received a gift commemorating the occasion.

Sports championships provide an excellent chance to get in front of clients. A food manufacturer regularly sends a gift to important customers located in the host cities for the Super Bowl, World Series, N BA Finals or Stanley Cup Finals. Its salespeople also keep track of clients who are big college basketball and football fans. When college bowl season and March Madness come around, the gifts go out.

Congratulating clients for sports related events taps into their personal lives, but isn't seen as inappropriate or invasive. For example, a publishing sales representative sent a gift to a potential advertiser to congratulate her on finishing the Boston Marathon. This helped differentiate her from all the other magazines vying for the client's attention.


Recognize and reward people for accomplishing a difficult goal, solving a problem or just for general excellence. Some companies present gifts right before a difficult project. The idea is to motivate employees beforehand to do a good job, rather than wait until after the dust has settled.

A national insurance firm took this approach with its part-time employees. A large, mind-numbing yet important project was scheduled for the fourth financial quarter. To kick off an incentive program, all part-time employees received a gift that was related to the larger reward offered at the completion of the project.

Instead of waiting until after a project is completed, inject a little happiness during the stressful period. At the halfway point of a large project, for example, a construction company shut down operations and catered lunch for all its workers.

It had been a difficult first half, featuring bad weather and bad luck with machinery, and things weren't going to get easier. The project was behind schedule, but management recognized it would have been worse if not for the hard work of its people. This positive attitude and thoughtful gesture helped boost employee morale.


Grab every opportunity to increase your visibility, the visibility of your product or services and even that of your colleagues.

One of the best times to give a gift is on a sales call. A national hotel chain became known for the cookies delivered by its salespeople. Another showed up with samples of its imported java and always brewed a few cups in a portable coffee maker.

A clever salesperson used a potential client's tight schedule in her favor. The customer never gave her more than 5 minutes to pitch her products and services. So one day she walked in with a trendy clock, set it to 5 minutes and delivered her pitch exactly within that time frame. The client liked the unusual timepiece so much that he gave her an extra 10 minutes of his time and eventually his business.


Sometimes it seems that "thank you" is the least heard phrase in the corporate world. Corporate business gifts show gratitude for someone's business, dedicated work, extra help, overtime, contacts, referrals, and so on.

A publishing company recognized the entire staff of a printing house for never missing a deadline in three years. It gave the workers wrist watches to thank them for always being on time.

Quality and suitability are key attributes of any successful business gift.

A software manufacturer was excited to open its first sales branch in Europe. There had been delays with the office, however, and employees ended up working side-by-side with painters and electricians for a few weeks. How to improve employee morale?

The home office recognized employees' patience and healthy sales numbers for the first month by giving them their choice of a gift from a large catalog. This freedom of choice approach turned out to be an excellent decision since management had yet to learn enough about these new local employees and what motivated them.


Saying you are sorry is as important as saying thank you. An unexpected gift doesn't excuse a missed deadline or a mistake that causes extra work for others, but it can help soften any hard feelings.

For instance, due to an incentive firm's mix-up, employees at a fulfillment house had to work on Friday night in order to make the client's deadline. To show its regret and thanks, the incentive house treated the employees with gift certificates for dinner and a movie. The accompanying note said, “We're sorry we ruined your Friday night. The next one is on us:”

Choose with Care

Personal gifts that appeal to a person's interests, hobbies and career are excellent choices. These are also the most difficult presents. Keep notes on key clients and identify gift-giving opportunities. If you know that one of your best clients loves golf and you come across a golf-related item, buy it and save it for an appropriate occasion.

For companywide gifts, carefully identify the group's demographics, job responsibilities, income levels, lifestyles and interests. It isn't unusual to provide different gifts for different departments. However, be aware that workers will compare employee recognition gifts.

If you're targeting a set of employees, perhaps people who work for a client, consider gifts that can be enjoyed as a group. Cater a luncheon in the office or off-site. Free tickets to a cultural or sporting event are usually well received.

Quality and suitability are the key attributes of any business gift; what you give is a reflection of you as well as your products and services. If the gift is defective, breaks down or causes problems, both the item and the sender will be remembered-unfortunately for all the wrong reasons.

