At our company holiday party last year, two colleagues showed up with Christmas cookies as a gift. The cookies were shortbread and they were fantastic (buttery rich, uniformly thick squares, each one with a snowy white glaze on top), but it was the decorations on each cookie that was the show-stopper.

Using what must have been the points of needles, in a process that must have taken many multiples of hours, our team's best data analysts hand-drew pie charts, line graphs, scatter diagrams and other analytical visualizations on top of every one of dozens of cookies. The effect was amazing, and it was impossible to miss the painstaking amount of effort that went into each one.

Those cookies have been on my mind as the year winds down. It's a challenge to remember any holiday gift I was ever given when I worked in a corporate environment, but those cookies? They leap to mind, and to the top of any "best gift" list I can imagine.

Here are three reasons why, that also double as a set of guidelines for entrepreneurs in any industry who want their year-end gift giving to embody the authenticity and purpose of their business.

Make it personal.

For many companies, and particularly for startups, the end of the year is a time of introspection and inventory-taking. In our case, it's about physically reviewing the past year's calendar of meetings, my own notes and minutes from conferences and interviews, and the ebb and flow of both revenue and client engagement.

What I'm looking for are the relationships, and the person-by-person chain of interactions that altogether create the dynamic of our business. This style of review enables us to essentially "relive" the year's victories and challenges, for ourselves and our clients, both personally and professionally. Within that dynamic are opportunities for a thoughtful gift or gesture that reminds the recipient that they are seen and heard.

Give something that takes time, thought and effort.

Kate Webber, co-creator of the Webber Restaurant Group in Groton, Massachusetts, has been creating an elaborate gingerbread village that she constructs, displays, and donates to charity every holiday season for the last 15 years. Groton is a rural New England town, but the community impact of the gingerbread village far outpaces splashy press coverage, both in terms of long-term impact and cultural significance. 

"It created its own audience," Webber said of the gingerbread village that she spends months designing and building. "People come and bring their kids. The charities we benefit publicize it on their websites, so people come from those communities to see the raffle house."

The "hook" for the community is that the raffle house is modeled on a building of local significance; this year it happens to be the Alcott Orchard House in Concord. It's an elaborate effort, and the time, thought and effort boxes are all checked with emphasis. More importantly, the gift shows generosity toward the people who, in the end, give the business a reason to exist.

Th the people who, in Webber's words, "deserve a whole world of honest candy." Keep your company's version of those "honest candy" people in mind as you direct your own end-of-year gift giving efforts.

The gift resonates with significance about the company that we've been building together.

Consider how it would shift the nature of gift giving within your own business, if you prioritized the longer-term needs of your community above the short-term boost of a year-end present.

My startup's home base is the wine industry, for example. The wine community's needs range from wildfire recovery and relief, to counseling for alcoholism, to education around more sophisticated business tools. Since we provide business intelligence services, we could partner with a platform provider to offer special analytics training to promising young people in the wine industry at little or no charge. We could also partner with a healthcare company to allocate a small percentage of their therapists' time to counseling people in recovery. And so on.

The guideline for holiday giving here is less about spending money on a physical commodity. It's more about planting the seeds, in the minds of your team and your community, of an impact you'll make together in the year to come.