hello pals near and far! I am bursting with excitement (you know me) so I am going to cut to the chase here: Today, I am ready to launch a special new project that has been incubating since JUNE! I am creating a YouTube channel and open source repository dedicated to the art of mail merge. Not just any mail merge, mind you, but complex mail merge solutions using two software platforms: Salesforce Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP) and Conga Composer (paid, third-party platform integrated with Salesforce).
Here’s something you don’t see very often in these parts… MY FACE!!! Check out the 5 min promo video that I DIY filmed and edited in my home studio (ahem spare bedroom). And if you really want to make me smile, go ahead and subscribe to the channel! The first technical video is also already live, with more in progress.
What is mail merge, anyway?
If you’ve ever received a fundraising letter from Greenpeace (hi, Greenpeace tech team if you are reading this!), then you’ve seen the result of a mail merge. Basically, we can use spreadsheets to feed data into a letter template so that each letter can be printed with “Dear so-and-so” (replace so-and-so with real names) without having to manually edit each letter. Letters are probably the simplest mail merge example, but there are many more complex scenarios out there, like merging personalized report cards, program sign in sheets, or fundraising dociers.
Mail merge is a powerful tool for automating and personalizing extremely tedious documents!
“But I’m here for spreadsheets”
Fair ’nuff! I’m not going to post on the blog a whole lot with Conga Composer videos. Why? Well, Conga Composer is expensive and lots of blog readers (maybe you?) are here to learn about tools that are available to everyone. I know Conga Composer is a niche app, so I’m going to keep most of the stuff on YouTube instead of here. However, I think Conga Composer (and other products like it) are popular enough with nonprofits and grassroots orgs that there is a big potential for impact by doing this work.
Why focus on mail merge?
Let’s face it – document automation (the fancy “industry” word for mail merge) is tricky, time consuming, and expensive. So, lots of nonprofits use it the bare minimum amount and with lots of dread. Sound familiar? I know year-end donations and tax season are around the corner, and my nonprofit fundraising friends are going to grit their teeth through it. My POV? It doesn’t need to be so bad! With some advance planning, technical support, and elbow grease, we can share resources with tried and true mail merge methods so that nonprofiteers can spend more time feeling empowered than frustrated.
That’s why I’m so, so excited to create a venue for solving thorny mail merge issues that can help ANYONE and EVERYONE leverage apps like NPSP and Conga Composer. My not-so-secret dream is to expand beyond Conga Composer one day, but this is the first bite and it’s already an ambitious undertaking!
How it works
I have been brainstorming the kinds of mail merge requests that transcend any solo nonprofit. Each of these ideas will eventually become:
- An Issue – In Github, an Issue is like an item in a to-do list. They can be big feature requests, enhancements, or bugs. Issues are how I track progress on the project. Best yet, other people can contribute THEIR ideas to solving an issue!
Visit my list of open issues here.
- A Solution – In Conga Composer, a Solution is a bundle of directions that feeds data, templates, and preferences into the tool to execute a mail merge download. You create different Solutions for different mail merge types. For example, you could have one for “Donor Profile” and one for “Donation Acknowledgment.”
View list of solutions in the Github repo home page – each solution has its own folder and subfiles.
- A Video – After I have a Solution built in my dev org and I am happy with it, I will record and edit a video that explains how it works. These videos will be posted on my YouTube channel. A video is the conclusion of a LOT of work!
View YouTube channel here.
In four years of experience wrangling document automation solutions, I’ve learned a few very important lessons:
- Technical stuff – oh yeah, tons! But I’m going to save that for the videos, which you can subscribe to here.
- Learning these platforms takes dedication – I want to share what I’ve learned to reduce the frustration that many of us experience when we try to get systems to “talk” to each other and spit out perfectly formatted documents, spreadsheets, emails, or slides. Enough is enough! Join me – I have LOTS of ideas to share about how to make mail merge processes silky smooth.
- We have common struggles, common needs, and common potential – there are so many technical functions that are common across most/all nonprofits, from donation acknowledgment letters to annual tax letters to pulling data for an annual report. If we can build these solutions and share them, then we can stop “reinventing the wheel.”
- Build it once, share it online, adapt it forever – every time I build something really cool in Conga Composer, I feel like it is sequestered in a Salesforce org, never to see the light of day again. I want to enable more people to follow my instructions and “paste” the solution into their Salesforce instance. The project I’ve designed allows many collaborators to share Conga Composer best practices!
- Never enough nonprofit examples – I have spent hours pouring over documentation for Conga Composer and other mail merge tools, and most of them use examples based on business concepts like invoices, contracts, purchase orders, etc. While some nonprofits operate like this, most of us are on different data model(s) and use different metaphors to describe our work. Examples that get at those pain points would help so, so much!
- I’m incredibly excited by open source technology and I’m striving to make this project as transparent and collaborative as possible by leveraging Github as my project management and documentation tool.
the fine print
It feels important to me to say very directly that there’s no exchange of $$ between me and Conga, and all of the resources that I am creating are going to be absolutely free and released at the pace of passion. Conga has agreed to provide free access to their product for use in this project and some staff have been generous in sharing their marketing expertise and help me get the word out about my videos. I have no ambitions to write sponsored blog posts and everything that I share about Conga Composer will be my honest opinion.