Hi! You found our guide on how to do a virtual white elephant gift exchange.
Virtual white elephants are online gift exchanges where participants give wacky and impractical gifts to each other. The events typically have a “steal” mechanism, where one participant can snag a gift from another. White elephant exchanges aim to entertain, and teammates compete to see who can find the strangest-yet-still-desirable present. This party format is also known as a “remote white elephant” or “Zoom white elephant.”
This article includes:
- How to do a virtual white elephant
- Virtual white elephant rules
- Virtual white elephant gift ideas
- More ideas to make your event fun
So, let’s get started!
How to do a virtual white elephant exchange
There are two ways you can host a white elephant exchange virtually. Either you can implement a no-steal policy, essentially a virtual Secret Santa with gag gifts, or you can try a steal-friendly party.
Here are the steps to hold both types of events:
No-steal virtual white elephant:
- Set a budget
- Pick a date
- Match pairings
- Mail gifts to recipients
- Open the gifts together on video call
Steal-friendly virtual white elephant:
- Set a budget
- Pick a date
- Instruct all participants to buy and wrap a fun present
- Gather together on video call.
- Choose a picking order. You can use a generator like random.org to determine the order.
- Gifters will hold up all presents. You could also use a powerpoint template to display the options.
- Each participant picks a present. The gifter unwraps on camera.
- The next player takes a turn, either stealing the present or unwrapping a new present.
- The game continues until all presents are gone.
- Once the event concludes, gifters send presents to the rightful owners.
We created a virtual white elephant slide template to simplify the process. This way, you do not even need to wrap or unwrap a present, using pictures instead. Of course, unwrapping is part of the fun, so you are welcome to still show the unveiling on camera.
Additionally, we suggest keeping a running list of the presents throughout the event so that you do not lose track of the owners. We included a slide dedicated to that very purpose in our template.
Virtual white elephant rules
Despite the anything-goes attitude of a white elephant swap, here are basic rules that keep the activity fun for everyone.
1. Stick to the budget
Like any gift exchange, the white elephant works best when all participants stick to the suggested price range, which is typically between $10-$30.
2. Remember that your gift is still a gift, not just a joke
While selecting an outlandish gift is one of the most fun aspects of a white elephant party, consider that your recipient will keep the present once the party ends. The best white elephant gifts are silly, but still desirable.
3. Participants draw numbers to determine unwrapping order
If you opt to hold the version of the swap where participants can steal presents, then draw numbers to determine picking and unwrapping order.
4. Gift givers ship the presents only after the game ends
Stealing presents while playing virtually presents a logistical challenge. Instead of trading gifts on the spot, the member who bought the item will hold onto the present until the game’s end. The gift givers can still wrap the object up and unwrap the box when a team member picks that present, but will not ship the item until the game ends and there is a definitive recipient.
5. Players can choose to keep a present or steal a present from a player who has already gone
If a player prefers another present over the unwrapped gift, that player can force another participant to give up the gift. To keep the game from getting too chaotic, you can stipulate that no more than three steals can occur during one turn. The third person must accept the gift opened during that turn.
6. No player can decline a trade
Swiping gifts is part of the fun of a white elephant exchange, and all players enter the event with that knowledge. A guest cannot refuse to swap, and cannot steal back an item during the same turn.
7. There can be a limit on stealing
This is an optional rule. To keep the game from getting out of hand, some organizers decree that players cannot steal a single gift more than three times, or that a single player cannot steal more than three times per game.
You can adapt these rules however you see fit to better serve your group. The items above are guidelines meant to keep the exchange orderly, but you can add or delete rules to customize your event.
Virtual white elephant gift ideas
From jelly bean Russian roulette to magic mugs to adulting award ribbons, here is a list of virtual white elephant gifts that are sure to amuse and amaze your colleagues during your online exchange.
Check out our full list of gifts for employees too.
1. Selfie Stick
The public laughed when the selfie stick first hit the market, but years later, this tech accessory stays stocked on shelves and in internet warehouses. Turns out, the selfie stick is actually a pretty handy tool, as anybody who has ever spent ten minutes delaying dinner in an attempt to figure out the auto-timer photo setting on a smartphone. The model pictured here, manufactured by SYOSIN, also converts to a tripod and includes a bluetooth remote. At less than $15, this selfie stick is a real steal.
