Let me introduce you to my friend Shira.  She’s an organizing rockstar with the Caucus of Working Educators in Philadelphia.  She’s a compassionate and dedicated public school teacher.  Rumor has it, she’s a big fan of this baked chicken with olives recipe.  But her spreadsheets are causing her headaches and … the data aren’t alright!

How can we make better sign-in sheets that minimize the work for organizers and maximize our capacity to follow up?  I have 4 ideas to share, after spending countless hours swimming in sign ups.  These are tried and true.  They will save you time.  They are respectful towards your sign-up-ees.  And they are easy to implement right away.

Go digital

Consider passing around a device* where people can sign in.  Then your sign-in sheet with ALREADY be a spreadsheet so 90% of the work is done.  You can even use a pre-made Google Form contact list TEMPLATE (screenshot at the bottom of the post) to make it super easy to manage and administer!

Pros:  Quick, don’t have to decipher handwriting, you can follow-up email everyone super easily!, you can make info required

Cons:  Can be distracting, only works if your group is comfortable with technology, you would have to have a device ready to use

Keep in mind:  Save your response doc with a good name, so that you can remember which meeting or event your person attended later!  Have a plan for translating that info into your database, master contact list, email list, or other Single Source of Truth after the fact.

Google Form Template

Check and mate

Create some checkboxes on your paper or electronic form to make data collection easier for you AND your guests.  This should alert you to important follow ups after the meeting/event so that you can maximize your time!  Some that I really like are:

  • I am already on your list! (don’t fill out the rest of the form after name/email)
  • My phone number/address have changed
  • I have a question – please follow up with me

When you are processing your data, you can ignore your “already on your list people” (except for a headcount!), and focus on the people in your other categories, or people who didn’t check off any boxes at all.

What’s in a name?

Names.  We all have ’em.  Let’s talk about them!

  • Are you making a paper sign-in form?  Make the name and email boxes nice and long.  You might have a short name, but many people (especially people from cultural and ethnic traditions that aren’t White/Protestant/Western European) have lengthy names and they shouldn’t have to squish!  Plus, you’ll have an easier time reading.  I really don’t understand this obsession with making sign-in sheets so condensed.  You need multiple pages anyway!
  • I encourage people to do data entry with a separate column for First Name and Last Name.  Why?  Well, it’s a data best practice.  Plus, later on you might want to use the Mail Merge function to write “Dear [First Name]” emails, so even though you can split up First and Last later, you might as well do it now.

Okay, so you gathered your data (either by paper or electronic form) and now you have it in some type of spreadsheet (google or Excel).  Great!  Now what?

Excel magic!

  • Use the PROPER function to turn names in Capitalized First Letter Form.  Some people type in all lowercase.  Why?  I don’t know.  But these people are hiding among us and it’s best to let Excel take care of it so that we don’t hold a grudge against these people.  After you use the Proper function, all of your Names Will Be Properly Capitalized.  (Coming soon… proper blog post with more detail about this function!  In the mean time, follow that link to another resource)
  • Use the TRIM function to erase any “spaces” if they are the last character in a name.  For example, if I typed “Bayard Rustin .”  (see that space before the period?  EW GROSS MAKE IT GO AWAY!)  It’s very hard and annoying to tell if people did that unless you copy and paste.  Instead, save yourself the hassle and just use the TRIM function to slice it off!  It will only cut off spaces, don’t worry about amputating last letters.
  • You can even use a VLOOKUP function to figure out who is new to your list!  I am going to save this lesson for a different post, but if you are curious, ask the Spreadsheet Whisperer and she just might write you back!

One thought on ““I want a sign-in sheet that *does the work for me!*”

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