The Skilled, Compassionate Gifter
by Letitia Baldridge


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I don't think anyone fully realizes the enormous importance that the custom of exchanging gifts means not only to our commerce, but also to our friendships and, most certainly, to our emotions.  When a little child picks a flower from her front yard and brings it to her grandfather, she has made a gift to him that is as important as the gift of a new museum for the city is from a philanthropist.   The quality and importance of a gift are in the eye of the beholder.

There are two kinds gift-givers in this world (I call both species "gifters"): those who are required and obliged to give presents, such as successful people and leaders in their fields, and those who really love the creativity and human warmth involved in the act.  There are also two sets of relationships that are greatly affected by this act: one's social friends and family members, and one's business colleagues and associates.

The consummate gifter knows that:

  • No gift should exceed the gifter's budget, and should never be given in the hope of achieving a business deal.

  • The gifter should spend time and thought on his choice of present, because it always shows.  When the gifter's personal touch is apparent, the recipient will be really grateful.  Nothing is colder than a present to which a business card has been affixed, with no personal note or expression of good wishes, nor even the signature of the donor written in ink.  Such a gift is robbed of its humanity.

  • A gift should be nicely presented.  I remember a package that arrived one day for Mrs. Kennedy in my White House office.  Wrapped in dirty, torn paper like an unwanted book, it even smelled.  I ordered the "thing" to be destroyed after it was registered and after the briefest, most unenthusiastic thank-you note was prepared for my signature.  It was only when my assistant happened to see a corner of the "book" that she unwrapped it completely.  It was a very good semi-abstract oil portrait of Jackie's head, done by a student artist.  I liked it so much, Jackie gave it to me.  (Moral of the story: the wrapping around the gift should be suitable and attractive, but one should never throw out anything without first inspecting it!)

  • A gift should never scream loudly of the gifter's business.  A company logo or name should always be very small and inconspicuous.  I once saw an absolutely wonderful stainless steel replica of a corporate executive's racing sailboat.   The sailboat was mounted on a steel base that bore a large wooden plaque in the center, bearing the gifter's company name.  The retiree obviously felt as though it was blatant corporate advertisement on the part of his friend, which was not at all the intention.  The recipient put away the sailboat in his closet, until his executive assistant kidnapped it one day, had the plaque removed, and then put the sailboat back on his desk.  When the friend who gave him the boat came to visit one day, he was pleased as punch to see his gift in such a prominent place on his desk; he also did not notice that his company's corporate logo on the plaque was missing.

These are a few tips on the etiquette of giving and receiving presents that I always like to pass along:

  • It's never too late to send that gift.  Even if it's Easter and you still haven't sent that Christmas gift, don't fret about it.  Just SEND IT.

  • Every gift deserves an acknowledgement, even a box of company products from the CEO or a logo keyring.  The more we go back to the old-fashioned manners of thanking people for the presents they send us, the happier we'll all be.

  • Don't bring wedding presents to the wedding.  Gifts often become separated from their cards.  Even worse, things can be stolen in the crush of the reception.  Send the wedding gift to the proper place, and if you don't know where that is, call and find out.

  • When people are on a tight budget, they would do well to band together and go in as a group to buy one really fine present.  When they do that, thay should put their names and addresses on the gift enclosure card.  Then the recipient can write one very enthusiastic thank-you note for the gift and send a copy to each person who contributed.

  • Remember that the gift enclosure card is very important.  You are going on the record with your good wishes.  Two or three sentences will do it, but write something you have thought out and that will make your gift seem all that more personal and memorable.

  • If you think Cousin George's wedding present is simply hideous, don't return it for something else.  He may be terribly sensitive about his gift.   If it is a family heirloom, someday it could be very precious to you.  I have noticed that wedding gifts we considered "monstrosities" in 1963 have suddenly become chic.

As for the best gift of all?  The kind that's the least expected.  The kind for which there is no specific reason other than "You know something?  I guess I was thinking of you when I glanced through this catalogue and saw...".  Or "Here's a little something I brought back from the canary Islands.  I thought you could use some cheering up."  The gifter's most meaningful, successful and appreciated gesture is the one made from his or her heart.   As the lead in the Broadway play "Damned Yankees" yelled out to huge audiences for years, "Ya gotta have heart-miles and miles and miles of heart."

 

Letitia Baldridge is a journalist and author of several books on manners directed at business audiences.  During the course of her career, she has been a consultant to many of America's leading corporations.

 


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