The holidays are a time for giving. But if advisors aren’t careful, they might end up sending a gift that lands them on a client's naughty list.

“The key to giving a client an appropriate gift is to prioritize thoughtfulness over expense,” says Denise Federer, of Tampa, Fla.-based Federer Performance Management Group. “The goal of gift giving this time of year is to show your appreciation of your clients and their business, but not to make them feel obligated in any way.”

Advisors should be making a list – and checking it twice – of what gifts to avoid if they don’t want to give the equivalent of a loud, ugly holiday sweater.

More Scrooge Than Santa

Are your services cheap? Then avoid sending items that lack quality since they can lead clients to assume their advisor doesn’t value them, says Robert Sofia, co-founder of Platinum Strategies, a marketing firm in Summerfield, Fla. “Think: Cheap pens, generic cards with mass-printed messages, wall calendars and basically anything with a ‘Made in China’ sticker on it,” he says.

Your Logo Here

The local Goodwill is filled with racks of polos and fleeces emblazoned with corporate logos. “Giving candy, stationery, drinks or other gifts with your name/logo can seem self-serving,” says Jeremy Jackson of SKY Marketing Consultants in Kirkwood, Mo. “You want your gifts to come across as thoughtful and relevant to that particular client, not just another way for you to advertise yourself.”

Really Not Funny

That gag card about choosing between fishing and your wife? Maybe that shouldn't go in your client mailing. “Proceed cautiously and get input from multiple sources to ensure that something is funny to a broader audience, and not just you,” says Kenton Shirk, associate director at Cerulli Associates.

Not on the Menu

Once upon a time, people gave each other fruit and meat for the holidays. There’s a reason that tradition ended: Food allergies, Jackson says. Wine and chocolate might seem obvious as gifts, Shirk says, but what if your client is on a diet or doesn't drink? There’s another reason to skip food items, he adds: “One advisor sent a crate of live lobsters to a top client who loves seafood. But the client was away when the package arrived, and she returned from vacation to a smelly crate of rotting lobster on her doorstep.”

Bad Delivery

Holiday junk mail is still just junk mail. “If you work for a large company and your company provides boilerplate holiday messaging, be cautious when using those,” Jackson says. “It can come across as thoughtless or trite. Shirk agrees. “To send the message that you really care about a client, send the gift along with a hand-written, personalized message – and not a canned message that gets sent to everybody.”

Gift Certificates? Ugh...

A Groupon offer for a makeover may seem thoughtful, but it may end up leaving your client asking, 'So you really think I’m hideous?' “Any gift that comes with the requirement that your client has to take some action or do something they wouldn't want to do can feel more like an inconvenience than a gift,” Jackson says. “Not to mention, it can cheapen your services and give the impression that you don’t always offer clients the same level of cost of service.”

Indecent Proposal

Consider the message that your gift sends. “Don’t give a gift that crosses the professional boundary and is too personal, such as anything of a sexual nature, or that is very expensive, such as a designer watch or jewelry,” Federer says.

Have a Merry ... Holiday

Don’t want to get caught up in the holiday culture wars? Take an individual approach toward holiday messages, Jackson says, instead of “Merry Christmas cards or gifts to all of your clients, regardless of their religious views,” he says. “The last thing you want to do is inadvertently display how little you know or care about your client’s personal lives.” Cerulli’s Shirk adds that politically-charged gifts should also be stowed. “This is obvious,” he says.

Worst Gift Ever

The one thing you can’t take back – client disappointment. “After referring a client who recently sold a sizable business and the advisor called to thank me and promised to send tickets to a baseball game,” Shirk says. “I appreciated the gesture, but he never followed through. Make sure that these promises don’t fall through the cracks.”