5 Tips for Generating Letters in Bloomerang
Generating letters in Bloomerang can save time, streamline internal processes, and is a primary way to get more from your software. You can create a variety of documents and create letter batches with merged data from the database using the Bloomerang letter generator. Bloomerang has a number of standard letter templates and these letter templates can be expanded for multiple letter creation projects.
Bloomerang Letters vs. Microsoft Word
Many organizations use Microsoft Word to create merged documents, letters, acknowledgements, and gift receipts among other types of letters for their constituents. The end product from Microsoft Word and Bloomerang can be exactly the same, but the process differs in a number of key ways. There are pros and cons to both systems.
Letters in Microsoft Word
Communications in Microsoft Word require an Excel export from Bloomerang and a manual merge of the Excel file into Word. This process generally takes more steps and is more labor intensive than generating letters in Bloomerang. However, Word offers more customization and design features than the Bloomerang editor. Word also offers more letter and document templates than Bloomerang. In addition, for many users Word may be more comfortable than the Bloomerang editor. These benefits make Word a viable option for generating letters with Bloomerang data exports.
Letters in Bloomerang
For Bloomerang generated letters, all merging and letter generation happens in the Bloomerang software. You can create templates and letter copy in the Bloomerang database and merge data fields from the database into a letter template. Bloomerang’s editor has a number of formatting features, so you can give your letters some flavor. However, the editor is limited (more so than Word). Bloomerang’s letter generator’s primary advantage is the streamlined process to generate the actual merged letters. In addition, Bloomerang’s letter generator creates an interaction record for each generated letter. This interaction record is placed on the timeline of each constituent in the letter batch (something a Word merge cannot do automatically).
Note: The decision to use Bloomerang or Word for letter generation usually isn’t an “either or” decision. Both tools offer benefits. As a result, your letter creation projects may use a combination of both systems depending on your specific project.
Generating Letters in Bloomerang
If you feel that generating letters in Bloomerang is the right process for your organization, use these five tips to streamline your Bloomerang letter generation processes.
1. Segment Acknowledgements
Acknowledgements for donations are common letters generated from Bloomerang. However, donations from constituents aren’t all the same. As a result, not every constituent should be acknowledged the same way. It is a best practice to target your acknowledgements to each constituent’s donation and provide a personalized (or near personalized) letter in response to their donation.
Acknowledgement segments may include…
- Standard donations
- In kind donations
- Major gift donations
- Tribute donations
- Soft credits
Segmenting acknowledgements into groups can be done using both INCLUDE and EXCLUDE filters in the letter generator. For example, standard donation acknowledgements may include all transactions in a date range but exclude in kind donations, major gifts, and tribute donations.
Filters can be challenging as you add segments. Therefore, it is important to blueprint your acknowledgement processes before you generate letters. A blueprint will outline the filters for each letter run, when a constituent will receive an acknowledgement for their gift, and any supplementary processes your organization maintains for that category of acknowledgement. Blueprinting your acknowledgement processes will guarantee that you acknowledge every gift, that you don’t acknowledge a gift twice, and that your organization has internal process documentation for users.
2. Run Reports First
Bloomerang’s letter preview only shows the first five letters in your batch. If you have more than five letters in your batch, it is difficult to prove that the merged data in your letters are accurate. In addition, Bloomerang exports letters to PDF only. Bloomerang doesn’t export to Word. Since Bloomerang only exports to PDF, you cannot edit the letters once they are exported from Bloomerang. As a result of these conditions, you need to be one hundred percent positive that your letters are accurate the moment you export them from Bloomerang.
A report can help you overcome this challenge. Run a report with the same filters as your letter and add columns to your report that match the merge fields in your letter. Then skim through the report and make sure all of the data in your report is accurate. If the data is accurate, then you know the data going into your letter will be accurate. Modify any inaccurate or inconsistent data and continue running the report until you are satisfied with the data.
