Ultimate Guide to Hosting a Virtual White Elephant Gift Exchange

How To Keep Your Holiday Traditions With Virtual Parties

Are you planning a virtual holiday party this year? Don’t leave out your gift exchange!

Sure, Secret Santa is pretty straight forward. But White Elephant exchanges allow you to steal gifts and require you to keep track of how many times each gift has been stolen. They might seem too complicated to hold virtually. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to make sure you can keep your tradition alive. 

You may be searching for the perfect White Elephant gift exchange ideas, but putting everything together isn’t necessarily easy.

With proper planning, your online White Elephant can be just as—or more—fun than your in-person gift exchanges. Here’s everything you need to consider to make this your best event yet.

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The Ultimate Guide to Hosting a Virtual White Elephant Gift Exchange

Who is it for? 

First, figure out who the event is for. You might need to tweak the rules and setup depending on who’s attending. If it’s for work, set strict price ranges for gifts and make sure everyone knows the guidelines about sending gifts ahead of time. You don’t want any fights on the team Zoom call!

With friends and family, you can allow a bit more leeway. Decide if you want funny gifts or more traditional presents, and encourage everyone to be creative!

If you’re playing with kids, make sure their parents understand how the rules work and that someone is designated to send their gifts to the person who’s running the virtual white elephant.

Set the Price Range

The price range for presents is key for any gift exchange. Make your rules clear. Decide on a range or a target price, like $25. 

Don’t forget to set a low range for the gift price.  Nothing ruins the mood of a holiday party like one person being stuck with a cheap gift that’s clearly below the price range while everyone else shows off their great presents.

Choose whether or not shipping costs should be built into the price limit. If you’re buying a gift from Amazon as a Prime member, you won’t have to worry about shipping in most cases. But if you’re buying from a small business or a local shop, shipping costs can add up. This is especially true if you have an international group participating. Shipping costs can add up to more than the cost of the item depending on your price limit, so don’t forget to factor this in!

A woman holds a present in front of a computer near a Christmas tree

How Are You Sending the Gifts?

In addition to shipping costs, you must also consider shipping times. Make sure you plan the party and give all of the relevant information well in advance. This will give participants plenty of time to ship their gifts ahead of time (if it’s a Secret Santa,) or ensure that their chosen gift will still be in stock to send immediately after the White Elephant Gift Exchange.

To make things easier, you can choose to require that every gift is able to be sent via email, eliminating shipping concerns. Digital downloads can make great gifts, and there are endless options on sites like Etsy. For more gifts you can send via email, check out our coworker gift guide.

If you’re using the virtual gift exchange game as a tool to facilitate your in-person present exchange, you can bring the gifts to your event directly. Make sure your attendees know the expectations, as some people may still want to use virtual gifts or send them to the recipients after.

How to Meet

Figure out what platform you’re going to use to host the online White Elephant event. 

Zoom is probably the most popular video conferencing tool available, but they have a 40 minute time limit for free accounts. That might be ok for a small gift exchange, but doesn’t leave much time for extra fun at your party. 

If you want to use Zoom but don’t want to pay for a plan, set the 40 minute mark as a planned break. Encourage everyone to fill up their glass with a festive drink, grab a snack, and come back refreshed. Send a separate link for the second part of the meeting and start right back up again!

You can also try another platform that gives you more time for the party. Microsoft Teams works great for work parties if your company already uses the platform. Google Meet gives you up to 60 minutes, while Facebook Messenger Rooms don’t have a time limit and let you have up to 50 people in your party!

Of course, you can also use a virtual gift exchange template for an in-person white elephant party. If you want to keep the gifts hidden so attendees can’t guess what they are by their size, or if some attendees would prefer to send gift cards or other virtual gifts, this is a great option to make your gift exchange work for everyone.

A woman sits on a Zoom call wearing a Santa Hat

Virtual White Elephant Gift Exchange Game

You can hold an online white elephant gift exchange using pencil and paper, but it will be difficult to keep track of the steals and who has claimed what gift. So we did the work for you. Our Virtual White Elephant PowerPoint  makes it easy to add everyone’s gifts and keep track of steals throughout the game. (Don’t worry, the game works on Google Slides if you don’t have PowerPoint!)

The host will have to do some work upfront to make sure the exchange is a success. Ask all participants to send a link or photo of their gift ahead of time, and add them to the gift pages in the PowerPoint.

Want an easier to edit (and less Christmas-y) version of our Virtual White Elephant Gift Exchange Game? Our brand new Virtual Gift Exchange Template comes pre-set with either 15 or 40 gift icons that are easy to customize with each participant’s presents. If you have 15 or fewer participants, choose the 15-icon template and simply remove the extra icons. If you have between 15-40 participants, use the 40-icon version. For parties with more guests, use our original template that can be customized to add additional gifts.

Virtual Gift Exchange

Steals and Gameplay

Participants will choose a gift from the list, just as they would in real life, not knowing what’s hidden underneath the wrapping. As more gifts get opened, each participant will have the choice of “stealing” another guest’s gift. You can set your own rules, but we play by only allowing two steals max per gift. This can easily be tracked on the PowerPoint, along with who is the current owner of each gift.

Once all the gifts are finalized, each guest will send the gift they picked out to the participant who received it. Alternatively, if this is a work event and employees are hesitant about giving out their address to their coworkers, the boss can coordinate sending all of the gifts. Hey, that’s why they get paid the big bucks!

Virtual White Elephant Game

Plan the Rest of the Party

Don’t forget to plan the rest of the party before sending out the invitations. Depending on how many people are included in the gift exchange and how complicated your rules are, you might not have much time for other activities. But we recommend adding some additional fun elements, like themed cocktails (send out the recipes ahead of time,) or an ugly sweater contest to get in the holiday spirit. Of course, seasonal music is a must!

For more ideas on how to throw a virtual holiday party, check out our full guide. 

Have Fun

The point of a virtual gift exchange is to have fun and celebrate the holidays with your coworkers, family, or friends. After a tough year, it can be difficult to get in the holiday spirit.

Gift exchanges can also help lessen the burden on your wallet. With a White Elephant or Secret Santa gift exchange, you only have to buy one gift for a specific group, rather than purchasing individual presents for each person. It’s a great way to avoid awkward gift-giving questions at work, in particular. 

In a year when so much has changed, it’s nice to keep some of our traditions. Although they might look a bit different, with some creativity and hard work, we can still maintain our relationships with friends and family near and far.

Are you planning on holding a virtual gift exchange this year?

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  1. Great idea! We were just talking about how we are going to do some of our holiday traditions since people who live out of state aren’t sure if they’ll be traveling this year.

    • Celebrating holidays is so difficult this year. I hope you’re still able to keep up with your traditions virtually!

  2. Nice tip on the zoom meeting. Great ideas all around.

    • I’m glad you found the ideas helpful!

  3. Great idea, I just did a post that included virtual holidays 🙂 Great minds think alike! Happy Holidays~

    • I think it’s on all of our minds this year! Everyone’s trying to navigate all the changes. Happy holidays!


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