Welcome back to The Mail Merge Are Alright, #4 in a series about how to pull-off Mail Merges for your changemaking needs. If you are just tuning in, check out previous posts,
- Merge, baby, merge! (in Google Sheets!)
- Mail Merge and the Office, Sweet!
- The Mail Merges Are Alright
This week, an introduction to Conga, a tool (on top of Salesforce) that lets you merge data from a database into Docusign contracts, Word docs, Excel Spreadsheets, and more!
A few weeks ago, I found myself smack-dab in the middle of a tech industry conference, where self-help speakers and entrepreneurs gathered to make regular-old people like me feel like we were on the cutting edge of something big. I was hoping that that “something big” was toppling the ruling class, but it was actually just “document automation” which is a fancy word for Mail Merge.
I was at Conga Connect, a conference for people who use the platform Conga, which allows you to take data from your database and merge it into a spreadsheet, word document, contract, etc and send it off for signatures, or save it in Dropbox, or auto-send it for approval, all in the click of a button. Plus, you can add in formatting, subtotals, fonts, colors, etc – and Conga will take your most recently up-to-date data from your database and merge it into a trusty template that you design. The main thing that makes Conga different from a traditional mail merge is that you can merge in entire rows of data, not just substituting “Name” or “Area of Interest.”
Ok, so here I was… at a conference all about “driving sales” and “closing deals,” deep in the belly of the “business as usual” beast. Yet another example of learning the “master’s tools” to figure out how to dismantle the “master’s house” (h/t Audre Lorde).
I really had to put on my thinking cap to learn the ins and outs of Conga so that I could take data at work and turn it into meaning. (Fortunately, I learned enough to Earn a Conga Certification!). Moreover, what I want to accomplish in this blog post is to turn that knowledge into examples that are relevant to social movements and grassroots orgs everywhere!
Putting Conga to work @ work
A lot of what I do (when I’m not blogging!) is taking data from their “home” in our Salesforce database, and smoosh them around so that they look different, get added up in a certain way, or get spit out in a new format, whether that is a Word version of a proposal (submitted online) or an Excel version of budget numbers (managed as Payments in the database) or narrowing down search results using filters to see just a few examples at a time.
Here are some quandaries I’ve tackled lately (all merges!)
- We just approved 55 grants. Now, we need to generate 55 custom grant agreements. Sound like a case for Mail Merge! Furthermore, we need a table for “grant special conditions.” If there is a condition, populate the table. If not, remove the table entirely.
A traditional Mail Merge could easily populate the data, or leave the table blank if there were no conditions, however, I wouldn’t know how to remove the table entirely without using a tool like Conga.
- We need to merge all grant payments into a spreadsheet to send to the finance department. We also need to do some math and show percents.
In a traditional Mail Merge, I could easily merge in the grant payments. But I wouldn’t know how to add up the data that *hasn’t been merged yet.* There could be one payment or 100! Good thing Conga has a feature for that. It’s called Dynamic Formulas.
- Each grant has goals and deliverables. We need to merge them into a Word document and sort them in order of the goal’s target completion date.
In a Mail Merge, I can take the data “as is” and merge it into a document. However, if I need to group or sort the data (especially in Microsoft Word), I wouldn’t really know where to begin. Luckily, there’s a Conga feature that lets you sort how your merge data show up.
Why movements might want to try out more elaborate merges
- Donor acknowledgement: At the end of the year, your organization may send out letters detailing donations for donors to include in their tax deductions. This is an excellent example of using a Merge not only for <<First Name>> or <<Address>> but for entire “tables” of information (for example, “Here’s a list of all of the donations you made this year!”) You might also use this if you are thanking “in kind” donors for contributing food or other resources for your convergence or retreat.
- Annual report: Not all orgs do them, but annual reports are a great way to showcase what you’ve accomplished. You may need to merge and group data into different categories.
- Metrics: At one organization where I worked, we would spend hours every week measuring our outreach goals and efforts and benchmarking metrics. (Now, they are almost fully automated!). If you are pulling the same reports every so often (whether that is fundraising data, communications data, projections, client visits, etc), and then those exports need to be re-formatted (like changing the colors and fonts, or adding graphs or subtotals), you could actually build a template, sub out the data, and be done! We do this using Conga, but you could do it using an Excel template, or for more tough cases, a Macro.