Sending greeting cards to business associates, clients and employees is a long-standing practice among many businesses. In fact, sending greeting cards dates back to the late 1700s! Any business that benefits from personal relationships (and what business doesn’t?) will benefit from sending greeting cards on appropriate occasions. However, knowing exactly what greeting cards are appropriate when and sent to whom can be a little confusing. Not everyone celebrates the same holidays and special occasions, and offending one of your recipients with an inappropriate card can harm your business relationships as much as the proper card can help them!
Here are some basic points to keep in mind when sending greeting cards for your business:
Holiday Greeting Cards
Almost every office is bombarded with “Season’s Greetings” cards around mid-winter. This is a well-established tradition, and fairly easy to handle appropriately thanks to a wide variety of available non-denominational greeting cards. Other holidays, however, can pose a bit more of conundrum. Here is some basic advice and information:
• When sending individual cards, verify the religious affiliation (if any) of the recipient before choosing a card! You don’t want to send the wrong card to a religious person, however many people will appreciate the correct religious card more than a generic “Season’s Greetings”.
• Muslims celebrate two feast holidays during November and December (check for exact dates each year): Eid ul Fitr, the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and Eid ul Adha, the end of the Hajj pilgrimage. Both holidays are ‘greeted’ with the phrase “Eid Mubarak” which means “May the Lord make it a blessed feast.”
• Hindus celebrate Diwali during the winter months. This holiday usually falls during October or November. Greeting cards and small gifts are appropriate at this time.
• Other winter holidays include Yule, a winter solstice celebration for pagan religions (which usually falls on December 21), and Kwanzaa, a relatively new holiday celebrated by many African-Americans from December 26 to January 1.
• Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate any holidays, so even a generic card would be inappropriate.
• If you’re sending a holiday card addressed to a business, on the other hand, stick with generic “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings” type cards. Also, avoid sending any group cards for strongly religious holidays such as Easter, unless you are sending them to a religiously oriented organization, which observes the holiday.
• If you want to send cards for major holiday seasons other than Christmas, try sending general seasonal cards rather than holiday cards: a springtime card instead of Easter, for instance.
• Cards for national holidays are appropriate for any citizens of the country celebrating.
• If you do business internationally, take time to research the major holidays in the countries you do business with. Not only may your international associates take holidays off (you’ll save your time trying to contact them on such days), but sending appropriate greetings will set you apart from many of their other international business contacts.
Birthdays and Special Occasions
Clichés about asking a woman her age aside, birthdays and other personal occasions offer opportunities for greetings and congratulations that many businesses do not take advantage of. However, it can be especially tricky to not offend your recipients when sending congratulations to individuals you do not know well. Some of our suggestions:
• Jehovah’s Witnesses and devout Muslims do not observe birthday celebrations.
• It’s best to send general birthday greetings that don’t mention the recipient’s age, unless you know them well.
• Have a staff member check the birth and wedding announcements in the newspaper for opportunities to congratulate business associates or major clients.
• Generally speaking, if you do not receive an announcement or invitation in regard to an event, you’re not obligated to send a greeting.
• If you do not receive an announcement/ invitation, and there is no public notice in the newspaper, it’s best to send congratulations only to individuals you know on a first-name basis. A relative stranger or formal acquaintance taking an interest in their personal life may offend some people.
Condolences and Get Well Cards
Perhaps the most sensitive subject for greetings and correspondence is when something unpleasant has happened. Stories abound of faux-pas such as birthday cards arriving for deceased individuals. In many cases, if may be safest and most appropriate to leave such occasions to the individuals and their friends and family. However, for close business associates, employees or long-standing clients, the following guidelines are advised:
• If someone is ill, make sure to verify the nature of their illness before sending a “Get Well” card. It may be an incurable or terminal condition, in which case such a card would be highly inappropriate.
• A “Thinking of You” card is a good choice when you either can not ascertain exactly what illness or injury has occurred, or when the recipient is not expected to recover.
• Leave the humorous “Get Well” cards for personal friends and family. In a business context, it is neither appropriate or worth the (significant) risk of causing offense.
• The death of a beloved pet is an appropriate occasion for a condolence card, if you know the recipient.
• A “Get Well” card is most often sent to the recipient’s home, unless they are going to be in the hospital for an extended period.
• If you personally know the recipient, it might be best to hand-deliver the card.
• If you do not know the recipient well enough to have their home address, you can send a “Glad You’re Back” card to their office when they return to work.
General Pointers and Guidelines
No matter what the occasion, here are some basic suggestions for getting the most out of your greeting card mailings:
• Take the time to hand-address each card, as well as hand signing it. Printed mailing labels make the card look impersonal, and will negate most of the potential positive impact. (This is especially critical for personal event or condolence cards!)
• If your recipients are in a close geographic area, or are well networked, do not send everyone an identical card, unless you’re having a custom greeting card design printed for your company. Taking the time to choose individual cards shows you value the recipient’s business relationship enough to invest individual time in it.
• Even if your cards have a pre-printed message inside, take the time to write a quick sentence by hand. Greeting card networking is ALL about the personal touch!