December 28, 2012

Sharpening the Digital Saw: Mail Merge

By: Peter Ildefonso

In the conservative movement one of the rarest titles you will see will be a full time IT staff member. The company has to be large, resources have to be available, and an IT employee must be found who is both right leaning and willing to work for a non-profit salary. I have heard it mused by IT in the movement that out of the entire country’s right leaning non-profits, there may be only 100 fully time IT staff members; most of which are located in the D.C. area. That being said, we can be found. I work at the Leadership Institute where we have an eclectic mix of both young and experienced employees who have varying computer skills. My boss and I represent the full help desk and troubleshooting body of the sixty person company. We recently sat down and wondered what would be helpful, overall, for young professionals to learn know for almost any work environment. The main skill that kept coming up was how to use mail merge.

Mail merge is a frequently used tool in a work environment. The fundamentals of the program are simple. You create a spreadsheet (think Excel document) with the top row being the type of items that will be listed in the column below it. A normal example is “First Name” or “Last Name”. You should add as many columns as you have available. The most standard of which are “Salutation”, “First Name”, “Last Name”, “Address”, “Organization”, and “Title”.

Don’t forget that you can probably use a preexisting list and just paste it into a spreadsheet with little effort; this could save a lot of entry time. When you have filled out all of these fields, this list can be used for a variety of powerful options, such as a form letter. Instead of writing out a letter to Mr. Ildefonso, you could write it out to <Salutation> <Last Name>. This can be applied to an organization and a title to really add a level of personalization. You can then create envelopes by creating a document with <Salutation> <First Name> <Last Name> <Address>. You can also draft emails in the same process by using the contact’s email address and the previously listed fields. The details on how to do this depends on what software you are using and what version of that software you are using. But it is worth it to investigate the version you use at work. I have the variety of options listed below.

This skill will save anyone doing these activities a significant amount of time once it is learned. It is also a skill that is highly transferable and usable at any form of organization. The skill will give every organization using it a boost in productivity and increase the value of any employee that can mail merge.

Microsoft Word 2003:

Microsoft Word 2007:

Microsoft Word 2010:

Microsoft Word 2011 (for Macintosh Computers):

Google Docs and Gmail:

It is highly advised you practice this a few times with your own documents and spreadsheets. Once you do this a few times, it will become a lot clearer. Also, printing these documents (especially envelopes!) can prove an adventure in its own right, so be sure to practice printing the merge.

Peter ‘Pedro’ Ildefonso IV is the Technology Support Technician for The Leadership Institute