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John Ruhlin on Strategic Gifting 101 for Financial Advisors

In this Elite Advisor Blueprint podcast, we cover three gifting mistakes you might be making and how to fix them.


John Ruhlin is the master of “professional gifting.” In fact, he’s built an entire business on a philosophy he calls Giftology.

I recently interviewed Ruhlin about the practice of professional gifting, and he shared with me three keys to gifting like a pro that can be applied to your own financial services practice.

Before we get into that, though, I want to share with you the story Ruhlin told me about how it all began, and how he discovered his winning formula, “Giftology.”

“I’m an Ohio farm boy, we don’t have a massive firm but we’re experts at what we do, because what we teach is the opposite of what everybody else does on a regular basis.”

Listen to Ruhlin tell his story in his own words.

After dropping out of medical school, Ruhlin worked as a sales rep, and dated the daughter of a successful attorney. 

Ruhlin noticed how his girlfriend’s father always appeared calm and confident. He seemed to be able to take frequent two-hour lunches, yet close deals effortlessly. Referrals would drop in his lap from all over.  

Most of all, though, he noticed how he was always giving things away.

A Master of Giftology at Work

One example of his generosity that stands out in Ruhlin’s memory occurred at church.

His girlfriend’s father was always finding good deals on various things—like noodles.

One day he bought a truck load of noodles and gave them away at church. Ruhlin watched him hand out box after box of noodles. When the noodles were all gone, Ruhlin said to the wise attorney, “That was thousands of dollars of noodles. Like, that’s crazy.”

The attorney looked at Ruhlin, gave a wry smile and said, “I know, but did you see the smiles on their faces?”

Ruhlin never forgot the example this man brought to his life, and it planted a seed that grew into a multi-million-dollar business called The Ruhlin Group.

Today, he helps other businesses become masters of professional gifting.

“Doors started to open because I started to practice this radical generosity, and because of it we now have 25 sports teams as clients and we’ve worked with some of the biggest influencers in the world.”

The right gift presented the right way is powerful, yet so many business leaders underestimate its effectiveness.

I sat down with Ruhlin and he shared with me a number of ways financial advisors can get this right.

Tip 1: Don’t Ever Use This Word To Describe Your Gifts

You’ve heard the expression “token of my appreciation” a million times. But there’s a big problem with it. If you’ve been using it in your communications, Ruhlin wants you to stop immediately.

Describing your gift as a “token” implies that it’s petty, obligatory and routine. It deflates the impact of your gift before your recipient even uses it.

Be genuine with your language. Focus on what your recipient did to warrant the gift, and avoiding the “T-word” will come naturally.

Tip 2: Use Their Logo, Not Yours

Swing open the closet door of any financial professional and you’ll see the evidence of branding abuse. All those logo-laden golf polos collecting dust in there might be okay on the course, but would you find yourself wearing them at a social function with your high-net -worth friends?

Doubtful. More likely than not, they pile up in your closet until your spouse hauls them off to the Goodwill.

According to Ruhlin, heavy branding on gifts makes them destined for failure, because it makes them feel not like a gift, but more like a marketing strategy gone bad.

Tip 3: Choose Gifts That NEVER Get Thrown Away

Struggling to find gifts people actually want to keep?

Ruhlin says it’s best to target an area of your recipient’s life where they spend a lot of personal time and where they’ll find themselves using your gift frequently. The kitchen meets both requirements.

Wine decanters, fine cutlery and cutting boards are all great examples.

The best part about gifts like these is that they’re more likely to become what Ruhlin likes to call “artifacts.” Artificats are gifts that turn into permanent home fixtures, and the recipient thinks of you every time they use them.

Listen to Ruhlin’s unbelievable story about the artifact that led to a fight between members of a $5 million estate. 

In almost two years of podcasts, Ruhlin’s episode consistently gets mentioned as one of the most impactful I’ve ever recorded when it comes to changing how our advisors interact with their clients. For all 10 of John Ruhlin’s gifting tips, be sure to check out the full conversation at

Brad Johnson, vice president of advisor development for Advisors Excel, mentors a small group of the country’s most elite financial advisors. Find more episodes of The Elite Advisor Blueprint podcast at

TAGS: Marketing
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