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by Maria Lahiffe
How long does it take you to create a bunch of thank-you letters to donors? Or certificates of achievement? Or bid sheets for your silent auction?
What do you do when you’ve made up all of the bid sheets, submitted them to your manager, and she asks for a small change in the formatting on each page?
This is a job for mail merge!
Mail merge allows you to create a series of similar documents which contain different specific information, such as names, addresses, or costs. You can write the common information and format the document however you like it, insert the fields, run the mail merge, and you’ll end up with a professional-looking set of documents with a common look and feel. Best of all, if you realize you made a mistake on the document, or your manager asks you to use a different font or something, you only need to change it once, on the main document, and run the merge again.
Let’s get started. I’ll use bid sheets from last year’s VOscars in my examples, but you can use anything you like as you follow along.
This is where you put the information which is common to all of the documents, e.g. the body of your letter or, in our example, the header and the bid table. You may want to set it up with all of the information for one document, so that you can get a sense of what it will look like.
Identify what information will change from document to document, and what will stay the same. The information which will change is what you will put into your data spreadsheet.
Use Excel for this. I recommend you put the information in Sheet 1 and use a header row. Some things to remember:
Here is what VO’s silent auction data spreadsheet looked like last year:
In the Word document you created, click the Mailings tab, which will bring up this ribbon.
Click Start Mail Merge, then Normal Word Document.
On the Mailings ribbon, click Select Recipients.
Click Use an Existing List.
Navigate to, and select, your Excel file. Click Open.
Select the sheet which contains your source data. If you followed my advice from earlier, this will be Sheet1. Click OK.
Each piece of information which is going to change from document to document is called a field. The name of each field is the column header in your Excel file.
Place your cursor where you want a given field to appear. If you used actual information when you first created your Word document, then delete the information and keep your cursor in the same spot. Click Insert Merge Field.
Click on the name of the relevant field.
That field will appear in your document in between brackets «like this». Whatever formatting you apply to the field name will be applied to the text that is merged in, in every document. You can set the font, text colour and size… really, everything you can do with regular text. This is what the document looks like with the merge fields inserted:
Note that the first row of the table looks really big because of the space required to show the full name of the «Minimum bid» field. This is not a problem. It won’t come out that way in the merged document, as you will see below.
Click on Finish and Merge.
Click on Edit Individual Documents. You can print them later once you’ve verified that the merge worked the way you wanted it to.
You’ll likely want to merge all records. That means that Word will create a separate document for each row in your linked Excel file.
However many records you choose to merge, Word will create ONE new document with page breaks in between each of the separate versions of the document. Your initial file with the merge fields will still exist in a separate window.
In the example, my initial file with the merge fields is called 2017 Silent Auction Bid Sheets2, while MS Word has arbitrarily called the merged document Letters2.
One good reason to merge all records is that you can scroll quickly through all the documents to make sure everything worked out the way you wanted it to.
If you’re like me, you’ll look through the merged document and notice something you forgot. In the example, I forgot to put a $ sign in front of the «Buyout bid» field.
It’s not a big deal, but it’s easy enough to change. Plus, I only have to change it once, to have the $ sign appear on every finalized bid sheet.
You can close the merged file with the mistake (and choose not to save it). Alternately, keep it open and/or save it if that floats your boat.
Go back to the original file with the merge fields and make your edits.
Then go back to Step 5 and re-run the merge.
If everything looks good, then save your merged document with a new name. After that, go ahead and print. Save your original document with the merge fields so that you can use it again later.
… and that’s it! Now you can make dozens or hundreds of professional-looking documents in the time it takes to create only one.
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