Your Guide to Corporate Gift-Giving Laws & Policies

By Nancy A Shenker on December 4, 2019

This article on gift-giving laws and policies is brought to you by Nancy A Shenker, CEO of theONswitch marketing.

I can’t accept that.” 

Those can be painful words when trying to express gratitude by sending a gift to a client or prospect.

While ethics and transparency have always been critically important in the business world, industries like pharmaceuticals, media, financial services, and even technology have begun to get more stringent about their policies around giving and receiving business gifts. 

In the heyday of financial services and medical marketing, sales reps and vendors would take their clients (decision-makers for major purchases) to expensive events and buy them luxury items. 

The media industry (where advertising professionals can influence millions in spending) is also the subject of scrutiny around gifting. A recent article in Digiday declared, “Not a lot of mani-pedis these days,” citing a study by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), which surfaced the issue of transparency.

But in the past few decades, the business world has become more concerned with ethics and introduced more policies around giving gifts. 

Corporate-Gift Giving Laws vs Policies

Certain industries do have specific regulations around the giving and reporting of gifts. For example, the S.E.C. has clearly established regulations around what financial services professionals can accept. These rules were established back in 1940, but have been clarified and updated since that time. 

Other laws relate to the gifting of government employees. Certain items like food, plaques, and other gifts are excluded. 

The guidelines around gifting in the pharmaceutical and medical industries have evolved over time. Drug and device manufacturers are now required under the Sunshine Act to submit data annually to the government, reporting any money paid to physicians or the monetary value of gifts.

If you’re a recipient, make sure you thoroughly understand both the law and company policies around accepting and reporting gifts. Check with a lawyer or accountant if you’re unclear. And, as with everything, check with your company’s own HR or finance department to understand the laws and policies that may apply to you. 

When it Comes to Corporate Gift-Giving Guidelines, Who and What Can You Gift?

When in doubt, be cautious and frugal. Gift limits can be set as low as $25 in some organizations. Most larger companies have established clear and specific gift policies as part of their codes of conduct. 

Some gifts that meet many of these criteria include:

  • Shareable items: like cookies, cupcakes, or even a team lunch. That way, an entire department can enjoy your gift and you can also build brand awareness among multiple people and not just your primary contact.
  • Charitable gifts: especially if they tie to a cause that the recipient’s company is passionate about. 
  • Fun, unique, and low-cost items: Coffee gift cards are usually a safe bet, as are fun and useful gifts like customized socks. They are personal and often unexpected but deliver a “wow” factor. We love helping our customers brainstorm unique ideas that tie to the interests and passions of the people being gifted. Remember that you want the recipient to think, “That sales rep (or company) is clever, generous, and thoughtful” and not “Oh no…another trinket that I’ll give to my kids” or “This company is clearly trying to ‘buy’ my purchase decision.” 
  • Experiences: like tickets to an event, accompanied by a small token of gratitude can be powerful if you are accompanying the client or prospect. But do your research—this may still be a grey area for many companies, especially if the ticket value is beyond the gift limit. 

When in Doubt about Corporate Gift-Given Laws, Simply Ask

Some companies like Coca-Cola publish their corporate codes of ethics online, but no central database of guidelines currently exists. 

If a client or prospect rejects your gift, you have an opportunity to clarify the company’s limits. Apologize and reassure the recipient you’ll keep policies in mind for the future.

Thomson-Reuters published this useful general guide to common rules around gifting:

Be mindful, too, of the personalized cover notes that accompany gifts. As the list under  “Unacceptable Gifts” indicates, you don’t want your prospect or client to believe that the gift is a bribe for future business. Instead, focus on messages of gratitude or keep your note clever, warm, and generic. 

Corporate Gift-Giving Advice: Be Merry…Generous…and Compliant

Especially with the holiday season approaching, you’ll want to create a gift-giving strategy built around corporate gift-giving guidelines or industry rules, your prospect’s company code, the personalities of the people you’re working with, and your own company’s culture and values. 

Gifts for an entire department, shareable treats, and items that are low cost—but high utility and perceived value—are the safest choices. Be prepared to let recipients know an item’s value. Many companies require recipients to publish reports listing the gifts they received during the holiday season. 

The gift of transparency is one that will be appreciated – all year round!

Nancy A Shenker is a marketing consultant, writer, speaker, and Sendoso brand ambassador.  Prior to launching her own company, theONswitch in 2003, she worked as a senior executive for major brands, where she often gave (and sometimes, unfortunately, rejected) gifts.

 

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