To be sure a gift is appropriate, consider the following:

What is your goal?

If you want to introduce a new product or service, for instance, your recognition gift selection should reflect this purpose. The same rule applies to thanking customers, motivating employees and congratulating people. This is a corporate gift, so it must fulfill a business strategy.

What would the person appreciate most?

If you know the recipient well, you will have a sense of their taste and lifestyle. Stick with safe, neutral choices such as job-related items and gifts that pertain to the person's outside hobbies.

If you're having trouble deciding on something, do a little research. Call the person's secretary or a co-worker and ask about favorite foods, special interests, collections, color preferences, favorite sports teams, authors or .musicians. This strategy will certainly tell you what will work and what to avoid.

After all, the wrong gift is useless and may even be offensive. Keep in mind that sometimes your research may reveal that different groups within your same organization may have very different ideas on what makes for a good corporate gift.

One publishing company found that out with it's holiday food program. Employees in the long-time Midwest offices enjoyed the holiday turkeys they had received every year for nearly four decades. The turkeys had become a valued custom, reminiscent of the company's earliest days.

However, members of the company's newly opened California offices didn't know anything about the tradition and thought it was old fashioned. Most of them were young and single and didn't appreciate a large turkey as their colleagues in the Midwest did.

Will the recipient feel comfortable accepting the business gift?

Don't just ask yourself whether you would feel comfortable receiving the item you've chosen yourself. Query a few other people whose gifts for business judgment you respect.

If you know someone well, you may be tempted to give him or her too personal a gift. For instance, a salesperson gave two clients gift certificates for yoga classes. She had enjoyed conversations with them on this topic and honestly thought they would appreciate the vouchers. One client loved it; the other found it utterly unprofessional.

Plan Your Budget

There are several theories on successful gift budgets. One easy way to estimate your monetary needs is to multiply the number of customers getting gifts by the average cost per item. Experts suggest reducing your initial budget estimates by a small percentage to allow for emergencies, or for spending extra on certain gifts.

Another approach is to calculate your budget as a percentage of your sales goal. For example: To accomplish a $2 million sales increase among your top 100 customers, allocate one percent of this growth for business gifts. Your budget would be $20,000.

For a year-round gift budget, experts suggest spending one fifth to one-third of your money at times other than the end-of-the year holidays.

To save some cash, find out whether anyone else in your company is sending business gifts to customers on your list. If so, consider combining your efforts to give the client one nicer corporate gift rather than two separate presents. Or at least have the two business gifts complement each other.

The most expensive approach requires a unique, individual memorable gift for top clients. Depending on your goals and the recipients, this may be the most effective strategy as well.

In other situations, you will be able to buy a few different corporate gift giving items for your entire gift list and take advantage of quantity pricing. Ideally, buy from a single source rather than multiple ones to reduce shipping and administrative costs.

Also, keep these two points in mind:

1. Always purchase a few extra items whether buying for a group or individuals. This will cover emergencies or last-minute gift needs.

2. Don't forget to include any shipping and wrapping costs in your budget. These are the kinds of surprises that can cause problems at the busiest times.

Q. When are corporate logos appropriate?

A. Using logos on business gifts depends on the goal of your program, the recipient and the type of present. Corporate symbols work best on boosting employee morale gifts to employees for jobs well done. When incorporating a logo on an item, you may want to consider placing it inconspicuously, such as on the inside label of a shirt or the back of a clock.

For important or long-time clients, eliminate company logos. It looks like advertising and is considered tacky. However, it is completely appropriate to incorporate your logo on the gift wrapping.

Q. I've been told to compile notes on each client and carry the list with me so I can buy business gifts as I discover them. Is there a more realistic strategy for successful gift giving?

A. Good notes on clients will come in handy for more than just stimulating interesting corporate gift ideas. This information can be invaluable when trying to forge a connection or when developing a selling strategy.

It doesn't have to be a senior thesis. Just get the basics as well as personal interests or hobbies - anything that will spark ideas to get their attention and set you apart.

If you really don't have time to create client files, give this responsibility to an assistant. But you will still be responsible for the original notes.

Some experts suggest delegating the actual gift selection to a professional. If your budget allows this service, it can save you a lot of time and effort. However, you still need to give these pros some idea about your clients, and the more specifics the better.