Learn more about the SYOSIN selfie stick.
2. Toothpaste Bits
Much as we swear to the dentist that we brush twice a day everyday, keeping our teeth clean can be a messy affair. We may skip from time to time on hectic days, and hope a stick of gum covers up the stench of our morning breath.
Toothpaste bits make the process more manageable. Instead of having to squeeze a tube, you just pop one tablet, then brush with a damp toothbrush. No more ooze leaking into your luggage during trips, plus you can freshen up in the airport bathroom with little fuss. You can keep a jar in your car in case of forgetful mornings or pungent lunches. Toothpaste bits are the present your coworkers never knew they needed, but will be thankful to have on hand. Bite brand’s toothpaste bits are vegan-friendly, and come in glass bottles to cut back on plastic waste.
Learn more about Bite toothpaste bits.
3. Bean Boozled
Every Easter growing up, my uncle would receive a 40 flavor gift set of Jelly Belly jelly beans, and when I begged him to share, he would pass off a jalapeño bean as watermelon-flavored. Lucky for me, Bean Boozled didn’t exist then. The flavor offerings in a Bean Boozled set are much more heinous than harmless jalapeño, and include stink bug, dead fish, and canned dog food.
The Bean Boozled box set combines these terrible jelly bean flavors with more innocuous flavors, like marshmallow and strawberry banana smoothie. The challenge also includes a spinner that turns the taste test into a round of Russian Roulette. This gift is ideal for coworkers with a mischievous nature, great sense of humor, and strong stomach.
Learn more about Bean Boozled.
4. Glowing Gin Infusing Kit
Even the hostess with the mostess is unlikely to have the supplies to make drinks glow in the dark. The Glowing Gin Infusing Kit contains all the necessary ingredients to mix up fluorescent gin cocktails, including glow powder, pink herbs, and a UV flashlight key-chain. The lucky recipient will only need to provide the gin and tonic. Glowing gin is a great conversation starter at parties, not to mention a fun way to spice up your virtual happy hour.
Learn more about Glowing Gin Infusing Kit.
5. A Candle for Tiny Successes
Candles are safe gifts: unisex and are great options for folks you do not yet know partcularly well. A safe gift choice does not need to be a boring gift choice, though. There are many unique, sassy candle scents on the market. Our favorite is the Whisky River Soap Co.’s A Candle for Tiny Successes. A Candle for Tiny Successes supposedly smells like “unburnt microwave popcorn,” but smells like caramel popcorn in reality. This candle scent pays tribute to all of life’s little wins, like remembering your loyalty card at the frozen yogurt shop or finding a five dollar bill in your coat pocket.
You may not have to share a bathroom with your remote coworker, but someone does. Poo-Pourri is a portable, discreet air freshener that dignifies the act of using a public restroom. Though the spray’s tagline reads “before you go,” the recipient can use the product in a variety of stinky situations such as banishing pet odor, airing out the kitchen after cooking fish, or hiding the fact you have been wearing the same pair of sweatpants for a week straight. Poo-Pourri comes in a variety of pleasant aromas such as citrus, wild pear, and lavender peppermint.
Learn more about Poo-Pourri.
7. Color-changing constellation mug
Fun mugs make mornings and afternoon coffee breaks more enjoyable. Though your remote coworkers might not need to flaunt a one-of-a-kind cup to avoid someone swiping the ceramic from the break room, a unique mug is a way to add personality and whimsy to the workday.
This cool constellation mug from Unemployed Philosophers Guild shows plain white stars when the mug is cold, and constellations like Cassiopeia, Andromeda, and Taurus when the mug heats up. If your colleagues are not stargazers, then you can choose from one of many other heat-sensitive designs including dinosaurs, The Bill of Rights, Bob Ross, and Van Gogh with a disappearing ear. Gifts like these magical mugs are sure to make your next virtual coffee break more interesting.
Learn more about the Unemployed Philosophers Guild constellation mug.
