Ladies, Gentlemen, Gender Revolutionaries, <<Insert First Name Here>>,
Sometimes I know exactly what I want to write about because a spreadsheet feature is so awesome that I just have to share. Other times, I wait for inspiration to strike. Then there are the times, like now, where I am just wandering around, minding my own business, when the Mail Merge tool jumps out of the social movement technology ether and BEGS to be written about. Who am I, cape-wearing, spreadsheet whisperer, to say no? MM, you had me at, “Hello Samantha.”
Why am I writing about Mail Merge?
Maybe it’s because …
- EQAT (my environmental justice main squeeze) asked me to help with creating a mail merge for their Spring Appeal fundraising letter (join me in donating) …
- … or because I worked with a team of brilliant social movement strategists to match, merge and email-intro Student Organizers and Coaches during the National Student Walkout …
- … or because I’m just returning from a conference dedicated to merging data and I earned a fancy, new certification …
but Mail Merges are a fantastically useful tool and they are here to stay, love ’em or hate ’em. Hold onto your hats, dear readers, because it’s time for a wild ride on the MM Express… all April long. Yep, you read that right: April is Mail Merge Appreciation Month at TDAA! (I’ll still be blogging about other topics, but I have a bunch of posts up my sleeve dedicated MM… and I’m pretty excited to share them with you).
Anatomy of a Mail Merge
If you’ve ever gotten a fundraising letter or a marketing email with your name in the subject line, then you’ve received an email that was the result of a Mail Merge. There are lots of sophisticated ways to do merges in organizing and (for better or for worse) in marketing. Mail Merges really become useful when you are making dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of versions of a document, each one personalized for different people.
What makes a merge, well, emerge?
(Seriously, <<First Name>>, come for the puns, stay for the data tips!) There are three main parts of any merge:
- Your file The first step is writing whatever needs to be personalized. Is it a fundraising ask? A call to action? A receipt? Labels or envelopes? Are you merging more than names and addresses — what about a line about the last time that person took action with you? Of course it would have to be different for every person. If you want to plug ANY of that info into your letter, first you’ll need a draft. Then, you’ll identify where custom merge info will be located.
1a. There is an under-appreciated step here where you have to make something called “Merge Fields” in your document (we’ll cover that in another post).
- Your Recipients List Here’s all the information that will get merged in. Usually it’s a contact list (Name, Address, etc) but you could technically merge anything as long as it is organized in a spreadsheet format. Your Mail Merge tool (Microsoft Office, Google Drive or other) will merge these data into your document, email, envelope, or anywhere you want!
- Results Once you complete Step 1 and Step 2, then, presto-change-o, you can use the Mail Merge wizard to make auto-create versions of your doc, customized for each person on your recipients list.
Out of the “Office” and into the “Sheets”
Ya see what I did there? Lots of folks automatically associate MM with Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Word (part of the “Office Suite”), but there are LOTS of online tools for simple and effective Mail Merges. Later in this mini-series, I’ll be talking about tools like “GMass” and “Yet Another Mail Merge” which integrate with Google Sheets and Gmail. “E-marketing” platforms like MailChimp or Constant Contact perform Mail Merges too!
Why Changemakers Should Embrace Mail Merge
You may be thinking, “Mail Merge sounds fine and all, but what does it have to do with social justice?” (or maybe you’re like me and you’re just thinking about eating donuts when Passover ends, no judgement!) I searched the internet high and low for resources on MM (and to be sure, there are lots of good ones out there), but most are written with examples from business and marketing. I want to make resources that serve our movements and feature our campaign stories.
I want to make these resources so that we can spend more time calling CEOs and Congresspeople and less time addressing envelopes, “Save-As”-ing letters, and copying and pasting emails (with mistakes!). You know what I’m talking about!
For me, the hardest part of learning new technology can be wrapping my head around “what’s out there” and selecting the right tool. During the next few weeks, we’ll review MM with Microsoft Office, Google Drive, and fancy, third-party merge tools. You’ll know the lay of the land so that when it comes time to make the merge-of-your-dreams, you’ll know where to start.
Do you merge?
Leave a below comment about how you use (or want to use) Mail Merge!