I have certain beliefs about what is appropriate behavior in different situations. For instance, if you invite someone to your home, you should feed them. If you invite someone out for coffee or a meal and have any kind of professional agenda, you should pay. On the other hand, if someone invites you out but you are richer, you should pay. You shouldn't touch your food until everyone has been served. And so forth. I think these are mostly uncontroversial but feel free to disregard these for your own rules.
I also have certain beliefs about what is appropriate behavior as a vendor. I can tell you that as a child I never dreamed of one day becoming a "vendor," but in fact that is what I am. I provide services to companies, firms, nonprofit organizations and sometimes individuals, and they pay my company or me. I vend. Most lawyers are vendors as well.
The holiday season is filled with events, requests, mailings and purchases. Here are my beliefs about proper vendor etiquette during the holiday season.
1. You don't have to send out holiday cards. It will probably be to your advantage if you do, but I don't think anyone is expecting to hear holiday greetings from your firm.
2. If you do send out holiday cards, you will get about ten times the benefit it you actually sign them and, better yet, write a personal message. Just one line will do! Two, if you're feeling motivated. I like to feel there's some actual DNA on the card. It doesn't mean much to know that your electronic list of contacts was processed by an external party to generate a bunch of nonsigned cards. It does mean something to show that you spent a few minutes thinking about someone.
3. You don't need to send gifts. I'm not sure what the point is. Also, you run into the tricky issue of potentially running afoul of other organizations' policies on these things. But I might be wrong. I do sort of love receiving presents so I'm a bit of a contradiction here.
4. You should donate to at least some of your clients' causes. Every year I get a bunch of charitable appeals. Some are from charities I already give to, some are from my friends' causes, and some are from causes important to my clients. I frequently make donations to my clients' causes, provided they've actually written something on the appeal or the envelope. (I suppose I would not donate if I found their causes reprehensible, but usually it's things like fixing cleft palates in China, or helping kids in education, or alleviating homelessness and the like. Nothing I wouldn't support.)
There are various reasons I do this. On the altruism side, I believe that we are generally encouraged to be selfish people and to believe we don't have enough, therefore we shouldn't give to others. I want to counteract this conditioning, so I feel if I have an opportunity not to be selfish, I should take advantage of it.
Second, I'm interested in my clients as people. If there is something they are committed to, I feel good about supporting it.
Third, there is a money flow going on. Whatever I am donating is likely a small fraction of what they have paid me. From a business point of view, this is a no-brainer.
Fourth, I like being a good guy. I am on a couple of boards for nonprofit organizations in New York City and I know from experience that it is hard to raise money. A very small percentage of people I solicit through mailings actually donate. So I know it is noticed when someone does. I like the idea that someone is saying, "Hey, Michael Melcher just gave us $200!"
Fifth, it is really good for my business. When you make a voluntary donation to a cause important to a client, you are deepening the relationship you have with that person. They remember. They will think of you in a better light. You have a more complex and positive relationship. Like I said, this is not the most altruistic reason but it's a true one.
So don't throw out those holiday appeals! Write a few checks. You'll be better off, and so will the world.