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TECH TIPS
with Mary Lou McNatt

Learn tips and hints to use a variety of electronic and technical equipment to enhance work with volunteers.

~ August 2005 ~ Topics


Personalizing Your Email Messages

Have you received an email message that you were certain went to a group of individuals, but the one you received was personalized with your own name in the message? Have you wondered "How do they do that?" Maybe you thought this was only a technique that could be used by high-tech companies who have all the fancy equipment and software.

Not the case. You too can distribute emails to your groups and personalize them at the same time. We are not suggesting you send indiscriminately to a group that has not already agreed to accept and looks forward to receiving your email messages. If you need to send out a large amount of email messages and you want to personalize them we'll show you how you can do it.

Why would you want to send out personalized emails? Personalizing an email message offers the following benefits:

  • You can insert multiple fields to your messages not just a name, but specific information for each recipient you have been collecting in your database.
  • Persons may be more likely to respond to your email if it is personalized. You can use it for newsletters, announcements and email news.
  • You can send invitations/cards to friends and customers with their names right on them.
  • You can send personalized thank-you emails to your staff or team members.

There are lots of specialized software programs that can do this for you. We want to share with you how to do it with a tool you probably already have, the Microsoft Office Suite.

What types of Email messages can you send?

1. Plain text

Plain text is just that, plain. Plain text is the most portable format because it is supported by nearly every application on every machine. It is quite limited, however, because it cannot contain any formatting or special font formats.

2. HTML- simple formatting

What is HTML?
HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language. Developed by scientist Tim Berners-Lee in 1990, HTML is the "hidden" code that helps us communicate with others on the World Wide Web (WWW). When writing HTML, you add "tags" to the text in order to create the structure. These tags tell the browser how to display the text or graphics in the document.
Your email can have simple formatting text with it. This includes the ability to change your font, its size, color or orientation (left, centre and right aligned). The ability to have bullet points or numbered lists. Caution in pasting tables, columns, graphics, forms, etc. into Outlook email software. You'll never know if the recipients see it in the form you send.

3. HTML - Advanced formatting - complex formatting with tables and forms and graphics

You know those emails you get that look like web pages? They have colorful images. They might even have built-in forms that you answer and send back. The text looks like it's in columns. There's background color. This is what advanced HTML contains. It's the next step up and simple to do once you know how - and the tricks. These email and online newsletter templates often require the use of web designing software to create them.

How do I do it?

It's as simple as creating a Mail Merge with your word document and choosing to merge to an email message. If you are not familiar with how to work mail merges, rather than reiterate it here, there is a good online tutorial available at the Online Knowledge Magazine (MIStupid.com).

If you have Microsoft Office 2000 (plain text email merge only) or a newer version (where you could create an HTML message), you can create a personalized email merge using Word as the base for the email message. You will then link it to your database and create individual, personalized emails. You can use any field of input from your database to insert into your email message. The emails are routed to Outlook/Outlook Express and sent from there. (You may want to go in and delete the files after they are sent from your Sent box because each individual message that is sent is will be stored there).

I had the opportunity to use the email merge for a membership group of over 1000 persons. The message included the information we have for them currently in their profile and we asked them to 1. Reply to the message, 2. Update the information and, 3. Send it back to us. Normally when we ask the members to update their information online we get a small response. I am still getting emails from the members who have been updating their information from the email message we sent out. We received over a 20% response rate from the email messages we sent out. For us that is monumental!

It really works and it's also a lot of fun. If you haven't tried it yet I encourage you to do so.


Mary Lou McNatt has many years of experience working with volunteer programs, advancing our profession and has a passion for introducing the advantages of technology to volunteer programs. She was instrumental in obtaining Ivan Scheier’s body of work on volunteerism and putting it online. She can be reached at mlmcnatt@indra.com.

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