Monday, August 9, 2010

Does Your Mail Merge?

When I first started my job working for a nonprofit organization, I did a lot of secretarial tasks, many of which were unlike things I had done before.  Instead of writing a letter here and a letter there, I needed to be able to do batches of letters and address labels for mailings.  Frustration quickly set in since my previous experience with letter writing was on electric typewriters in high school and computers gained popularity after I went to school and while I was employed in jobs that didn't use computers.  I had been collecting the addresses in Microsoft Excel and absolutely loved being able to sort them as needed.  There had to be some brilliant way to get those lovely, organized addresses to hop over to Microsoft Word so I could use them.  The programs are made by the same company, so surely they must work together somehow.

To the younger crowd who are giggling at me right now - stop it....you just don't understand.  You probably already know the solution to this dilemma.    I've always been known for my ability to research and was quite talented in using the card catalog (younger folks may need to click on that for an explanation).  Fortunately, my skills adapted well to the Internet and I Googled my way to a solution for my project.

Mail Merge  -  This amazing process will take information from your spreadsheet in Excel and merge (insert) it into your Word document.  I stumbled across a site called MIStupid.com (read the name slowly to get the joke) and they had a tutorial on using the Mail Merge feature.

Originally, I just wanted to put names and addresses into letters, but there is so much more you can do with it.  It can be used to make bunches of awards certificates or gift certificates at once (just enter the appropriate info into your spreadsheet).  I have also used it to make audition sheets for our students when they try out for our annual musical.  I type their first name, last name, age, height, dorm, and therapist into the spreadsheet.  When merged into the audition form, everything is ready to go and we don't have to have the students fill out the sheets anymore (you try deciphering teenage handwriting!).  I have Mail Merge to create donation receipts, auction forms, thank you letters, gift tags, and a million other things.

Whether you're planning a wedding and need to do a lot of address labels or you're a teacher who needs to print out some awards certificates, you NEED to learn how to do this.  If your Etsy shop is fortunate enough to have a lot of orders, you can use this as well.  Etsy and Paypal allow you to download your order information as a CSV file.  These can be opened in Excel and then you can merge them into whatever forms, reports, and documents you need. 

Now that you know about this little trick, you might be a little more skeptical the next time you receive a "personalized" letter (unless it's handwritten)....  "Dear ______,  We'd like to congratulate you on the purchase of _____...."     I'd be happy to help you figure out your mail merge project - feel free to ask me anything.



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