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Event Planning Series Part 9: The Art of Corporate Gift-Giving

Best Corporate Gifts

Read the Full OfficeNinjas Event Planning Series:
Experiential Events | Digital Tool Belt | Venue Checklist | F&B Planning | Photography & Photo Booths | Audio Visual | Event Design | Live Music Corporate Gift-Giving

It’s part nine of our event planning series, and we’ve certainly covered some ground! We’ve talked food and drink budgets, equipped you with a digital tool belt, and explained why you should never hire a wedding DJ for your corporate gala. It may seem like we’ve addressed every important element of an event, but there’s one more small (but vital!) detail that you won’t want to leave ‘til the last minute.

The gift!

Maybe you’re thinking, “I’ve poured my Ninja heart and soul into planning this delightful event—isn’t that gift enough?!”

While the experience you’ve organized for your guests is like a delicious ice cream sundae, the gift is the cherry on top. Is it absolutely necessary? Probably not. But does it add a little something special? Indeed it does.

With a little bit of strategic thinking and some basic corporate gift-giving knowledge, you can impress your guests—whether they’re established clients, prospective clients, board members, or employees—with a fabulous gift they’ll appreciate and actually use (not just toss in the junk drawer with the rest of the logo-smacked bottle openers and stress balls).

First, Some Gift-Giving Data

If you’re not sure where to start regarding your budget, type of gift, or list of recipients, it can be helpful to know how other companies handle gifting. According to a 2015 Advertising Specialty Institute Report, here are the latest trends:

When thanking clients, companies:

  • Spend about $48 per client—up 9% from 2014.
  • Typically give (in order of popularity)
    • Food or beverage items
    • Pens and calendars
    • Tech accessories (think power banks)

When it comes to employee gift giving, companies:

  • Spend an average of $44 per employee—up almost 16% from 2014.
  • Typically give (in order of popularity)
    • Gift cards and cash bonuses
    • Food and beverage items
    • Apparel

Nate Kucsma, ASI’s Marketing Research Director, explains in the report that,

While the amount of spending has gone up, the actual number of gifts being given is down. This means that companies are taking a “quality over quantity” approach, and being more selective about who receives gifts.

And it’s an approach that’s working. When asked how they felt after receiving corporate gifts, survey respondents used words like “appreciated,” “grateful,” and “valued.”

Now that you have the lay of the land, it’s time to go shopping.

Set the Ground Rules

Track your ideas, budget, and status by using a spreadsheet.

1. Draft a recipient list.

Use a spreadsheet, similar to LifeHacker’s holiday gift-planning checklist, so you can sort and group as needed (e.g. board members, customers, investors, employees, etc.). Include everyone, but understand that you may need to edit down.

2. Set a budget.

Based on your total budget and the number of recipients on your list, determine how much you can spend per person. Don’t forget to include shipping costs and gift wrapping (we’ll cover packaging details later). Also, you may want to consider a tiered budget. For example, it may make sense to spend a bit more on event honorees or presenters who volunteer their time.

3. Create an approval process.

If you have a huge budget, congrats! Also, beware! Irresponsible spending can come back and bite you, so be sure to create a checks and balances system so you don’t create bad PR with regrettable gifting decisions.

Get Personal

Beautiful screen-printed bag made by OfficeNinjas partner Ashbury Images.

1. Embrace customization.

Even if you’re gifting hundreds or thousands of people, there are still ways to incorporate personalization. Companies like Ashbury Images, eCreamery, Sugarwish, Uncommon Goods, and Moshi offer gifts that allow recipients to customize items according to their preferences.

2. Use handwritten cards.

In our digital world, a touch of humanity is invaluable. Tap into the power of the old-school greeting card and include a handwritten note with every gift. Don’t run to Hallmark though (you’re busy planning an event after all!); instead, download Felt. It’ll give you options to personalize a note with your handwriting (or a preselected handwritten font) without you ever putting down your phone.

3. A little logo goes a long way.

Don’t go overboard with branding. Even your company’s biggest fan doesn’t want to be a walking billboard. If it’s a good gift, people will remember who gave it to them.

4. Consider cultural differences.

Certain foods and apparel items don’t work for everyone. Avoid items that may be offensive or exclusionary. For instance, you don’t want to give a devout Jewish honoree a subscription to a bacon delivery service.

5. Do your homework.

Charged with picking an extra special gift for a VIP? It’s worth your time to call their colleagues or assistant and ask about favorite treats and definite no-nos. (A gift certificate to the city’s best steakhouse is a great gift … unless the recipient is a vegan.)

Consider Quality

We’re big fans of Bottega Louie’s sweets—and its gorgeous gift packaging.

1. Stay in your price range.

If you can’t afford a decent battery pack, don’t settle for a cheap one that barely works. Pick a different, high-quality item that’s within your price range.

2. Don’t skimp on packaging.

Attractive gift wrapping generates excitement and elevates the entire experience for the recipient. (Would a gift from Tiffany be as special without the signature teal box and perfectly tied bow?) Pay the fee to have your gifts wrapped by a professional, or work with a company that prioritizes packaging. (We love working with Bottega Louie for this very reason!)

3. If necessary, DIY.

If professional packaging simply isn’t within your budget, try to DIY. Martha Stewart has some simple but elegant wrapping ideas that are actually accessible to us mere non-Martha mortals.

Don’t Forget Uncle Sam

1. Remember the $25 rule.

Here’s how it works: you can deduct up to $25 for business gifts you directly or indirectly give to each person throughout the year. A gift to a company that’s intended for the personal use or benefit of a particular person—or a limited group of people—is considered an indirect gift. Incidental costs (e.g. engraving, packaging, mailing) are generally not included in determining the cost of a gift.

2. Gift or entertainment?

If you give someone tickets to a performance or sporting event and you don’t attend the event, you have a couple options. You can treat the cost of the tickets as either a gift expense or an entertainment expense. If you do attend, you’re required to treat the cost of the tickets as an entertainment expense.

See? It’s not rocket science, but it does take some strategy. With a little bit of planning and even more creativity, you’ll have exactly what it takes to wow guests—and take events from great to downright unforgettable.

Ready to get gifting? Share your go-to gift ideas in the comments, as well as items you think Ninjas should avoid all-together.


  1. If you give the right gift, your recipient may be impressed and want to continue doing business with you.

  2. We are currently purchasing the next in the Waterford Crystal Times Square Ornament series for our board members for Christmas. I purchase them when they debut and are offered at a discount. Our board members look forward to receiving them and they can be displayed year round.

    1. Ohhhh well played! A series gift is a great way to start a tradition and keep yourself from scrambling to find something new every year.

  3. We are currently giving our board members the next in the Waterford Times Square series crystal ornament each year at Christmas. I purchase them when they first come out and are offered at a discount. Our board members actually look forward to receiving them each year.

  4. My boss bought each of us in corporate management an Amazon Echo Dot and gave them to us at the yearly Christmas party. We were all happy! I thought it was genius… it was our finance guy’s idea… GREAT idea!

    1. Major brownie points to the Finance Guy! That is an awesome idea.

  5. We gave pairs of 12 Obsession stemware, WOWed everyone!
    12 different pairs to choose from.

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