My earliest changemaker memory was at the age of seven, when I insisted that my after-school childcare provider recycle paper, or else I would bring it home and recycle it myself.  In my first taste of consequences for speaking up, I was punished by the program directors until my parents came to get me.  Low and behold, my family shlepped home a trunk full of recyclables that week while I cried in the backseat of the car.  I went on to organize relief during the genocide in Darfur (middle school), a food justice summer day camp, my public high school’s first “gay/straight alliance” and then found community organizing in college (and started to be a lot more effective thanks to some amazing mentors).

Most of us learned organizing the slow way.  But it doesn’t have to be that way with learning spreadsheets!  Here are 3 easy tricks that will make your work MUCH easier, so you can get back to changemaking!

“I dub thee…”

If I could teach the world ONE excel trick, it might be this one.  It will probably make a comeback in another post entirely dedicated to Named Ranges, but for now, we are going to focus on one cell.

Let’s say you’re using a formula to help you calculate the budget for your group’s lemonade stand fundraiser.  We’ll keep it simple!  Price per cup + price of ingredients.

You could type in =.05 +.15 into a cell to get an answer.

Named Range3

Or you could type in =B3+B4 (if you already had those numbers in the cells).

But I think the BEST way to do it is to give B3 a name (PricePerCup) and B4 a name (PricePerIngredient) so your formula looks like =PricePerCup+PricePerIngredient but it is actually adding up .05+.15 (or B3+B4).

Then, when someone goes to look at your formula, they will know exactly what you are adding.  This is especially useful if you are doing a long string of calculations.  Wait a second — how do you do that???

In the images below, cell B4 is simply named “B4.”  That doesn’t tell you a whole lot!  In the next image, I went ahead and re-named cell B3 by typing in the box above cell A1.  You can type anything there, as long as you do not use any spaces!!!  Then, you can reference your named cell in any formula.  This is great because if the PricePerCup changes, you can update the number in Cell B3 and all of your formulas will calculate accordingly.

Named Range2        Named Range1

Call me, maybe?

Did you know that you can tell Excel to recognize a phone number and automatically change 9999999999 into (999) 999-9999 format?  Imagine how much time you could save without having to type all of that punctuation.  Even better, if you inherit a list of phone numbers that are formatted improperly, you can change them all over at once!  You will be using a feature in Excel called Format Cells which is how you tell Excel whether to expect numbers, letters, dates, or special formats like Zip Codes or phone numbers.

Look at your Toolbar and make sure you are on the Home tab.  Then, under the Number section of the bar, you will see a drop down menu next to the text “General.”  From here, you can open a special dialogue box that lets you select special number formats.  You can format just one cell, a bunch of cells, an entire column, or even an entire spreadsheet, in any format you want.  Just make sure you select the cells ahead of time that need to be formatted.  Extra tip!  Use the same feature for Zip Code format – and never lose leading zeros in zip code data ever again!


1, 2, count a few… 99, 100

Did you know that Excel will auto-count and auto-sum (and even auto-average) your data without you ever having to enter a single formula?  The trick is to select (click on) the data you want to count/sum/average, and then look at the bottom right of the screen.  Voila! I use this tool every day – and I hope you will, too!

autosum function

I have plenty more Excel tips and tricks up my sleeve, but I’m going to leave you with these three juicy ones to start.  If you try them out, write me a note!  I’d love to hear from you.  And if you get stuck, don’t forget, you can always write to Dear Spreadsheet Whisperer, and she might just feature your question in an upcoming blog post!

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