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by Barbara Wells, senior vice president, Staples Promotional Products | December 09, 2014
Gift giving is an important part of business culture. Do it right, and you'll be the toast of the holiday party.

As if exchanging holiday gifts isn't challenging enough, there's always a little more stress involved with corporate gifts. What if there's no gifting budget in place? What if the budget is smaller than last year's? What if (heaven forbid) your clients spend more on your gifts than you do on theirs? 
And what about the gifts you receive from clients? Sure, most of your clients are going to send a fruit basket, but what about those rare occasions when they give you something of high value? It's thrilling to receive extravagant gifts, but it also raises ethical concerns. You'll probably ask yourself, "Wait, can I even accept this?" 

Yes, corporate gifting is complicated business, but it is an opportunity to show both your associates and clients how much you value them. Thoughtful, well-planned corporate gifts make a good impression and help you stay relevant to your best clients. Impersonal or over-the-top corporate gifts can send the wrong message, or raise ethical concerns. 

Here are the five things you need to remember when making your corporate gift list:

1. Give personalized gifts. It's tempting to ship off a raft of gift cards during the holidays, especially if you have a lot of professional connections to maintain. You don't need to handpick each individual gift, however. Give major clients top-tier gifts that celebrate your partnership. Give thoughtful but modest gifts to potential clients and new associates. For a personal touch, give branded gifts that feature your company logo.

2. Stay above board. Check your organization's code of ethics (and your recipients') for price guidelines to make sure that your gifts follow protocol. Some companies and organizations have lenient gifting policies, while others are pretty strict. (For example, most public sector employees can't accept gifts over $50 in value.) If your company doesn't outline clear guidelines, the U.S. government has a common-sense guideline: Gifts up to $75 are tax deductible. Also keep in mind that employee gifts over $25 may count as taxable income -- ouch.

3. Give gifts to share. If you can, give gifts to groups instead of individuals. Shareable gifts send a much more inclusive, welcoming message. They're also subject to much more lenient cost restrictions. That's why holiday treats are so popular. They can be enjoyed by an entire department or organization. Premium chocolates, coffees, and candies are always appreciated this time of year.

4. Watch your timing. This is a big one. If your company is in the process of bidding on or negotiating a contract, don't exchange gifts with the other parties until after it's signed. Your tastefully branded tablet sleeves or boxes of chocolate-dipped pretzels may seem like attempts to gain favor. In these situations, it's absolutely essential to avoid large or expensive gifts that could be misinterpreted as setting up an expectation.

5. Get employees involved. Make sure to post your organization's code of ethics and send a friendly reminder about what kinds of gifts employees can accept from clients. And when it comes to giving employee appreciation gifts, remember that it isn't all about the gifts themselves. Bring your team together for a catered lunch, an office party, or even one of those weirdly popular ugly holiday sweater contests. There are so many ways to celebrate the holidays.

It feels good to give gifts that let others know how much you appreciate them. Just mind those ethics and watch your timing. 

Barbara Wells is the senior vice president of marketing and direct sales for Staples Promotional Products, a division of Staples Contract and Commercial.  She is a 20-year industry veteran in the promotional products industry and was named Woman of Distinction in 2013. Her responsibilities include driving branding awareness and promotional product sales through Staples sales channels, including StaplesPromotionalProducts.com.