Make It Meaningful: The Dos and Don’ts of Giving Gifts to Clients

Kristine McManus, CRPS®
Kristine McManus, CRPS®

11.13.18 in Marketing & Practice Management

Estimated Reading Time: 6 Minutes (1174 words)

Marketing and Project Management

There’s an old song that describes the end-of-year holidays as the most wonderful time of the year. The people in it are laughing and singing, enjoying dinners and friends, and relaxing by the fire. Somehow, they’ve completed their to-do lists so they can enjoy the season of giving stress free. It sure doesn’t sound like me—or anyone I know, for that matter. But maybe this year will be different.

For most advisors’ offices, the holiday season includes frantically handling appointments, updating asset allocations, and trying to close business before December 31, which means there’s little time to consider giving gifts to clients. So, I’ll try to help you with choosing some good options now, before things get crazy.

What’s Your Intention?

When choosing year-end gifts for clients, be clear on why you’re doing it:

  1. To thank your clients: Advisors want to acknowledge their best clients at year-end—people who have given them assets or referrals or trusted their recommendations.

  2. To get talked about: Maybe you don’t think that way—but you should. The period from Thanksgiving through New Year’s is full of opportunities for your clients to visit friends and family, entertain, attend parties, and post (and post and post) to Facebook. These are all times when your name could come up in conversations, whether in person or on social media.

I’ve worked with advisors for many years, and for some reason when it comes to gift giving, they choke. Please listen to me as I say, with all sincerity, that no one wants a fruit basket. Wedged in with all the slightly soft apples and the very hard pears is usually a block of ho-hum cheddar cheese, some type of dried sausage or pepperoni, a box of crackers, and a jar of jam that no one wants. (I’m talking to you, rhubarb.) This is where the chocolate-covered cherries go to die.

So, what should you send instead? Whenever possible, make sure your gift has meaning—from your client’s perspective or yours. As a result of listening to your clients carefully over the years, you should have a pretty good idea of what they like.

Giving Gifts to Clients: Dos and Don’ts

Do own the mantel. A highly visible gift (a centerpiece) is preferable to something that you put in a drawer (a bottle stopper). This also applies to any cards and photos you send to clients. Is it something your clients would enjoy having others see and comment on? Here’s an idea: Check out The Gingerbread Construction Co. for lovely gingerbread houses that could be put on display and invite conversation for weeks.

Do think outside the bottle. Wine is a lovely gift, but it might not inspire conversation by itself. So, try to make your bottle stand out with a handwritten tag. Tell the client why you chose the region (“We honeymooned in Sonoma and loved this winery”), label (“Enjoy your new vacation home with Beach House”), or bottle (“The sommelier says there’s nothing better with turkey than this blend”). You could also inscribe a personal message on the bottle itself with a metallic ink marker (“Happy holidays to two of my favorite people!”). Your clients will appreciate the gift when you hand them the bottle, and when they pull it back out to drink it, you will again be top of mind. You’ve doubled your impact!

Do hand deliver gifts. Even a poinsettia or a tin of homemade cookies seems special when you personally drop it off. If you have young children, bring them with you to make your deliveries, to introduce your children to your clients and encourage the next generation’s relationships.

Do think creatively. The time you put into searching for or creating the perfect gift could be rewarded.

  • Search locally: Sure, you could order from a catalog. But why not look for local businesses that have a high-quality product you could support? Instead of sending chocolates or popcorn from afar, think local— Hebert Candies in the Boston area or

    Munson’s Chocolates in Connecticut, for example. You might be able to chat with the business owner when you place your order (perhaps leading to a follow-up business opportunity), and your clients will enjoy the local touch.

  • Bring local to them: Clients who have retired to Florida or Arizona might really appreciate a fragrant evergreen wreath on their door to remind them of home. Since evergreens are not readily available in hot weather zones, your gift has the opportunity to stand out and be commented on, hopefully leading to your name coming up in conversation.

  • Make a custom postage stamp: It’s quick, easy, and inexpensive. All you need is a photo of something important to clients, and you are all but guaranteed to get your gift talked about. Check out PhotoStamps to get started.

  • Look for whimsy: Sports buffs could enjoy making toast with their favorite team logo on it; Fanatics offers unique toasters that make it possible. Or create a toaster insert of your own by reproducing someone’s face or any visual with Burnt Impressions.

Do make your gift personal. When giving gifts to clients, think about what they like to do.

  • If they’re readers, send them one of your favorite books along with a note telling them why you like it. Or send clients something from the current New York Times Best Sellers list and wish them quiet times in the year ahead to enjoy it.

  • For clients interested in gardening or nature, the National Wildlife Foundation sells lovely pewter animal ornaments for roughly $12 apiece. And with each purchase, a tree is planted to aid the environment.

  • For entertainment buffs, think movie classics you love (Casablanca, It’s a Wonderful Life), movies for the family (The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars), or something that relates to the client’s hobbies or interests (the Planet Earth documentary series on DVD or La Traviata tickets). There are lots of older TV classics available on DVD, too. Ask musically inclined clients about the first concert they attended, and then send them a CD of the artist—you’re sure to stir up warm memories.

  • Do you have clients who like to cook? Look for edible gifts, such as a rosemary topiary, a bottle of fig balsamic vinegar or lemon olive oil, or Maldon sea salt. Bonus points if you attach a favorite recipe using one of the ingredients with a note! Check out Figone’s Olive Oil Co. or Whole Foods stores for great ideas.

Don’t think expensive means greater impact. Luckily for you, it doesn’t work that way. So, feel free to make your household’s favorite holiday cookie or dessert, and tell clients what the tradition means to your family. Whether it’s a batch of Nonna’s favorite biscotti or the thumbprint cookies your kids help make, sharing personal favorites can be meaningful.

Don’t send a fruit basket. Enough said.

Do Start Early!

If you start planning now, you should have gifts and messages in place ready for whatever holidays you or your clients celebrate. Let clients know you appreciate them—and let them talk about you—this holiday season!

This material is for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific advice.

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