Q. One of our long-time customers is having problems and I've heard rumors this will affect their holiday gift budget. Should I give them a less expensive gift than usual so they don't feel as awkward about giving us one?

A. You know what they say about good intentions. Unless you've heard such comments specifically from the recipient of your gift, consider everything business as usual.

For all you know the company may use their holiday gift choices to present an image of stability and wealth, despite reality. And then they will be left wondering about your gift selection.

Q. Can I recycle business gifts?

A. Officially, no; this is a very bad idea. In happens quite a bit due to budget problems. If you must do it, limit your re-gifting to the holidays because it is easier to hide. Also, carefully check the items for any logos or identifying marks that could betray you.

Q. Should I give gifts in times of sadness, such as an illness or hospitalization?

A. Absolutely, but don't treat it as a pure business opportunity. Rather, consider it the right thing to do.

Presentation Matters

Unless you are distributing business promotional gifts to an entire workforce, include a personal note with every gift, whatever the occasion. You won't get by with just a brief scribble on a business card.

The note should explain the purpose of the business gift plainly and clearly. If you can't include a note with catalog orders, for instance, you should send a separate card with the message that a gift is on the way. Also, always make sure to include your full name and organization. During the holidays, people receive lots of corporate Christmas gifts. Also, it's possible they know more than one person with your first name.

When hundreds of gifts will be distributed, such as with a product launch, and it's impossible to write a personal note, include a generic, preprinted card. The same goes for holiday gifts for large numbers of employees.

A good gift can become a great gift with creative wrapping. Materials are a key consideration. Gift paper and boxes from brand name suppliers possess a lot of influence because they convey a certain image. Beautifully wrapped gifts say and show that you care. This is an excellent opportunity to include your corporate logo on the tissue wrapping or on a seal used on the outside of the gift.

Be sure to ask your supplier how long it will take to deliver the merchandise, allowing extra time for personalization and imprinting. Also, always schedule extra time when ordering in case delivery problems occur.

Distribution of the business gifts should be as special as the items themselves. All gifts should be hand delivered when possible. Delivery by the salesperson is obviously the best choice, followed by delivery by a messenger service. Take care to mail gifts first class or via your preferred supplier of ground or air transportation services. If shipped, confirm the gift arrived at their home or office.

Evaluate Your Gift-Giving Program

It's important to analyze the success of your gifts both from the recipients' and administrators' viewpoints.

Ask those who distributed memorable gifts if they encountered any problems and what they thought worked particularly well. If different gifts were used, find out which were most popular. Explore all the intangible aspects of the program, the little things that can really make the difference. Detail what worked and what didn't to help those who are involved in the next gift-giving opportunity.

If the gifts were part of a promotion or corporate initiative, assess whether the business goals were accomplished. This process will help determine future budgets.

As much as you would love to learn exactly what customers and potential clients thought of your gifts, there is really no tactful way to do it. So limit your queries to employee gift programs.

Conduct a few one-on-one conversations with key internal contacts. Also
distribute a post-program survey by email or regular mail.

Here are a few sample questions:

  • Did you understand why you received the business gift?
  • Do you like the gift?
  • Was it suitable for the occasion?
  • Did you like how your gift was presented?
  • Was the item wrapped and included a note or card of some kind?
  • Did you receive your gift on time?
  • Did you feel special and valued by the company?
  • What changes would you make to future corporate gift programs?

    The Etiquette of Corporate Gifts

  • Make sure the person can accept business promotional gifts
  • Wrap the item and include a personal note
  • Convey verbal or written appreciation with group gifts
  • Keep lists of what you give each year, as well as of what
    you receive.
  • Write thank you notes immediately after receiving a corporate gift

  • Send gifts of differing values to the same office where people might compare them.
  • Give someone more than you would expect in return.
  • Send perishable items around the holidays without checking schedules.
  • Feel embarrassed if someone gives you a gift and you have nothing in return.
  • Attempt to use a gift as a bribe.

    Follow these corporate gift giving guidelines and you can create just the right program for your company or group.

    We would be pleased to be of service if a wrist watch or other timepiece is appropriate for your needs.