The Risky Art of Client Gift-Giving


Like many consultants, agencies and firms — I get to know my clients very well. We spend long hours together. It can be a very personal experience. So, not surprisingly, we sometimes become friends — even after the project is successfully completed.

At minimum, they put their trust in us, pay us money and we’re appreciative they allow us to earn a living doing what we love to do.

So, it’s only natural for someone to want to show that appreciation by getting a gift for this client at times like Christmas and birthdays.

But, beware — because, best intentions aside, there is risk involved — risk that you have to navigate very carefully to avoid awkward moments that could alter the tone of your relationship.

Unhappy man, displeased with new giftCheck The Rules:

If you don’t already know, first ensure that giving a gift is acceptable with the company or organization that is your client. Many of them (especially the public sector) have strict rules about receiving gifts. I’ve also seen it with private corporations and procurement policies. So, you want to avoid an awkward moment – but you also don’t want to ask your client directly if it’s okay to give them a gift (more awkwardness). Simple solution — call Human Resources or procurement and ask them what the rules are and I’m sure they’ll be happy to tell you if it’s allowed and if there are any monetary limits. This call could save a weird moment, for sure.

Car.Less Is More:

I don’t care how big the contract is — and how much money they pay your company — the risk associated with giving grandiose gifts is great. If your client expects a new car or a Caribbean vacation as a sign of appreciation, then I would suggest this isn’t the kind of client you really want. That level of moral flexibility should be a huge red flag for you as it will permeate in some other aspect of your relationship later.

A nice bottle of wine, a reasonably-priced Scotch or a book will likely strike the right tone. Another nice option is making a charitable donation in your client’s name to a cause near and dear to their heart. I like this one because even if gifts aren’t allowed, HR may tell you something like this is okay. Oh — and no ‘gift cards’. It doesn’t show thoughtfulness. Deliver the gift in person, as well. It’s part of the showing appreciation.

Writing letterWhen In Doubt, Give The Gift Of Words:

If gifts are against the company’s rules — or you’re just not sure a gift will be well-received by your client for personal reasons, you can never go wrong with a handwritten card or note. Make it personal. Let them know how much you appreciate their business and how you’ve enjoyed getting to know them personally. If possible, hand deliver the card — possibly over a lunch where you an pick up the tab. We all have to eat, right?


Many thanks to college professor and business consultant, Brian Vendramin, who suggested this topic to me.

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