Today’s post is inspired by the plans the women’s ministry team at my church is making for a February connection event.
As covid numbers in our area continue to surge, the team felt it best to plan a virtual gift exchange for February so that all women could participate.
Whether you’re also meeting primarily online or if you’re able to meet in-person, I think you’ll find this post on how to host a gift exchange helpful.
While we often relegate gift exchanges to Christmas fellowships, gift exchanges can be done throughout the year. Sometimes a gift outside of the Christmas season is even more appreciated!
A gift exchange, virtual or in-person, can be a great tool for encouraging women to connect and love on one another.
Though the team hasn’t finalized all of the exchange plans, I thought it might be helpful for me to share what I’ve learned in my research.
You (or your team) will need to decide:
- How information will be collected
- How gifts will be distributed
- How the giver will be revealed
- What the spending limit will be
Let’s walk through a few options for each of these decisions.
I’m a logistics-girl, but even the details of coordinating a gift exchange were throwing me for a loop. I was hoping there was a simple solution online that could be used as-is or adapted.
Basically, you’ve got three options:
- Use an online name generator that does it all – collect emails, send out names, and some include a wish list option. Easy for you to manage but may be difficult for some women to use.
- Use an online name generator to create a master list that you send out. A little more work for your exchange coordinator, but it keeps all of the info in-house and is easiest for your women.
- Create your own list of names. This option can be a lot of work if your group is large. You’ll need to be careful that you don’t forget anyone.
Online Name Generators
I asked the Women’s Ministry Toolbox Community Facebook group leaders if anyone had used an online gift exchange website or app, and a couple of suggestions were shared. I discovered there’s no shortage of online Secret Santa generators, but they are all Christmas or Santa-themed. (If you find a gift exchange name generator that’s not Christmas-themed, please let me know so I can add a link for other leaders here.)
I decided to create a test account with DrawNames.com to see how it worked. It was pretty straightforward to use, and it sends out reminder emails if women have not clicked the link to draw a name. It also prompts women to create a wishlist; however, they can only choose from items on the site (I’m relatively certain they receive a commission on ordered items). While that can be a convenient option, and Christian gifts were available, it also felt a bit spammy. And some women may not feel comfortable entering their information on a site unrelated to your church.
Another alternative option is this name generator. There’s no sign up required. The organizer enters all the names and then receives a link to send each participant that reveals who will be the recipient of their gift. While it may require a little more work for someone on your team, it’s the simplest solution for a group concerned about women struggling with a new piece of technology.
Before you make a final decision, consider whether you’ll want your women to register their information on a website rather than keeping things in-house. You’ll want to check to make sure they don’t get spammed with emails. And you’ll want to know if you can easily re-send links.
Creating Your Own List of Names
If you have a small group, I’d recommend skipping the online generators and randomly assigning givers and receivers yourself. Alternatively, you could use an online generator to create a master list that you send out yourself.
Once you’ve decided how you’ll match your group members, you’ll need to gather everyone’s contact information.
You will want to collect each person’s:
- Email address (to communicate details)
- Mailing address (for gift delivery)
- Wishlist or favorite things list (if desired)
A Google Form could be used to collect the information above. It’s easy to share a link to the final spreadsheet with all participants.
Our church’s team has discussed asking participants to share a few of their favorite things. You might want to ask them to share their snack food, restaurant for lunch, and color.
To encourage as many women to participate as possible, you’ll want to make gift distribution as easy as you can.
Virtual exchange suggestions:
- Ask women to drop gifts off on the front porch (you may want to have them send a text after they drive away, so the gift is retrieved quickly).
- Invite women to mail their gifts.
- Invite women to ship their gift directly from the online retailer.
- Host a drive-up drop-off and separate drive-thru pick-up times at the church.
- To keep the giver a secret, instruct women to use the church address for the return address.
In-person exchange suggestions:
- If you have space, set up a drop-off and pick up station in a secure location, preferably one that can be manned and locked.
- Invite women to bring their gifts, wrapped and tagged, to an event and have them place their gift on a table as they walk in the door.
- You could also distribute the gifts randomly at your event (no need to assign names) by drawing numbers or playing a Left Right Game.
Whatever you choose, make sure your instructions are clear.
Gift Reveal Ideas
There’s something about secretly shopping for someone that makes gift exchanges fun!
Virtual Gift Reveal Ideas:
- If your group is smaller and all of your participants would fit on the Zoom screen together, you could open them at the same time on a Zoom call. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll want to encourage women to use their computer and not their phone (or they’ll see a much smaller number of participants). This option is great for Bible studies and small groups that are already meeting regularly online.
- You could ask the giver to reveal themselves in a card placed inside the gift. If your women are shipping the gift, remind them to include a note with their name on the gift receipt.
In-Person Gift Reveal Ideas:
- Place a card on top of or inside the wrapped gift.
- If it’s a small group, you could have everyone guess the giver after they have opened their gift.
I’m sure you want as many group members to participate as possible. Please remember to be sensitive to women who may live paycheck to paycheck or have a small line item in their budget for discretionary spending.
I did a quick survey online, and most leaders shared they set a $5 or $10 budget (not including any shipping fees). One group even hosted a Dollar Tree Gift Exchange – all gifts had to be purchased from the Dollar Tree.
Encourage women to be creative. You may want to allow handmade gifts.
Expensive gifts can also detract from the purpose – showing love to one another. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)
Final Gift Exchange Thoughts
I know that was a lot of information, and I hope I haven’t deterred you from hosting a gift exchange.
Once you work through the logistics, I think you’ll find women are excited to bless each other with a small gift.
Unlike year-long Secret Sister programs, a one-time gift exchange may be an easier “yes” for many of your women.
Don’t forget to take time during your reveal to point women to the greatest gift – Jesus.
And if you’d like to select a theme for your gift exchange, you’ll want to check out my post 28 Gift Exchange Theme Ideas. It includes Christian themes and general themes.
You may also want to check out:
28 Gift Exchange Theme Ideas
Virtual Women’s Ministry Resources
How to Host a Virtual Bible Study
20 Virtual Ladie’s Night Out Ideas
10 Tips for Better Video Meetings
How to Host an Online Game Night