Three Alternative Approaches for Event Giveaways


If you attend enough events, you have probably accumulated a collection of USB drives and water tumblers courtesy of the sponsors who want to leave you with a little token of their appreciation. These event giveaways (aka tchotchkes) are a tradition and always will be. But giveaways don’t have to consist of the tried-and-true bags and mobile phone accessories. If you’re willing to be flexible, you can make event giveaways stand out. Here are three ways:

Go Virtual

If you know your audience very well, consider an online gift. An obvious and popular choice (if your budget allows) is an e-gift card to an easily accessible merchant such as Amazon or Starbucks. But the universe of e-gift cards is full of diverse choices, ranging from Spotify for music lovers to Fandango for movie fans. Other less obvious choices that might surprise and delight an audience include e-gift cards from Etsy and DonorsChoose (which recipients can use to help the lives of students across the United States). Of course, e-gifts have their downsides: they are less personal, and it can be harder to achieve economies of scale with them. But for the right audience — especially depending on the theme of the event and the size of your audience — e-gift cards may make more sense. They are more eco-friendly, and your guests don’t need to pack an e-gift card for their flights home. If e-gift cards are impractical for a large event, consider using them for smaller sessions such as sponsored breakout meetings or social functions.

Go Retro

Instead of sharing a high-tech doodad, go in the opposite direction with a retro gift. For instance, we have blogged about the popularity of adult coloring books such as Secret Garden, which continue to flourish because they relieve stress and provide a creative outlet.  Other retro gift ideas include toy cars, Lego kits, yo-yos, and notepads that are fashioned to look like cassette cases or old TV sets (all of which have the added benefit of being easily brandable). Even if your guests have no personal use for such gifts, they probably know someone who does and will pass it on accordingly. And you’ll get bonus points for being creative.

Do Good

Another approach is to forego a gift and make a donation to charity. As noted, a DonorsChoose gift card gives the recipient a chance to donate to a classroom of their choosing. In fact, Salesforce has thanked attendees with physical DonorsChoose gift cards along with hand-written notes sealed in envelopes — a nice touch that makes the gift card more personal as well as physical if you don’t want to use an e-gift card, per se. And there is no shortage of ways to do good. As with any gift, customizing the cause may be appropriate depending on your audience and the theme of the event. A gift to Khan Academy works exceptionally well for any event pertaining to empowering people with technology, whereas the Arbor Day Foundation is all about protecting and nurturing planet Earth, which would have obvious appeal to an event where environmental sustainability is a focus. More important than finding the perfect thematic match for your event, though, is doing good in a manner that works for you.

Whatever approach you take, remember that gift giveaways need not be an all-or-nothing proposition. As noted, some gifts that cost more might work for a more narrowly defined audience in a big event, such as gifts for keynote speakers. And you can also make some of these gifts special by having a drawing and celebrating winners, which allows you to budget more (e.g., a $100 Amazon gift card given to a lucky attendee instead of a $10 gift card given to everyone).

What are some interesting approaches you’ve seen with event giveaways?

For a complimentary 30-minute consultation on how to build your brand and inspire an audience through events and communications, please contact Brian Duffy by calling 630.427.4235 or by emailing


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