Co-authors and co-conspirators:
Nicole Carty, Thaís Marques, Howie Stanger, Colin McWatters, and Mia Lei


Welcome back to The Mail Merge Are Alright, #3 in a series about how to pull-off Mail Merges for your changemaking needs.  If you are just tuning in, check out previous posts, The Mail Merges Are Alright and Mail Merge and the Office, Sweet!  Today, I’ll be covering how to use exclusively online tools (no Microsoft required!) to make the merges of your dreams.  This might be especially useful for you if a) your data are already online (for example, in a Google Sheet) or b) you don’t have a license to use Microsoft Office.

The revolution will be mail merged

If you know me in real life, you can imagine my delight when Thaís and Nicole reached out to me about how they were assembling a Coaching Network to support National Student Walkout student organizers and they needed help with some data stuff.  Specifically, they needed to take a list of Coaches and a list of Student Organizers and auto-send introduction emails.  Given that we were collaborating on this project remotely and we were scattered literally across the country, we did all of the work “in the cloud” (meaning online, not in Microsoft Word!).  This project was a joint effort between me, Howie, Colin, Mia, Nicole and Thaís – and each contributed to this blog post over the last month of de-briefing.

Buckle your seatbelts as we take you through the work we did to Merge and Send hundreds of emails – a sneak peak “behind the scenes” of movement building.

The first sheet is the deepest

As always, the first thing we had to do was assemble and clean data.  We collected our data primarily through free tools offered by Google – Mia took the lead here, and what a phenomenal job she did!  Our network of experienced movement leaders volunteered to serve as a coach by filling out a Google form, where we collected contact information, gender, city, and state. 

At the same time, we recruited student organizers who were taking action in their community, especially folks who sought extra support (all credit goes to Thaís and Nicole for this outreach – we owe them a round of applause and a rootbeer float!).  The student organizers could join the coaching network by filling out a separate form facilitated in part by Women’s March, and circulated widely on social media platforms where “young people these days” are hanging out.  We asked for more detailed information about what kind of support they needed to pull of their actions.  Beyond that, we limited our data collection as much as possible to maintain student safety and privacy.   Colin use INDEX MATCH functions, VLOOKUPs and some really cool logic (which we’ll have to save for a different post, unfortunately…) to match up Coaches and Student Organizers.  It kind of knocked my socks off, tbh.  #dataswoon  But all the matching in the world was a moot point without a way to mass introduce Student Organizers to their Coaches.

You’re the one that I want

For this project, we weren’t just Mail Merging into a document (like I did in last week’s post), but rather – we were MM-ing directly into an email and sending it off into the inboxes of, well, some of you!!  If you thought you were getting a personal email, I’m sorry to burst your bubble.  

None of us had ever done this exact kind of MM before, so Howie and I did some research so that we could recommend an appropriate platform to manage our MMing.  We took into consideration a few different criteria (ease of use, price, deliverability, compatibility with Google Sheets) and we decided to use GMass.  Some other options were YAMM (Yet Another Mail Merge) and an e-newsletter type of tool like MailChimp or Constant Contact.  (We’re not endorsing these platforms, just want to give you an idea of what else is out there).  GMass let us insert the email text right into a regular, old Gmail email. Some of the other tools out there are more visually engaging (colorful background, drag and drop design elements like photos and sidebar text, etc), but we worried that those fancy emails could get caught in spam filters.  Plus, we didn’t really need any e-marketing bells and whistles.

Merge, baby, merge

According to Howie (who did a lot of the work here, what a champion!) GMASS was incredibly simple to use, since it integrated directly to our Gmail and Google Drive accounts.  GMASS placed a button in the Gmail account that allowed us to select the Google Sheet with all of our contacts and emails.  Once selected, it loaded up all the recipient emails (in our case, emails were in column A) in the “To:” section. We wrote our email, and were able to insert our custom form fields {Coach Name}, {Coach Email Address} right into the email text.  The best part was how the GMASS integration created an alternate “Send” button in our Gmail interface, which made the email look like a personal one, not cc’ed or bcc’ed to a large group. 

Here’s a GIF from GMass that demonstrates the process we went through… just not with so much of a social justice agenda.sheets

Do you ever have to send out emails that are basically the same except “Dear ____” and a first line that’s customized?  (For example… Great to see you at the action last week!  or Thanks for agreeing to volunteer as our [INSERT VOLUNTEER ROLE HERE]).  You could use this tool to automate your emails!  Just type all the customization in a spreadsheet, then “map” your columns into the body of your email and then use GMASS to trigger your personalized emails.  It’s like magic – except it’s real!

Implications and caveats

Mail Merge is a powerful tool, and with great power comes great responsibility.  While there’s a lot to be gained when automating emails, letters, envelope labels, etc — there’s also plenty at stake – losing personal touch, privacy concerns, and potential for mistakes (what if you merge the wrong data and send out misinformation?).  When I was writing this post, I started to think “dude, this is kinda creepy technology” and it does get into the territory of “can we really use the empire’s tools to dismantle the empire?” (paraphrasing Audre Lorde here) since MM is so, so, so prominent within “industry” and marketing and capitalism.

I genuinely DO think that there’s real benefits to using this technology for changemakers, especially since, for example, experts say that including someone’s name in the subject line of an email can increase their likelihood of opening the email by as much as 50%.  There are LOTS of hacks out there to write the perfectly-open-able email subject, and I think there’s truth there for changemakers especially in fields like communications and fundraising.  But no amount of hacking in the world is going to make people take action without the substance of a real relationship or life experience backing up that Call to Action.

That’s what made the Mail Merge for the National Student Walkout so special – it was literally match-making in a way that could start plant a seed for those relationships and mentorships.  We simply didn’t have the capacity to make those introductions without using an automation tool – so I’m glad we learned how to do this and I’m so glad, too, that we can share it with all of you.

2 thoughts on “Merge, baby, merge! (in Google Sheets!)

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