How to Organize an Office Gift Exchange

Every business holiday party is different, but they all seem to have a common factor: the office gift exchange. And whether you have a small office or an enormous company, organizing the office gift exchange can be even tougher than planning the holiday party itself. We’ll break down the two most common types of gift exchanges, the Secret Santa and the White Elephant, into step-by-step guides to make the planning process easier. After all, an office gift exchange should be a fun experience, not work!

Office Gift Exchange: The Secret Santa

office gift exchange

A Secret Santa gift exchange is a bit more basic than a White Elephant. Simply toss everyone’s name into a hat (or find another way to organize a fair drawing) and have everyone draw a name. Typically, this works best for smaller businesses since the employees are much more likely to know each other. Here  are some tips for putting together a Secret Santa office gift exchange:

1. When you send out your office holiday party invitations, make sure you specify there will be a Secret Santa gift exchange. Some people may not be interested in participating or won’t be able to afford the extra cost, so make it clear that participation is optional.

2. If you’d like to help people with their gift selection, you can suggest a theme….gag gifts, work-related necessities or items for the home are common suggestions. If someone is stumped on what to buy the person whose name they drew, having some guidance will help.

3. Set a spending limit! This will not only help people budget, but will help keep people from feeling a little bitter if they spent $40 on a gift and received something worth $5. A safe spending limit is usually $10 or $20, but use your best judgment based on your line of work and everyone’s salaries.

4. Decide how you will go about opening your gifts at the party. You may set aside a designated time and have everyone open theirs together, or you may choose to let your co-workers decide when you exchange their gifts.

5. Make sure you keep a list or spreadsheet listing the names everyone has drawn, just in case someone forgets!

Office Gift Exchange: The White Elephant

The White Elephant gift exchange is a little bit more complicated than a Secret Santa, but it can be a lot of fun if people use their creativity and strategy. There are several different variations of this gift exchange. Here are the basic rules:

1. Everyone brings an inexpensive gift to the party… again, specify on your invitations that there will be a White Elephant exchange and set a spending limit. The gifts can have a set theme, or you can leave it up to your colleagues to be creative.

2. All gifts should be wrapped with no outside markings. You shouldn’t know who the gifts are from, what they are ,or who they are for.

3. Everyone places the gift they brought into a present pile.

4. Everyone draws a number  out of a Santa hat.

5. Whoever draws number 1 gets to go first and pick the gift of their choice.

6. Number 2 can either pick another gift or “steal” an unwrapped gift. If an unwrapped gift is “stolen,” the person it is stolen from can then “steal” or pick a wrapped gift. However, you can’t steal back a gift that has been stolen from you.

7. The next person’s turn occurs after a wrapped gift is open.

8. The game ends when all gifts are unwrapped and everyone has a present.

Those are the basic mandatory rules of a White Elephant gift exchange. The following rules and variations are optional, used to add a little spice to the game:

1. You can divide up gifts between males and females. This may be appropriate for larger offices to break up the length of the game.

2. A gift can not be “stolen” more than twice or three times. So whoever steals it second or third is the final owner.

3. All gifts must be kept in plain sight.

4. Whoever steals a gift must admit something embarrassing about themselves or owes their co-worker a cup of coffee.

5. Whoever draws # 1 gets the power to steal any gift he or she desires when the exchange is over.

Gift Ideas for the Office Gift Exchange

So, you’ve decided which style of office gift exchange will be best for your company, planned the party and gotten the word out to your co-workers… now what do you get? Even if you know your Secret Santa recipient well or your White Elephant gift exchange has a theme, coming up with gift ideas can be a challenge. Let this list of gift ideas, from thoughtful to whacky, inspire you:

  •  A calendar for the following year
  • A gift card to the local favorite coffee shop or restaurant
  • A t-shirt with a funny saying, like “Baby on Board” or “I’m With Stupid”
  • A pretty knick knack for their desk
  • A hand-knit scarf or gloves
  • A picture frame
  • A collection of Lotto tickets and Scratch tickets
  • A mixed CD with all the person’s favorite songs
  • Candles
  • A cookbook with homemade cookies
  • A naughty romance novel
  • DVDs
  • A coffee mug with packets of tea and cocoa
  • A de-stress kit with a cooling mask, calming candle and sugar scrub with essential oils
  • An actual stuffed white elephant

Use these ideas, tips and rules to organize the office gift exchange at this year’s holiday party. Have a fun, memorable holiday season! Still in need of company holiday cards? has plenty of options, from professional to playful, for your company holiday party invites.

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