Advisor Holiday Gift(s) in October


If you are like me, during the holidays you read a post or hear of an idea that another advisory firm did to acknowledge and thank their clients for a great year and wish you had done that. You vow to yourself that while it is too late for this year, you are absolutely going to replicate or even improve on that idea when next year comes around.  Then… you promptly forget it until it is too late again. My gift to you, in this non-holiday season, is to remind you that today is the day to start thinking, or better yet acting on that plan. More importantly maybe to give you an idea or two that can help you in deepening client engagement and really differentiating your business.

Popular donations

Over the last few years, one of the more popular ways to thank clients and acknowledge their business is to send a holiday card. Some send the card around Thanksgiving and others around the more traditional holidays (I’ve even seen a few sent on Valentine’s Day). Going back to the 2008 – 2009 recession when revenue was down, instead of sending a gift to top clients, the card may say something like “we are donating to XYZ charity in your name” or “on behalf of our clients, we have made a charitable donation.”  I have never liked those donation cards.  Sometimes I think they can cause more problems than they are worth. Clients can have a problem with lots of things in those generic cards. I imagine clients say to themselves things like:

  1. Transparency: Really? Did you make the gift or did you say you made the gift?  (Any Seinfeld watcher will remember “The Human Fund.”)
  2. Value: “How much was the gift” or “are you merely spending my advisory fees?” Can you lower my fees by that amount?”
  3. Mission: “Which nonprofit and what if I do not care for their cause?” In today’s hyper-political world, even non-profits can touch political hot buttons.

Of course, you are never going to hear those comments but believe me, some are saying it and even more are thinking it.

What to do (times 3)

Personally, I think there are a few ways to go here that will engage your clients, show that you appreciate  them, as well as give back, and more importantly, make it real and transparent.  While it may take a bit more effort on your part, the results will be more impactful than any generic card with a generic note about a generic donation will ever be.

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Host, but take pictures

Last year I wrote how hosting a charitable event can strengthen bonds with clients. The post discussed a charitable event in which my family and I participated. The post contained a picture of me, hair net and all, dishing out a loaded potato puree (yes, with bacon as it should be.)  The point of the post was to show how the bonds strengthened with my kid’s school who invited us and to give ideas on how to create such an event for your clients. That said the response to the hair net was amazing. I think I may have received more responses to that post than any other in the last 12 months. The picture made it real in a way that no written word could. (Hint:  there is still time to set this type of activity up)

Idea: Host an event and take pictures. If an event is not possible, do not just say you made a donation on the client’s behalf; show them that you participated with your family or staff during the year.  Adopt a non-profit each quarter or semiannually (to avoid the mission question), and share that you donated your time and made a financial donation on behalf of the firm’s clients. Make the card that you send real, transparent (and local) by adding your face.

Take a poll

Maybe you have limited time, or for other reasons you can’t do the charitable activity in person. You can still engage your clients in a way that will involve them. By giving them a voice in the choice, you can eliminate the questions around transparency, mission and value. So start a poll of your clients. Where should your donation go?

Idea: Pick a – preferably  nonpolitical – nonprofits that you think would appeal to your clients. Consider a children’s hospital, animal shelter, hurricane relief, or some other topical cause that may tug at their hearts. Ask them to weigh in on the selection. Either create a poll by mail or use one of the free survey sites out there to solicit where or which non-profit should receive the donation. Use your holiday card to announce the choice. And if the beneficiary is local, a picture of a representative of the organization accepting the donation. Alternately, you can split the donation among all three choices, and explain that voting was close or that it was difficult to choose. .

Give a card, a real card

Recently I was with an advisor who really took this idea to the next level. Instead of donating on his clients’ behalf, he let them make the donations themselves. The clients actually own the donations.

A cool trend that is happening in the nonprofit world is the use of charitable gift cards, and I love it.  Larger organizations, sometimes community foundations, have created a debit-like card that a client can give to the 501(c)3 of their choice. The card can come in any increment that you choose and the clients get to see transparency, mission and value because it was their choice!

Idea: This one may be a bit more expensive. So first, segment your clients. Whom do you want to replicate, whom do you want to thank? Think about the dollar amount that you want to spend, and divide it up among your selected clients. Suggestion: Maybe $25 for A clients, $10 for B clients.  Do your research. Which reputable organization can you use for the charitable gift cards?  When the client receives your holiday card, instruct them to use as they wish… their favorite charity, their passion, whatever. You have given them the gift of choice and making a difference.  It doesn’t have to be a big amount, just enough that you can enable them to make another donation to a cause they care about.

Don’t wait until it is too late. Take the time now to set yourself up for later. Think about what a great impact you can have and ways to engage your clients in a unique way.  The holidays will be here before you know it, don’t let another good idea go by until next year – or never.

Neither SEI nor its affiliates provide tax advice. Please note that (i) any discussion of U.S. tax matters contained in this communication cannot be used by you for the purpose of avoiding tax penalties; (ii) this communication was written to support the promotion or marketing of the matters addressed herein; and (iii) you should seek advice based on your particular circumstances from an independent tax advisor.


John Anderson

John Anderson

John Anderson is the creator and lead author of Practically Speaking blog and Managing Director of Practice Management Solutions for the SEI Advisor Network.

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