Gift giving is one of the world’s oldest social traditions and is as old as humankind itself.  It all began that day in the garden when Eve gave Adam a gift of the forbidden fruit.

Early cavemen gave gifts to attract mates or assert dominance.

The lowly Shepherds and the Magi gave the Christ child the first Christmas gifts.

Throughout history and across cultures, the types and reasons for giving gifts have varied.

The Egyptians buried gifts with the deceased to help transition to the to the afterlife.  In the middle ages, dowries were given to a bride’s father in exchange for permission to marry his daughter.

Upon returning home, explorers presented gifts to the rulers of England, Spain or whatever country supported their adventures.  The first Bosses Day” perhaps?

Frontier wives were welcomed to their new homes on the prairie with baskets of jams and freshly-baked goodies.

After a night of restless dreaming, even grumpy old Scrooge decided to combine Christmas with “Employee Appreciation Day” by sending the biggest turkey he could find to the home of his hard-working bookkeeper.

In the 1890’s when steamships traveled the Atlantic to the continent, the very wealthy would send bon voyage gifts to friends and business associates.  The staterooms were very, very small so the baskets were created to be very thin but very tall gifts that took little space. These gifts were used as snacking foods on the long overseas trips.

Throughout the ages, the core reason for giving gifts has been to create and maintain relationships. Giving gifts is a way to express our feelings, whether it is love, joy, appreciation, sympathy, or gratitude.  It helps cement cultural traditions and social ties among friends, family, neighbors, and business associates.

Business gift giving has come a long way since Harry & David graduated from selling fruit at a roadside stand into mail order back in 1948.

A lot of new products have been introduced, tried, and then discarded as suitable gifts for business customers and employees.

Chocolate-covered ants and crickets, introduced at the 1963 International Fancy Food Show are a good example.  A few years ago, chocolate-covered pasta received rave reviews and has now almost disappeared from lack of sales.

Boxes of gourmet chocolates, chocolate covered coffee beans, blueberries, and cherries, however, continue to be popular gourmet snack foods.

Like fashions, gifts have a cycle.  The kinds of gifts as well as the giving patterns change over the years.

In the late 1970s and into the 1980s, gifts were often larger than life and could easily be construed as a bribe rather than a relationship builder.  As a result, many companies placed restrictions on the value of the gift and even IRS stepped in with a maximum allowable deduction per gift.

Heavy promotional logoed items were the gift rage for awhile.  That has been replaced with more tasteful logoed items.

Bottles of alcohol were once considered the gift of choice, but that too has changed as people are more aware that it is not appreciated by many and may even be harmful to some.

Then popcorn tins became the gift of the time.  I remember when I was a Realtor, the office received so many Christmas popcorn tin gifts that we were snacking on stale popcorn in July.

Gourmet foods such as fruit gift baskets, chocolate and nut gifts, desserts, and gourmet gift baskets are always acceptable for just about any occasion.   With the rise in diabetes, as well as a need for gifts for those on keto or sugar-free diets or just plain less junk, my company and others are including selections of healthy gift baskets to choose from.

In the U.S., gifts to business customers, clients, and employees are great for relationship building and are appreciated but not expected.

But everyone loves to be remembered and recognized, particularly when least expected.  A gift from one business person to another can go a long way towards building good will and cementing a good business relationship.  It is important, however, not to cross that fine line between a “nice gesture” and a bribe.

Today, about $1.8 billion a year is spent in the United States on business gifts with the average corporate gift costing $50 to $150.  Even this varies from one part of the country to another.

The old adage, “It’s not the gift, it’s the thought that counts” may be true.  But unfortunately a carelessly chosen gift in the business world can result in a disastrous embarrassment for the giver, the recipient, or both.

To Give a Gift:
How, When, What, and Where?

Having both the heart of Santa and the wisdom of Solomon helps when it comes to business gift giving.  But all that is required is a dash of knowledge and a dose of common sense.

According to surveys, most business gifts are given to major clients.  After that come employees, then prospective clients.  Reasons for gift giving range from thanking long-standing customers for their business  to recognizing a valued employee.  For some companies, it is an essential part of their marketing strategy.

Harry & David, one of the big players in the corporate gift market, routinely sends gift packages to customers who spend more than $1,000 a year with the company.  Their research, comparing a control group of 5,000 prime customers receiving gifts with a similar group that did not, revealed the former made more and larger purchases than the latter.

The most popular times for giving gifts are the holidays, particularly Christmas, but the true experts know that other times of the year can have a more profound personal impact on the relationship.  Rather than send one large gift at Christmas, they frequently send several smaller but unique gifts throughout the year.

Commercial property management companies are experts at this practice.  They keep their commercial rental clients happy with small but fun gifts throughout the year and then end the year with a big gift basket for the office.

Business people tend to think of Christmas as the only holiday to send a gift but it may not be the best time.  Offices are filled with gifts during the Christmas season and, unless it is spectacular, one particular gift is not always remembered. Also, not everyone celebrates Christmas.

Consider being the only one to send a Thank You gift at Thanksgiving or a Wishing You a Great New Year gift after the gifting season has quieted.  It is much more likely to be remembered.

Gifts for a birthday or the birth of a baby are bound to impress, since they show that you’ve bothered to learn a thing or two about them as a person rather than just another employee.   Illness, accidents, and family deaths are other reasons to let that trusted employee or customer know they are important to you.

Important dates, such as the anniversary of when they started working for you, the day you initiated a business relationship, a promotion or closure of a deal may also be good occasions for a gift.

One Realtor, that I provide gifts for, sends each former customer a gift on the anniversary of the closing of the sale.  You can guess who the recipient of these gifts will remember when it comes time to recommend a Realtor to someone.

A financial consultant routinely sends chocolates or a small gift basket to widows using his services at Valentine’s Day since this is usually a sad day for the ladies.

Whether you stick to established holidays and impersonal occasions or get into the personal life of the recipient depends on the nature of the relationship.

Occasions for Business Gift Giving

While the holiday season and Employee Appreciation Week are the standard times of the year for corporate gifting, many other occasions merit a gift and will make an impact on the recipient.

To Promote:
Your company’s products or services.

To Show Appreciation to:
A hard-working employee
A client for new or continued business
Someone who has referred business to you
Someone who has done something special for you

To Motivate or Encourage:
Employees who are discouraged or facing boring,
unpleasant or difficult tasks
A sick or hospitalized client or employee
Someone who has lost a family member, friend, or pet

To Celebrate or Congratulate:
A business anniversary or opening
The birth of a baby
A birthday
A retirement
A new job or promotion
Completion of an important project
Welcome to a new city or home

Gift giving is a timeless tradition that transcends cultures and eras

It is a beautiful way to connect with others, express our emotions, and strengthen the bonds that hold us together.  Whether it’s a small token of appreciation or a grand gesture, the act of giving gifts continues to be a cherished and meaningful part of our lives.

So, the next time that you have a chance to give a gift, remember — a gift is more than an object.  It’s a way to connect, celebrate, and spread a little joy in the world.

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