Malia Lazu

As the holidays approach, financial services and real estate development firms are sending gifts to clients, employees and vendors. Banks especially are big on gift-giving as a way to build relationships and express appreciation.

According to US News and World Reports, in financial services gifts to clients (who typically receive the biggest-ticket items) fall into four categories. Top of the list are so-called luxury gifts that run the gamut from wine and spirits to sports equipment (think golf or tennis), personal technology (like high-end headphones) or luxurious gift baskets filled with treats. In addition, there are gifts of experiences, such as tickets to sporting events and concerts. Food and family gifts feature favorite goodies along the lines of fruit, chocolates, and even baked goods. Philanthropic gifts include donations made to a charitable organization in a client’s name.

All these gifts are tasteful and, no doubt, appreciated. But what does an overflowing fruit basket, especially one ordered from a big national chain, really say about a company and its values? With a little more effort, and a commitment of promoting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in every corporate activity, gift giving can become even more meaningful to the giver and the recipient.

Consider the broader impact of giving a gift that supports minority vendors and increases the feeling of belonging in your culture. Here’s one idea – gift cards purchased from minority businesses that support those vendors and help your employees and clients explore different communities. It’s time to lean into gifts that promote culture, curiosity and community, while expanding experiences and building relationships.

Here are some more tips for putting culture, curiosity and community on your gift list. Although these suggestions include examples in the Boston area, they can be tailored to wherever your clients and employees live and work.

Diversify your gift suppliers: Make a conscious decision to buy fruit or food baskets and other gifts from minority suppliers in the local area. In the Boston area, Commonwealth Kitchen is a resource for connecting with diverse entrepreneurs in food and entertainment. Your gift will be delicious, well-received, and showcase your commitment to DEI as part of a comprehensive strategy, both inside and outside your organization.

Gift cards that are a “ticket” to someplace new: Open the door to new dining experiences by providing gift cards to minority-owned restaurants. This gift will not only introduce people to authentic cuisine that they may not have tasted and experienced before, but also encourages them to explore a neighborhood they may rarely visit. At The Lazu Group, entertaining our clients and partners is always an opportunity to introduce people to some of our favorite local chefs and emerging restaurants, including The Pearl, Comfort Kitchen, or Park 54.

Performance as inclusive culture: Giving a cultural experience is an effective way to help people across your network experience diverse cultures. Tickets to theater performances, such as at ArtsEmerson, encourage people to open themselves to the artistic vision and creativity of diverse actors, playwrights, musicians, composers and others.

Encourage curiosity: Curious employees are more effective employees – just like curious clients are more open-minded to the new and different (including that solution or product you’re about to launch). But curiosity takes practice, and people may not always avail themselves of opportunities to do that. One way to encourage respectful curiosity is with a membership to a diverse institution, such as the Museum of African American History. The Museum of Fine Arts Boston also has a commitment to inclusion and belonging, and features diverse collections from across geographic regions and cultures.

Immersion in the community: Did you know that one third of people in Boston speak a language other than English at home? (The most common are Spanish, Haitian, Mandarin and Cantonese.) Our diverse communities are one of our greatest strengths. Even a walk through Roxbury or Fields Corner can create an immersion experience – with an invitation to explore shops, restaurants and galleries. Donations to and involvement in cultural institutions in diverse neighborhoods (for example, the Roxbury Cultural District) will broaden experiences and deepen relationships within the community.

Gifts should be more than baskets, bows and bling. They should be expressions of what we value and care about, locally and globally. By providing opportunities to experience diverse cultures, develop respectful curiosity and explore communities, your gifts will be truly memorable. You will make a lasting impression by encouraging genuine inclusion and a stronger sense of belonging.

Malia Lazu is a lecturer in the Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management Group at the MIT Sloan School of Management, CEO of The Lazu Group and former Eastern Massachusetts regional president and chief experience and culture officer at Berkshire Bank.  

Forget the Fruit Basket – Give Gifts of Culture, Curiosity and Community

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 3 min