By Lynley Sides (Founder & CEO, The Glue Network)
‘Tis the season for media advice and commentary about consumer shopping, but what about the $17 billion businesses spend each year on gifts and branded items?

At Red Herring, we received a spread of “thank you” items during the holidays -– chocolates, branded mugs, shirts, gift baskets. We shared most of them around the office and some invariably wound up in a landfill.

The only memorable gift was a donation to one of a few wonderful causes of my choice given by small agency, Swirl and 10 years later, I’m still telling people about it. I have no doubt that some of the gifts and incentives given away by companies this year are really cool. We all know, though, that some of it goes to waste, your customers aren’t likely to spread the word about your company because of chocolates, no matter how great.

So, as a CEO or marketer, you’re left wondering how you can harness the spirit of the holidays to create memorable connections with your constituents and gets them talking about your business. If you’re one of the many executives who cares deeply about the world’s social issues, in addition to your company’s success, you would love to see a tiny fraction of the $17 billion spent on “stuff” changing lives instead.

So consider this — charitable gift cards change lives for the better here in the U.S. or around the world. The electronic variety won’t ever touch a landfill. They have meaning for the recipient, strengthen the company’s image (especially if designed for your brand), and may still be talked about 10 years down the road. Some are equipped to automatically generate social media recommendations for your company — all for the cost of a box of chocolates.

Some of the best charities for businesses include:

  • The Glue Network: The recipient chooses among global humanitarian projects in nine categories.Why Choose It: Great diversity of projects ensures personal meaning for the recipient. Inherently generates strong branding (branded cards and emails) and social media recommendations for your company.
  • Donors Choose: The recipient chooses among needs posted by specific teachers for their classrooms.Why Choose It: Projects are crowd-sourced, specific, and support education, the cause category of most concern to Americans today. Branded cards are available for large orders.
  • Charity: Water: The gift card funds water projects in developing countries.Why Choose It: More globally from water-related illnesses than from violence, including war.

There are numerous alternatives but the bottom line is that, if you choose well, charitable gift cards as business gifts can change lives and create greater business value than traditional gifts.

That’s a choice you can feel good about and also justify to your CFO! Happy giving.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
Lynley SidesAbout the guest blogger: Lynley Sides is CEO of The Glue Network, enabling companies to drive business results through social media by tapping into consumers’ passion for humanitarian causes. An entrepreneur and operational executive, Lynley has spent her career developing groundbreaking new products and bringing them to market for companies includingRed Herring, Genentech, Responsys, IBM and Westinghouse. Follow her on Twitter at @LynleySides.