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Time for a holiday-themed question.

I lead a small online group in an MMORPG. For the holidays, we decided to exchange gifts ala Secret Santa. As leader, I took it upon myself to organize the whole thing. The mechanics for the gift exchange was that participants would sign up, and they would give a gift of an in-game item to another random participant, and receive a gift from another random participant. We agreed on a budget, drew lots, setup a wishlist so people can get the item they want, and exchanged gifts after a few days.

Now, a few days later, one of the members who signed up for the exchange comes to me, upset, asking if it was OK to give gifts under the budget. She felt that she should have gotten something of equivalent value, as she also gave a gift at the right amount, saying "I gave fairly".

Full disclosure, I never really talked about "rules" with all the participants, like whether the budget was a maximum or a minimum amount [see MAJOR EDIT below], thinking that they would at least give something close to it. However, said member only received a gift that was less than half the budget, and is upset.

I know who gave her the under-budget gift, as I was the one drawing lots, and this person isn't very "wealthy" in-game because he was new (I was even surprised he signed up at all!), though I know he could afford the budget with just a little extra effort on his part.

I am asking because, as the one who organized the secret santa, I feel responsible for the recipient's dissatisfaction, and feel like I should do something to resolve this. The recipient also expects me to resolve this, as I talked with her while writing this question.

I want to communicate to the gift-giver that they should at least give something near the budget, but I'm not sure how to: do I tell him that the recipient got upset? How do I tell him to send something more appropriate (up to budget), without upsetting him, too?


MAJOR EDIT:

I'm sure I will be stepping on toes here, especially at the top voted answer, and I'm sorry for this. All I can say for myself is that I was writing the question tired and flustered at 12 midnight. I said above that I didn't explicitly say whether the budget was a maximum or minimum in the details. Well, now, having had some rest and digging up the chat logs manually, I did explicitly say "at least x" when I messaged everyone individually. So the "budget" I mentioned was a "minimum".


Clarifications from comments:

  • The gifts are all in-game purchased with in-game currency. You can "buy" in-game currency with real money.
  • Compared to the other participants, the giver would have had to spend more, in terms of percentage, of in-game money he currently has. (think, beggar offering 5 coins vs rich man offering 5 coins kind of thing) For most of us who have been playing a while already, the budget is an affordable sum.
  • The gifts are not public, no one would know what you got unless you told everyone.
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    While not an answer to the question -- if you cannot get the giver to give more, then could you as the host offer something that will help close the gap of the received item and the budget? As the one officiating the event, there was the responsibility of making sure that all players could afford the required gift before allowing them to participate. Even if you don't cover the whole difference, I'm sure covering something like half of it or so would make her feel more at ease about the whole thing -- and she'd be grateful you did something to try to help rectify her issue. – user4788 Dec 14 '17 at 7:59
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We agreed on a budget, drew lots, setup a wish list so people can get the item they want, and exchanged gifts after a few days...I want to communicate to the gift-giver that they should at least give something near the budget, but I'm not sure how to: do I tell him that the recipient got upset? How do I tell him to send something more appropriate (up to budget), without upsetting him, too?

I think you can be very straightforward about this by sending out a reminder to all participants repeating the terms of the agreement that was made when people signed up: the amount and the wish list.

This sounds like a voluntary activity. There are two reasons I can think of to sign up, then send an inappropriate gift: lack of understanding about the terms of agreement, and/or a desire to 'game the system', i.e. get more than you give. Then maybe add a generic,

If you happened to misunderstood the terms, now is the time to rectify the situation. Otherwise Secret Santas cause more hurt than joy, which is unfortunate in the spirit of the season.

If this seems like to much to you, say nothing and don't allow the player to do a secret santa in the future. You might consider giving the offended recipient a gift from their wish list as a kindness, and hope you don't get a lot of other complaints.

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Response to Edited Question.
When you say

Compared to the other participants, the giver would have had to spend more, in terms of percentage, of in-game money he currently has. (think, beggar offering 5 coins vs rich man offering 5 coins kind of thing) For most of us who have been playing a while already, the budget is an affordable sum.

It leads me to believe that the giver most likely gave at the level he could afford.

Now if he could not afford the minimum then he should have either A) not joined the secret santa or B) messaged you as the organizer to ask for your advice.

of course there is still a chance he simply misunderstood that it was a minimum..

I personally feel the best option in this case is to message the giver and kindly let him know that the secret Santa has a minimum gift. Something along the lines of

I just wanted to let you know that in our secret Santa we all get gifts that are at least $x. I don't want you to worry, I just wanted to make sure I communicated that well for next time.

If you are concerned that the giver will take offense at that then you can generalize the message and send it to every one. Which may be a good idea since it will show the receiver that you took action to make sure "un-fair" gift giving doesn't happen in future exchanges.

If the giver still doesn't meet the minimum next year (and after a personal reminder to give the minimum) then you may want to consider not letting him participate. But that's a long way off yet.


My original response to the original question is preserved bellow.

