A good deed (and a great gift) remain unforgettable.

In 1985, one of the poorest countries in the world became known as one of the most generous. Despite nearly 50% of its population living below the poverty line the Ethiopian Red Cross sent $5,000 to Mexico for humanitarian aid. Our neighbors-to-the-south had experienced an 8.1 magnitude earthquake which left 10,000 people dead, 30,000 people injured, and 250,000 homeless.

When asked how they could afford such an amount, the proud Ethiopians pointed to 50 years earlier when their country had been invaded by Italy. Mexican diplomats, in a move akin to sticking up for the little guy against the schoolyard bully, deeply condemned Italy’s behavior. This support would set forth a chain-of-events that would allow the impoverished East African country to remain in the league-of-nations.

Decades after-the-fact, a good deed (and a great gift) remain unforgettable.


Ironically enough, I don’t remember where I was the first time I heard that story. But I remember who I was with the day the proverbial “Aha!” lightbulb flashed above my head with corporate gifting. His name is John Ruhlin and his company, The Ruhlin Group might very well be the greatest gift-givers in the galaxy.

John calls it “giftology.” It is the act of strategic appreciation, usually in gift form, and designed around one of four business objectives:

  1. Retain your best and brightest employees
  2. Increase customer lifetime value (by keeping your best customers)
  3. Open new doors, create new introductions, and bag new elephants
  4. Rekindle (or repair) a previous business relationship

Strategic gifting has done things for me that an unlimited marketing budget never could. Now before you accuse all of us giftologists as being quid-pro-quo givers (“you’re only giving something to get something! For shame!”), allow me to share some golden guidelines:

  1. Practical luxuries: buy things for people they’d never buy for themselves. A $50 coffee mug is better than a $100 watch.
  2. Personalized for the recipient: if the most remarkable thing about a gift is that your logo is on it? You’re giving a promotion, not a present.
  3. Plan for continuity: think of each gift as one in a cohesive series. This year send the leather belt, next time the leather bag, then the leather journal, etc.

The majority of sweets, treats, and very forgettable holiday gifts (with your company logo etched on them) are all going to wind up in the trash. Or maybe in a donation bin if the recipient is feeling more imaginative than the unoriginal giver.

You’re better than that. And so, this holiday season, I invite you into my gift-giving playbook. Here are my favorite things to give the VIPs that make my business world go round-and-round:


Sold by the ambitious students of Vector Marketing, CUTCO cutlery has been an American-made tradition since 1949. All Cutco items are guaranteed forever and, with over 100 products in their line, are the ultimate continuity gift. You can even engrave the ice cream scoop.


Planners, journals, flasks, candles, phone cases, coasters, and anything else that can be made of wood. The beauty of these products (all 100% engravable) is rivaled only by the custom packaging– gifting done right. And every single purchase plants a tree with their “buy one, plant one” program.


Who wouldn’t want a pair of zebra wood headphones? Buy them wired, wireless, or in speaker form and send your VIPs to audio heaven. Best of all, proceeds from every sale provide hearing aids to people in need. Check and mate.


Stunning glassware and home decor made from recycled wine bottles, one look at Refresh’s Instagram account will have you oohing and ahhing. Their custom engraved sets will delight connoisseurs and socialites alike.


What’s better than a cooler that’ll keep ice for a week or more? How about one of the best warranties in the industry that covers latches, drain plugs, handles, even the rubber feet. Like most practical luxuries on this list, high-quality isn’t cheap. However, Bison Coolers boasts gifts for all different price points.


Disrupting the digital framing industry, Aura Frames curate and display your favorite photos as you take them. Sensors in the frame automatically adjust brightness at varying times of day and the mobile app allows others to participate. Shop different collections and different occasions because every frame is a work of art.


My secret go-to for my hardest to buy VIPs, Cherokee and Texas can do anything with leather and metal. Their vintage iPad covers will become frequent conversation topics and their custom record player is the stuff of legends. Better get in line soon because -with their craftsmanship and ingenuity- this company won’t be a secret much longer.