What’s Your Gifting Strategy

I love riding my bike with friends. To create more opportunities for that to happen, I give away a lot of cycling gear each year. When my friends wear the gear, I hope they think of me – even if they don’t think of me, it makes me happy to give gear away.

Here’s what I’ve learned about gifting…

It is an essential and effective way to influence behavior.

At some level, most of us feel that we deserve gifts. I need to be cautious about reinforcing entitlement in recipients.

The best gifts are items we can use while doing a favorite activity. An athlete-buddy of mine gave me a set of nordic ski underwear and gloves. I think she wanted me to learn to ski! I use her gift weekly and think about what a considerate person she is. The shirt makes me so happy (it’s my favorite color) that I wear it as casual wear. It’s not surprising that my pal scored a homerun with her gift, she’s a psychiatrist.

Gift frequency is better than size – for example 4 gifts of $250 generates more happiness than one gift of $1000. However, see habituation below.

Random is better than scheduled – I like random gifts. If I see something somebody will like, I get it and send it over to them.

Value is highest at point of award, not receipt – important to remember this for children, employees, heirs and other important people that you gift towards.

Consider my piece last week about Class Dojo, earning the ten points my daughter needs for a treat gives her more pleasure than the treat itself.

An example from the corporate world… At the private equity firm where I worked, the partners would award annual profit sharing points – there were 10,000 points available for each investment fund and we’d earn our share of 1,000 points annually. This system spread the allocation across many years, rather than having it back-end loaded when the investments were sold.

Things that people will use often, and associate with you are excellent – think about my friend’s gift of a shirt and gloves. To give me the same amount of pleasure she would have had to send me $5,000! A well-selected gift is worth far more than its monetary value.

Gifting to people’s children, ie via education, is deeply appreciated – parents have a sense of obligation towards their kids.

People (employees, spouses, kids, yourself) adapt very quickly to changes in standard of living, and forget how they got there. I avoid gifts that eliminate the self-esteem that comes from taking care of one’s self.

Be wary of reinforcing feelings of entitlement – for example, beautiful people and skilled athletes are trained that the world will take care of them. As they age, they experience pain when their gifts of chance (beauty and athletic prowess) fade.


Some people gift publicly for reasons of family, or corporate, strategy. Others prefer to gift anonymously. Considerations:

  • Be wary of the motivation of recognition.
  • If you ask your pals to support your causes then you will feel an overwhelming need to reciprocate (and you might not feel the same desire to support their causes). Of course, remember that it is OK to say “no.”
  • Most of us have small budgets for gifting – pay particular attention to situations where a little time and money can have a big impact.

If you need more of something then have a strategy to gift some of what you need.