Original Response

I would not say anything to the giver. He gave what he thought was appropriate according to the rules/social expectations that he was aware of.

I would apologize to the receiver, telling them something along the lines of "I made a mistake in planning and have learned a valuable lesson, that next time I will be sure to set a maximum and minimum amount."

If the receiver continues to complain just repeat "I'm sorry I'll make sure it doesn't happen in the future."

Good luck

PS
While I answered your main question, I failed to answer some sub questions so here goes:

do I tell him that the recipient got upset?

No he gave correctly according to his understanding of the rules. There is no point in making him feel bad for something he didn't know about.

How do I tell him to send something more appropriate (up to budget), without upsetting him, too?

Don't tell him directly next year just be more specific with the gift instructions stating. That the gift should be between $x and $y amount.

Edit #2 It is my understanding from the question that the receiver felt that the budget number was a minimum (you must give at least this much) the giver saw the same number as a maximum (you must give no more than this amount) So they both acted correctly with in their understanding.

Further more gifts do not have to be, and in fact they are rarely ever equal in value. The point of gift giving is not for me to give you $20 of something and you to give me $20 of something. But rather for me to thoughtfully select/make something I think you will appreciate and give it to you hoping that it brings you some joy. It just so happens that human beings have evolved to have a strong sense of reciprocity so we frequently try to give gifts of equal value. But that reciprocity is not perfect and can vary from situation to situation.

  • Yes, that is totally my fault, there. I should have been clear whether it was a maximum or minimum. As stated, I relied too much on the unspoken social contract that the long-time group had, leaving out the newcomer and assuming he would agree to it, too. – daze413 Dec 12 '17 at 16:51
  • @daze413 Yes I understood that from the question. The receiver felt that the budget number was a minimum (you must give at least this much) the giver saw the same number as a maximum (you must give no more than this amount) So they both acted correctly with in their understanding. – Dan Anderson Dec 12 '17 at 16:53
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    @daze413 Further more gifts do not have to be, and in fact they are rarely ever equal in value. The point of gift giving is not for me to give you $20 of something and you to give me $20 of something. But rather for me to thoughtfully select/make something I think you will appreciate and give it to you hoping that it brings you some joy. It just so happens that human beings have evolved to have a strong sense of reciprocity so we frequently try to give gifts of equal value. But that doesn't hold true in every situation. – Dan Anderson Dec 12 '17 at 16:55
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    @daze413 I've added to the question some which hopefully makes it more complete. Thank you by the way for the question. I've learned some hints about how to do a secret Santa that I didn't know before. – Dan Anderson Dec 12 '17 at 17:00
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    You say human beings have "evolved a strong sense of reciprocity" and expect gift-giving to roughly even out, but this is not a species-wide evolved thing by any means. It is cultural, and expectations about gifts vary by culture. – amalloy Dec 12 '17 at 22:19
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I agree with Dan Anderson's idea, don't say anything and just promise to rectify the situation next year.

In terms of dealing with it next year, I've been running a Secret Santa event with my friends for what will be the 4th year running now.

The way we deal with people not being happy with gifts is in advance, everything is done via a web app I made so this makes things a little easier for us.

This includes a rules page, stating exactly what is an isn't allowed and even picks lots for us with an opt-in/out system. This helps to separate the system with any one person, as we've all read and agreed to the rules and a computer chose who got who.

In terms of the money amount, one of the rules is this:

Total of gift(s) must be within £4-£5. If you really want to spend more nobody will stop you. But expect to get a gift of this rough value.

This has been set low mainly so that people who are poorer can still participate without someone getting annoyed because "they invested more", each person knows exactly what to expect out of the exchange at minimum. If someone were to go massively under (say, £1) words would be had and they'd possibly be removed from the system.

There have been incidents where someone wasn't happy with their gift or we got too much of X, but our system allows easy modifications to a rules page everyone could read. One year we got all mugs, so they've been restricted for now:

Mugs are not allowed as the whole or majority of a gift.

This might sound a bit dictator-y, but it means that the spirit of 'think about your gifts' is kept alive through 'curating' of the whole thing.

I'm not suggesting you code your own web app for Secret Santa (I can drop you on my system next year if you message me), my idea was a bit elaborate if I'm being honest. But you need to have a list of rules somewhere easy to access (a g-doc everyone has the link to, for example) and you need to make sure people have read the rules before participating and understand their minimum obligations.

If anyone does all this and still breaks the rules, deal with that depending upon severity. For an issue in budgeting, having a quick word so they understand what they need to do next year is best. If they do it again, kick them out.

I'd also consider lowering your minimum budget or giving some leeway on the amount (I personally recommend £5 for Secret Santa's), you don't want your poorest users to be left out in fun events. You could even have tiered lots with different amounts. The point is just to buy someone a token of appreciation rather than an amazing gift in my opinion.

  • Although this is a very good addition to @DanAndersons answer, it isn't really an answer to the question here (which is 'how do I talk to the gift-giver'). This is advice the OP can use next year/next time, not now. – Tinkeringbell Dec 13 '17 at 10:30

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