Corporate gifts in this age of austerity

However, there is no doubt that 2010 has been an extremely difficult year for the majority of businesses. 
Many have had to make cutbacks in staff and general overheads, a trend that shows no signs of abating in the months leading up to Christmas, and even those businesses that continue to grow are reminded continually of the Government’s spending cuts and the reverberations on business as a whole.   It is this backdrop that provides the dilemma for many businesses as the end of the year draws closer.
Corporate recognition is an area fraught with the idiosyncrasies of human nature.  Just as the company that disregards the current climate to give lavish presents may be viewed as irresponsible, those who abandon corporate gifts altogether face a backlash from staff and suppliers who feel unappreciated and under valued.  So what should businesses consider when deciding on their policy for 2010 and is there an alternative to the ubiquitous champagne and chocolates?
Tips for setting a corporate recognition policy:
  • Consider what message the gift conveys about the business. Does it give the right impression of the business?  
  • Does it fit with CSR needs and other company policies?
  • If you have an Environmental policy, does the corporate gift reflect this?
  • Is your gift simple to administer and how much valuable working time will it take to order and distribute?
  • Does it stand out from the crowd and show your suppliers and staff how much they are appreciated by demonstrating thought and originality?  

The alternative could be one of the new breed of corporate gifts that allow businesses to tick all the boxes above.  These ‘gifts’ are often in the form of donations or contribution to causes such as the environment, or to buy equipment for those most in need.  They demonstrate thought and responsibility, can be very low cost but still show that depth of consideration has gone into the decision-making process.
A specific example of this alternative approach is the corporate charity service such as Oxfam Unwrapped that provides ‘gifts’ that buy help for those in need, for example donating equipment to give safe water, feed a family for a period of time, buy a goat that helps sustain a community, etc.  Each gift is presented in the form of a gift card that explains what has been purchased and provides a message from the giver.  So the act of giving is demonstrated in a conscientious way that demonstrates the generosity of buying a gift in the truest sense.
With the current austerity measures set to continue well into the next decade, it seems likely that any perceived extravagance or waste will be decried for some time to come.  Traditional corporate recognition is, it seems, already evolving to reflect this.
In action
One company that has discovered the alternative corporate gift solution is ASOS.com, the online fashion store.
Louise McCabe, ASOS.com’s Head of Corporate Social Responsibility explained, “We have a tradition of buying presents for everyone in the company at Christmas – usually chocolates and champagne. Last Christmas we thought we could do something a bit more special, that people would remember and feel proud of.”
Encouraged by an idea generated by the CSR team, ASOS.com put together the money that would have been spent on individual gifts and looked at the options available. They found Oxfam Unwrapped and were pleasantly surprised to discover that the usual chocolate and champagne money added up to provide enough to build a new classroom and train a teacher, as well as to buy books, pens, chairs, desks and other classroom equipment.  
With Oxfam Unwrapped’s help, ASOS.com designed an individual gift card that was sent to each member of staff that outlined what had been bought and detailing the long lasting legacy to the education of disadvantaged children which had been made possible by giving up their chocolates and champagne.  
  
“Louise McCabe concluded, “It went down really well. People liked the idea that we were spending the money on something worthwhile. It raised smiles and became a real talking point.
“Furthermore, it was much simpler to arrange. Organising champagne and chocolates for 500 people is quite a logistical feat! The Oxfam Unwrapped gift was a lot simpler to arrange, but also means a lot more. It also demonstrates a lot more thought having gone in to the gift.”
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