8. Nachosaurus Snack and Dip Set
Given the choice between boring old bowls and a stegosaurus with tortilla chip spikes, fans of fun would pick the latter. The Nachosaurus Snack and Dip Set is an eccentric way to display finger foods for parties or home offices alike. Also, the dip bowl resembles a miniature volcano. The lucky recipient will want to use this awesomesaurus right away, so you may want to toss in a bag of Doritos to round out the gift. Either way, with a serving bowl this fun, snacks are soon to be extinct.
Learn more about the Nachosaurus Snack and Dip Set.
9. Automatic Pan Stirrer with Timer
Some recipes, such as risotto, require endless stirring. Nobody’s favorite cooking task is standing over a hot stove, stirring a pot while their arms grow sore. An automatic pan stirrer saves time and energy. The built in-timer allows you to set the number of minutes so that the tool can alert you when stirring is complete, which frees you, or your lucky recipient, up to focus on other kitchen tasks, like washing dishes or “taste testing” that packet of fresh mozzarella.
Learn more about the Automatic Pan Stirrer with Timer.
10. Cell Phone Jail with Timer
Anyone who spends a significant portion of the day battling the siren call of social media or begging their kids to ditch the screens for five seconds will appreciate a cell phone jail. This amusing yet effective anti-distraction tool comes equipped with a physical lock and timer that enforces self-discipline. With this gift, phone addicts can force themselves to learn self-control and focus on the task at hand. Plus, bored coworkers can use the mini jail cell to stage bobblehead breakouts and share pictures to your team Slack channel.
Learn more about the Cell Phone Jail with Timer.
11. 100 Essential Films Scratch-off Chart
Your last game of Virtual Team Trivia may have revealed that your coworkers are major film buffs, or that your teammates have a long way to go to claim the title of cinefile. Either way, the 100 Essential Films Scratch-off Chart is a fun and interactive poster that helps your coworkers pick out a flick on movie night or show off silver screen knowledge.
Giftees scratch off the movie titles they have watched, revealing a scene from the film beneath the ticket. If your coworkers are not movie maniacs, then you could choose one of Pop Chart’s other designs such as National Parks, Novels, or Baseball Stadiums.
Learn more about the 100 Essential Films Scratch-off Chart.
12. World’s Smallest Uno Card Game
Uno has served as entertainment during many a road trip, rainy day, or family gathering. This version of Uno puts a tiny twist on the beloved classic. The cards are barely one inch tall, smaller than a tube of chapstick. The deck is a cinch to store and carry, taking up minimal space in purses, laptop bags, or glove compartments. The cards are playable, though not easy to shuffle. Fans of miniatures will fawn over this gift; this Uno game is cute and a great conversation starter.
Learn more about World’s Smallest Uno Card Game.
13. Bottles of Taco Bell Sauce
My local Taco Bell is notoriously stingy with sauce. Perhaps your coworkers suffer from the same affliction, or maybe your colleagues want to add a dash of Diablo Sauce to other dishes without having to brave the drive-thru. Whatever the situation, you can deliver deliciousness by gifting bottles of Taco Bell’s signature sauces. Never again will your giftee face the heartbreak of arriving home only to discover a single sauce packet in a bag of burritos.
Learn more about Taco Bell Sauce.
14. Adulting Award Ribbons
Older generations rag on millennials for receiving so many trophies as kids, but honestly, perhaps the problem is not an excess of awards in youth, but a lack of awards for adults. Recognition is important, and every one enjoys a pat on the back from time to time, even for something silly. Adulting Award Ribbons acknowledge the struggle of being a considerate and functioning member of society. The ribbons sport phrases like “I put on pants today,” and “almost didn’t eat chocolate today.” A great way to applaud your coworker from afar.
Learn more about Adulting Award Ribbons.
15. Nessie Ladle
Kooky kitchen accessories are prime choices for white elephant gifts, and a Loch Ness Monster-shaped ladle is one of the cutest kitchen accessories you can find. When dipped into a pot, Nessie’s head extends beyond the surface, giving the illusion that your pot of chicken noodle soup is home to a mythical beast. The ladle stands on its own, meaning no more fishing a dropped handle out of a pot. For a little extra money, you could even buy a family of Nessie Ladles of different sizes.
Learn more about this Nessie Ladle.
More virtual white elephant ideas
Presents are the point of a virtual white elephant swap, but the following extras will make the party a real hit. Here is a list of elements that will elevate your online white elephant swap.