In addition to checking your data, a pre-letter report run can help you check your filters and field choices. Letters run based on a filter and inserted merge fields. As a result, a report can replicate those requirements for a pre-letter run check. Check the report and make sure the right records are shown. Also make sure that you’ve selected the right merge fields in your letter. If you put the informal name in your letter, but you are actually looking for the formal name, the report will show that. Also, if you are looking for all transactions last week that aren’t soft credits and your report has soft credits listed then you know to modify your filters accordingly.
3. Copy and Paste From a Text Editor
You may already have letter templates in Word. In order to save time, the easiest way to get those Word letters into Bloomerang is to copy and paste the text into Bloomerang; but not so fast! Copying and pasting formatted text from Word to Bloomerang can cause major formatting issues in the Bloomerang editor. Microsoft Word creates, reads, and stores text with additional code and formatting. When you copy and paste this text into Bloomerang that additional code and formatting comes too. If you are editing a letter in Bloomerang and the editor isn’t working the way you think it should, your letter may have hidden Word formatting or code in it. This is commonly found when you are trying to size text, remove spacing, delete blank rows, or a variety of other editing tasks where the Bloomerang editor isn’t doing what you want it to do. When this happens you should redo the letter using a plain text editor.
When you are moving letters from Word to Bloomerang, copy and paste the text from Word into a standard text editor. For Windows you can use Notepad. For Mac you can use TextEdit (just make sure it is in plain text mode). After the text is copied into the text editor, copy and paste that text from the text editor into Bloomerang. This process strips the text of all Word formatting. Now the letter text can be formatted and modified to your specifications using the editor tools in Bloomerang.
4. Print on Stock Letterhead
Bloomerang’s editor is flexible and allows for a variety of customizations. You can recreate the look of letterhead in Bloomerang using the picture insert options and other formatting tricks. However, these features aren’t as robust as Word and cannot match the skill or polished look of a graphic design or print shop product (or even a Word letterhead template printed from an office printer).
Instead, you may want to consider creating letterhead elsewhere and pre-print the letterhead on stock paper products. You can create and print letterhead professionally using a graphic designer and professional print shop or you can create a template in Word and print templates from Word. Regardless of the path you take to generate letterhead, usually the end product will look more professional and polished than producing the letterhead in Bloomerang.
However, you can still use Bloomerang to generate your letters. The letterhead templates you create act as pre-printed letter stock. Feed this into your printer and print your Bloomerang generated letter on this stock. Bloomerang’s letter editor is a fantastic tool for basic copy and text using merge fields from the database. As a result, you can use the Bloomerang letter editor to create a “copy block.” Use the letter margins in the Bloomerang “Page Settings” option at the top of the letter editor. Measure the top, bottom, left, and right margins for your stock letterhead so that your “copy block” will print on the letterhead stock properly. You will see an unformatted basic “copy block” when you generate your letters from Bloomerang. However, after you print the letters your letters will be fully formatted on your letterhead stock and your constituents won’t know the difference.
5. Double Check the Stats
As you are generating your letters it is important to check the pre-run statistics. Don’t rush to generate your letters. Check the statistics and make sure they align with the report you generated earlier. The statistics shown at this stage should align with your expectations for the letter run. If they don’t, check your filters. When you generate your letters, Bloomerang creates an interaction on the timeline of each constituent. In addition, if you run an acknowledgement letter the Bloomerang letter generator will flip the “Acknowledged?” flag on each transaction. While these actions can be reversed in the letter home screen, it is always a best practice to reduce errors as much as possible and eliminate the need to make data corrections. Like in carpentry, “measure twice and cut once.” Double-check the stats so that each letter run you make is intentional and planned.
Letters are a primary function in Bloomerang. Generating letters in Bloomerang can help your organization streamline processes and get more from your investment in Bloomerang. As a result, using this tool can save you time, improve the quality of your database, and simplify your letter creation processes.
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