Take That Scrooge! Corporate Gift Giving on Rise

It's that time of year when gift catalogs circle the office, e-cards start filling in-boxes, and handwritten notes are stamped and sent. It's time to thank the people who made 2012 a success — your clients.

Take That Scrooge! Corporate Gift Giving on Rise
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Corporate gift giving has never been trickier as majority of company compliance departments require corporate gifts received by their employees be valued at less than $25. With that price limit, a fruit basket can easily be seen as contraband rather than the warm thank you it was intended to be.

Despite this, the scramble to send out the last batch of holiday gifts before imminent vacations turn bustling offices into ghost towns, is underway, and it appears that corporate gift giving has bounced back this holiday season.

According to a recent report from the American Express OPEN Small Business Holiday Monitor, 51 percent of company managers at the 501 small businesses American Express surveyed said they're shipping out presents to clients this year, an 8 percent increase from 2011. Budgets are still slim post-recession, but the good news is, total spending is on rise.

Small businesses, which are defined as those with less than 100 employees, are dishing out an average budget of $958 on holiday gifts, up from $827 last year.

Alice Brendin, a small business advisor to American Express OPEN, said she expects small business owners are in a better position this fiscal year to give back to their own employees, and most importantly, to their customers.

"Business owners see the value of gift giving. As the economy improves, so do their budgets," she said.

Trending gifts and gadgets in the office this year appear to be a collection of classics, ranging from wine and fruit baskets, to organizational or useful knick-knacks, such as USB sticks, flashlights, and 2013 calendars.

To make sure those gifts leave a lasting impression, personalization is key.

Stephen Sloan, director of Corporate Sales for Harry and David aid that this year, they've incorporated personalized details to their traditional gift baskets to meet this demand, including company names on packaging, coffee mugs, and even slipping in financial reports. (Read More: Gifts Ideas for Everyone on Your List)

Additionally, Sloan said gifts featuring local produce and organic food are more popular this year. "There's really a push this year to be healthy," he said.

However, on the flip side of the gift equation, many small business owners find themselves in a gift-giving conundrum, asking if the $25 dollar price-point for a present is really adequate.

How can a vendor tastefully say thank you to a client, with let's say, a flimsy company keychain? What if the gift, that one thought was well intentioned, is over budget or not in compliance with rules and is returned to sender?

Some business owners have opted out of gift giving all together, turned off by compliance crackdowns and the changing do's and don'ts. This year, Maruchi Santana, co-owner of Parham Santana, a small branding company located in Manhattan, did just that.

She and her husband have been in business for 27 years, and have sent holiday gifts to their Fortune 500 clients, such as Wal-Mart and Mattel for the past decade. But this holiday season — the couple called it quits.

"Time is money. We used to buy our clients handpicked gifts from Tiffany's. We would write personal notes, go to trade shows, send gifts to executives and assistants," she said. "We'd love to do more, but it's become a full-time job [keeping up with industry rules.]"

Instead, the pair plan to donate the money they would have spent on gifts to three charities in their clients' names. This decision comes as a result of increased gift returns and compliance regulations. Giving a donation to a vetted charity is a rewarding alternative, and her clients prefer it, Santana said.

"Everything changes over time," she said. "You [as a small business owner] have to be in touch with the industry."