1. Swap Gifts During A Winter Cocktail Party
Ridiculous gifts become even funnier with the addition of adult beverages. Winter Cocktail Party is a fully facilitated virtual event that teaches attendees to make two festive mixed drinks. Guests can either bring all mix-ins, or supply just the alcohol and we will ship a holiday surprise kit containing dry ingredients. Either way, our energetic, elf-host will lead the group through holiday activities and seasonal drinking games. Afterwards, you can move the party to your own Zoom room and commence with the goofy gift exchange.
Learn more about Winter Cocktail Party.
2. Host a Virtual Ugly Sweater Party
Wacky gifts call for tacky attire. The perfect setting for your remote white elephant exchange is a virtual ugly sweater party. When you send invitations, instruct attendees to arrive in gaudy sweaters. Or you could ask guests to wear blank shirts, and construct your own ugly sweaters out of materials like felt, bows, garland, and Christmas lights.
Next, run a contest to determine the most eccentric or creative sweater, and give out prizes. Wrap the party up with the white elephant exchange. Be sure to take plenty of photos throughout by using the capture screen function in your virtual meeting software.
Learn more about how to host a virtual ugly sweater party.
3. Practice Your Present Poker Faces
While your gang gives awesome presents, your employees may receive a dud or two from family, friends, or distant acquaintances. To prepare for these underwhelming presents, practice your present poker faces together as a group.
First, set the scene by telling the team to imagine receiving less-than-stellar gifts like too-small socks, a DVD from the five dollar bin, a hideous pair of pajamas, or obviously re-gifted ancient cosmetics. Next, rehearse phrases like, “I love it,” “can’t wait to try it,” and “Oh, you shouldn’t have.” To cap off the exercise, swap stories of the best and worst presents ever received within the group.
4. Create A Follow-Up Gallery of Recipients Enjoying Presents
Opening gifts is only half the fun of an online white elephant swap; the other half is enjoying the presents. To encourage further bonding and fun, create a team gallery via a cloud-based photo album, social media group, or Slack channel. Next, invite team members to post pictures of the gifts in use. Then, sit back and enjoy the photos of grinning colleagues sipping neon gin, Nessie peeking out from a pot of chili, and quality selfie stick self-portraits.
5. Ready consolation prizes for the early-drawers
White elephant hauls depend heavily on the luck of the draw. The later turn-takers have an advantage, as the last player to unwrap a present could steal literally any item from the exchange. By the same token, the early turn-takers have the worst luck.
Some organizers remedy this bad fortune by allowing the first player one extra turn at the end of the game, a chance to steal any present. An alternative to this method is to prepare surprise consolation prizes to send to the first turn-takers, or any particularly unlucky participants. Receiving an extra present can soften the blow of losing a highly-desired gift.
Virtual white elephant exchanges are wildly entertaining holiday activities, and there is no reason that your remote crew should miss out on the fun. By using a template or trading the swap for a silly version of a virtual Secret Santa, your team can still enjoy the mischievous merriment of a white elephant experience. Add festive cocktails, ugly sweaters, and online games, and you have all the makings of a hilarious online bash.
FAQ: Virtual white elephant exchanges
Here are answers to some of the most common questions about virtual white elephant gift exchanges.
What are virtual white elephant exchanges?
Virtual white elephant swaps are online gift exchanges similar to virtual Secret Santas or Yankee swaps, where participants exchange anonymous presents. The gifts given in virtual white elephant exchanges are usually ridiculous and novel, adding an air of amusement to the affair.
How do you do a virtual white elephant exchange?
There are a couple of ways to do a virtual white elephant exchange. You could either run the trade like a traditional virtual secret Santa, where participants draw pairings and mail presents to recipients before the party. Or you can coordinate a remote Yankee swap where players can steal presents, and participants mail the presents once the festivities conclude. Either way, the unwrapping should take place via video call like WebEx, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams. Planning remote games and online activities during your virtual exchange is another good idea.
What are some good gifts for virtual white elephant exchanges?
The best white elephant gifts are novel and weird but still useful and desirable. Some good gifts for virtual white elephant exchanges include a glowing gin infusing kit, nachosaurus snack and dip set, and world’s smallest Uno card game.
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