Gift Giving 101: Exploring Your Gift Skill Set

Giving and receiving gifts are so engrained in our society and cultures, that we take it for granted. Little do we think of the planning, coordination, and implementation that goes into the decision-making part of gift giving.

Just as important as the psychological perspective of gift giving is, the operational side of it. As humans, some of us are better than others in this part of the gift process, in whatever form it is.

Today, we are going to invest some time in something we hardly ever think about: the practical side of giving gifts. Giving gifts is a life skill everyone will need at one time or another. Come along with me as I explore the basic skills of gift giving.

Which ones apply to you? Are you looking to add more to your “gift tool box”? Let’s see!

FYI, don’t feel bad if you hate giving gifts. You might feel better about the whole business of it if you strengthen your gift skills!

Table of Contents

Gift Project Manager Skills

You’ve probably never thought of gift giving as a project. According to the Project Management Institute:

“Project management is the practice of using knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to complete a series of tasks to deliver value and achieve a desired outcome.”

A woman looks at a magical spinning gift.
Giving gifts require good project management skills.

As a gift giver, you are a project manager. You must plan and execute each phase and activity of the project effectively, ensuring the project’s success. “Success” can be applied to many outcomes: buying the perfect gift, throwing a fun party, picking out a themed celebration cake, determining gifts of support, and even finding the best words to write in a greeting card.

Then there is the logistics to think about. Where will you buy the gift, how will you wrap it, deliver it, pay for it? Yes, gift giving is about systems, details, organization methods, tactics, and strategies.

Knowing the Trigger, Why Are We Giving the Gift?

Knowing when it is customary to give a gift feels like an episode of the Big Bang Theory. There is a myriad of events and life moments when it is expected to give. Honestly, there seems to be no shortage of opportunties to practice your gift giving skills.

Some of these occasions have been socially established. Others fall in the gray area. Consider gift traditions that you have never heard of. Moving into a new neighborhood or even joining a new family, suddenly confronts you with another world of gift expectations you never planned on.

Friends gathered for a birthday party; the guest of honor opens his gift.
Birthdays are good examples when it is appropriate to give a gift to others.

My midwest neighbor from Boston mentioned that he landed his first job in a city in Iowa. Soon after buying his first house, he hears a knock at the door. He was confused when the young couple across the street came bearing a casserole, welcoming him to the neighborhood. It took him years to wrap his head around that.

Understanding the event and the reason to give a gift is a very basic gift giving skill. The older you get and the more life experience you have, will make this gift giving skill less unpredictable. If Sheldon Cooper can master it, you can too!

Gift Objectives

What is your objective behind giving the gift? It is ironic to think that the act of giving is not always for the recipient, but for our own, hidden agenda.

I offer these examples of gift objectives to ponder:

  • Communicate a special message to the recipient, as in a close, personal relationship.
  • Show the recipient how clever or talented we are; seek praise.
  • Put yourself in a more favorable light. This could be endearing yourself to another in hopes of entering a personal relationship. A company or organization may give gifts to enhance their reputation.
  • Coherce the recipient into a favor, or bribe the recipient (in both a lighthearted sense, all the way to a criminal offense).
  • Convince someone to give a gift back, such as donating to a charitable cause.
  • Guilt the gift recipient with the purpose of having them feel indebted to you or another ulterior motive.
  • Give the gift with the intention that you get to use it.
  • Solidify your place in the social order. An expensive gift could emphasize your financial status. A well-selected gift could communicate “I am the boss, you are the employee.”
Woman confused about receiving a gift.
Have you ever received a gift and felt there was a hidden agenda?

Unfortunately, gift objectives lean to a more negative connotation. Gift giving, when it comes to marketing, has that vibe. Many hesitant recipients will ask, “what does the person want from me?”.

I recall when my daughter signed up for college, unexpected gifts arrived in the mail from her chosen university throughout that summer. OK, it was COVID, not sure if that played a part in it, trying to convince the kids to still come when everything was on lockdown.

If this was a “Marketing 101” article, the advice would be that the purpose of giving gifts is to foster and nurture the universtiy/student relationship. It’s a case of drumming up warm and fuzzy feelings. After all, are not these incoming freshmen future alumni to solicit?

Understanding the Recipient’s Preferences and Interests

Second after why we would give a gift is selecting the gift itself. It begins with understanding the preferences and interests of the gift recipient.

This step of the process of giving a gift can be a great cause for indecision and stress. It can even lead to depression and feelings of inadequacy if the giver feels the present is insufficient, or misses the mark.

A photo of an extended family posing for a group picture.
It can be intimidating trying to consider the interests and preferences for family and friends!

Many people dislike this part of gift giving. They label themselves as “bad gift givers”. You would be surprised at how many people seek out ways to improve their gift giving skills. Being a good gift giver is a coveted gift giving skill.

Being good at gift giving requires being thoughtful and considerate. People who are good at giving gifts are good listeners, picking up on hints or cues about desired gifts. By personalizing the gift, we can make it more meaningful.

