Before I started hosting charm swaps, I hosted fused glass swaps, sometimes it was fused glass ornaments, sometimes it was a 2" or smaller square that recipients could decide what to do with (magnets, jewelry, etc). This is the 4th or 5th year of the annual charm swap and Beads of Courage benefit auction (on ebay starting November 14th). Every year I learn new things and work to streamline the process because it's a big job.
If you've ever wanted to host an exchange like this, here are a few of my tips and tricks.
1) write a detailed blog post with enough information that people can make an informed decision. Keep in mind people don't read. They skim. So don't jam pack it with too much info.
2) I used to have people just put some cash in the package for return shipping when they mail it to me. However, that was a pain. And since you can pay and print shipping labels online, it makes more sense to have them send money via Paypal.
3) I create a button on Paypal that allows people to choose the domestic or international shipping option. That is how I know they are signing up. For those who don't know you, they may be concerned about sending money that far in advance, but I've never had anyone question it since I started doing it this way.
4) As each person signs up, I add their name, address, email, and blog link to a google drive spreadsheet. As the swap continues, I indicate on the spreadsheet that I've received their charms, their description of their charms for the ebay auction, and any other important information.
5) I created a private Facebook group that is only for those in the charm swap to facilitate communication. And also so I can post teaser photos of charms as they arrive.
6) I include documents in the file section of the Facebook group. The documents include: Shipping Instructions, Dates to Remember, Art Charm Guidelines, and Blog Hop and Reveal Guidelines. I refer participants to these documents and ask them to please read them before emailing with questions.
8) Sorting: I used to gather 10 people into groups and they all got each other's charms. But when someone would drop out, everyone only got to swap with 8 others (because 1 of the charms they get back is always their own). So I changed it where I lay every participant's charms out at the same time. This requires a lot of space! I place a sticky note with each pile of charms. Once I have pulled charms to send that particular person, I remove the sticky note to indicate I've pulled their charms. Doing it this way means they get to swap with 9 other people, and no two people receive the same charms as someone else.
9) Each person's charms are placed into a quart size ziplock bag, and their name written on the outside.
10) Shipping inside the U.S.: I order small flat rate boxes (FREE) from the Post Office. Between flat rate boxes and printing the labels online, shipping domestically is a breeze. It is still time consuming, but much better than it could be otherwise. I batch all the chores to make it go more quickly. First I get all the boxes ready. Second I package up the charms, write the name of the recipient on the outside and tape it closed. Third I print all the labels at once. Fourth, I tape all the labels to the correct box.
11) Shipping international: is so expensive! I use bubble mailers to lower the weight compared to a box and make sure they are wrapped up well in bubble wrap. I do the labels on USPS and print them out there. It saves a little money and is quicker than doing it at the post office. Also, no hand cramp from having to write all that stuff out on the forms.
Once everything is out my door, I breathe a temporary sigh of relief and then bite my nails waiting for everyone to report that their charms arrived.
As part of the swap, each participant is required to donate a charm to be auctioned off to benefit Beads of Courage. That task is even more daunting as it requires taking photos of each charm, editing these photos, writing listings, promotion, fielding questions, collecting payments, and then packaging and shipping those charms off. But that's a post for another day.