There is power in a well-chosen gift. It has the ability to surprise and delight, to welcome or honor, or to inspire or cultivate relationships. Gift-giving, no matter how small, can make a long-lasting impression.
That’s a lesson I learned upon graduating from high school.
Growing up in a rural community; the annual commencement was an event for our entire town. Each day, my fellow classmates and I would make our pilgrimage downtown to the local drug store to collect our graduation loot. Think Christmas in May. There were mementos, well-wishes and words of wisdom from friends, family and community members.
Our entire graduating class was recognized and celebrated, and this daily onslaught of gifts was a bit overwhelming. It would be hard for any single gift to stand out simply because there were so many. But as I think about it, there were two very special gifts that have stayed in my memory all these years. One was a beautiful handwritten letter that inspired me for the journey ahead, and the other was a gift of luggage.
The hard-cased, navy blue, tweed-type set of Samsonite luggage was purchased for me by my Great Aunt Sylvia. At first blush it was simply a practical gift. But for me, this gift conveyed so much more. I quickly conjured images of my future adventures: Amanda Black – traveling. This gift sent a message: have luggage; will travel. I was going places. And thanks to my new snappy blue travel set, I would get there, wherever “there” might be. Together, my Samsonite and I logged a lot of travel miles as it was dragged on planes, trains and subways here at home and later across mother Russia’s Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Luggage was indeed practical. But, the larger lesson it carried is that gifts are even more powerful than their initial purpose when they speak to, about and with the recipient.
For me, the letter and the luggage were impactful because there was a connection -- not to the senior high school student – but instead to the woman I hoped to become.
That lesson has stayed with me throughout my career. Gestures are important. Whether we’re selecting a gift for a graduating student, a visiting client or international colleague or celebrant, the thought and effort put forward shows and can make an important difference in how well you connect with others.
A few tips to consider when tasked with selecting a gift that will offer a “wow” for years to come:
Make it personal: It’s true; good things really can come from small packages. And while letter writing is a dying art in today’s high-tech world, it’s these personal missives that can make you or your organization stand out from the crowd. Beyond the simple novelty of putting pen to paper, just as they have for centuries, handwritten letters have the potential to create a lasting impact because writing a letter or a card is a carefully considered act that when done correctly is deeply personal. You’ll never worry that someone else may be sending your recipient the same thing. You and your words make this an original.
Use the moment to connect with the reader, provide encouragement or support and make your writing sing. These will be the letters that your recipient will treasure for a lifetime.
Make it local: Whether you are traveling to faraway places or hosting guests nearer to home, use the occasion to celebrate your place in the world. Recipe books that highlight treasured foods from your region of the world, a book of poems from a local author or commemorative coins that showcase a bit of your town’s history provide a connection between your special place and theirs. While traveling in Africa, I thanked my hosts with words from my hometown author Maya Angelou. In China, I shared images of Arkansas’ magnolias and dogwoods and “pinned” my colleagues with University of Arkansas and state lapel pins. And, in Russia, I made gifts of regional cookbooks along with commemorative ornaments depicting Texarkana’s unique place in American history as having the only federal building that straddles two states. A tip from a dear friend is to go a step further with cookbook gifts and bookmark your favorite recipes.
Share a story: Gifts with flair are those that imbue a sense of specialness. To simply give the gift, without connecting it to a larger story, leaves little room for your recipient to truly connect with why this gift is special. Take time, either in presenting or via a handwritten note, to share the back story. Why is this bottle of wine special to the gift giver? Perhaps there is a personal connection to the vintner, or maybe this was the wine that the gift giver drank when he/she became engaged. Why did you choose this book of poems? Is there one poem that speaks to you? Is the author from your town or state? How do these recipes symbolize your community’s food culture? By offering this insight you make a more personal connection by revealing a bit more of yourself.
Consider your audience: Be sure to research the gift-giving cultures embraced by your recipient. Some cultures prefer certain colors for wrapping paper and consider others unlucky. Some cultures prefer receiving the gift in front of a group while others will accept the gift but only open it in private. Gift-giving is an aspect of business travel that’s important to consider. If you’re traveling to China, for example, gifts to avoid giving include clocks because in Chinese the word sounds like the word for death; and cutlery because it symbolizes cutting relationships. Eight is a lucky number; four is unlucky. In Russia, don’t purchase a dozen roses – those are for funerals – go with 13. Do your homework and avoid any cultural faux pas. There are a number of tools, resources and even smart phone apps to help you navigate international gift giving.
The real gift is connecting in a really personal way with your recipient. It will take a little more time and effort, but gracious gift-giving can result in a long-lasting connection that makes both parties feel special. The best gifts will be remembered long after the initial exchange and just might be the one that lasts a lifetime.
Do you have any special memories of giving or receiving gifts? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet your responses using the hashtag #mcgblog.