Being Mindful of Cultural and Social Gift Norms

Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory is very aware of the cultural and social norms of giving gifts. The last thing that Sheldon wants to do is make a gift mistake. Even though the show offers plenty of fodder on the topic of gift giving skills, Sheldon still often doesn’t get it right.

Woman upset with gift she opened.
No one wants to have a gift fail, let alone make a cultural gift giving mistake.

If you give a gift that is considered an insult in a culture, the recipient may never forgive you. This cultural offense is sometime hard to make apologies for. It’s easy when we share the same cultural turf with others, and giving and receiving is on an even platform. Are we willing to make the extra effort it takes to make sure it fits the other’s cultural rules?

Closer to home are social norms that overshadow gift giving. I will even offer “micro” social norms. A new boyfriend or girlfriend who are first-time gift givers in their partner’s family, may be a little lost and confused at the internal dynamics at play.

Communication: What is the Gift Saying?

Expressing the sentiment behind the gift adds another layer to gift giving skills. Consider these scenarios:

  • An expensive gift: You’re important to me.
  • Symbols of affection such as flowers: I love you.
  • Gift for a hobby: I care enough to pay attention to what you like.
  • Personalized gift: You’re special and unique.
  • Funny gift: Let’s share a laugh together because we have a bond.
  • A hlelpful or practical gift: I want life to be easier for you.

Giving consideration to what the gift communicates could be considered a strategy: use it to your advantage!

A girl and a boy dressed as a prince and princess, the boy presents a flower to the little girl.
What is your gift saying to others – or what do you want it to communicate?

Using Creativity in Gifting

Getting to exert creativity in choosing unique and memorable gifts it totally a benefit to the giver. Here is what creative people get excited about when tasked with giving a gift:

  • The thrill of the gift hunt, finding unique sources, both online and in person.
  • The cognitive “puzzle-solving” of matching up the right gift to the right person.
  • The triumph of finding the perfect gift for a hard-to-shop-for recipient.
  • Thinking “outside of the box” to choose unique, novel, and one-of-a-kind gifts.
  • Wrapping the gift, making it attractive, filling a gift basket with gifts that compliment each other.
  • Stretching the budget to still offer a great gift.
  • The feeling of personal satisfaction when the words flow in a greeting card or note, and sentiments are perfectly conveyed.
A creative gift giver at work, holding up a beautifully wrapped package.
Creative gift givers enjoy all aspects of giving. Many make great personal assistants, mystery shoppers, and professional gift givers.

Is this your favorite part of gift giving? Are you a ninja-gifting expert? For some people, these skills just come naturally, they may even get a personal surge of adrenaline because they love to engage their creative juices.

Those with natural gift giving skills may even move on to make it a profession as a gift assistant, or a gift manager for a nonprofit.

Budgeting and Financial Planning for Gift Purchases

This one’s a biggie and may favor those left-sided brain people out there. Giving gifts costs money. Yearly events like Christmas may leave us a little strapped for cash. I listed stretching the dollar as a creative skill – it is. Being resourceful is a beautiful skill to have.

On the practical side of things, gifts may have to be budgeted for. The skill of patience might even be required. Shopping around for the best deal is something everyone should be good at if they want to reduce their financial outlay.

Money bills and coins on a table, surrounded by gifts.
Understanding a gift budget is an important skill.

Let’s not forget charitable gift giving. As the gifter, it may include savvy skills of making gifts that go beyond one-time gifts. Gifting stocks, putting money into trusts, planned estate giving are financial strategies that can make a bigger impact.

I would argue that soliciting donatons and gifts of money are skills that involve strategy, but a heavy nod to psychology. Understanding the emotional reasons why people give charitable gifts can help the gift manager craft more targeted asks for financial help.

Showing Gratitude and Appreciation for Gifts Received

Knowing how to properly thank someone for a gift or showing verbal appreciation is a top-notch social skill to possess. Understanding the finer aspects of it such as showing thanks when you don’t like the gift, is a key skill to strengthen.

Expressing gratitude falls into the gift etiquette category. The sooner you understand the concept, the sooner you can perfect it.

The Gift Wrap Up

I absolutely love these kind of topics. It’s worth your time understanding how people’s brains work and how the social expectations affect the action of gift giving. Exploring the gift skill set is a fascinating time spent.

So what’s missing in your “gift tool box”? Now that you are aware of the broader social and pragmatic picture of gift giving, I challenge you to reflect on your own gift skill set. Maybe there’s room for improvement!

Renee Cavvy
Renee Cavvy

Renee brings over 30 years of gift giving experience to holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, workplace and faith events. Every life moment is cause for celebration or those times in life when we need the "the gift of support". Her mission: Let's all be better in appreciating one another, put an end to meaningless gifts that clutter our lives, and give from a place of love and kindness. This midwest mom (and grandma) offers novel and creative ideas to do gift giving better!