Feb 8, 2012

Tailor Your Nonprofit’s Newsletter with Merge Tags

Meet Lain. We hired him to teach nonprofits how to use MailChimp, and to help make using MailChimp a better experience for nonprofits. And as the former executive director of a local nonprofit, he knows what’s up. -Ben

Merge Tags can look scary to the uninitiated, but these little guys are the secret to any handsomely tailored nonprofit newsletter. They allow you to personalize emails to donors, volunteers, and fans of your organization. For instance, you might want to address donors by name or highlight different calls to action for different audiences. Merge tags make this flexibility possible.

You and I know that fundraising appeals are more successful the more personal they are. If you’d like to send out an appeal for your latest fundraising campaign, it might be helpful to address your donors by name.

All you have to do is stick the following merge tag where their name would normally appear:

(Make those vertical bars by typing shift and backslash at the same time.)

The merge tag — the part between *| and |* — will tell MailChimp to retrieve their first name and stick it right in your campaign, personalized for each email address. If you’re skeptical this will work (like I would be), just click “Popup Preview” within the campaign builder.






Then click the “view live merge info” button. You can toggle between subscribers to double and triple check.







Even if you don’t have everyone’s first name, you can use dynamic merge tags to fill in the gaps. These are like IF-THEN statements in geometry (don’t worry, I slept through that part too):




This portion of the campaign will now read, “Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,” if you don’t have the subscriber’s first name. You can put any text where “Ladies and Gentlemen” currently is: “Friend,” “Bozo,” “Mr. and Mrs. Moneybags,” etc.

Here’s what a functioning example looks like in the campaign editor:


Dynamic merge tags can get powerful quickly. Let’s suppose your organization does noble but complicated environmental advocacy work in Georgia. Your mission is to improve water and air quality and protect wilderness. The trouble is, Georgia has really diverse landforms — mountains, piedmont, coast, and everything in between.

The mountain people might not care so much about the piedmont, and the coastal people are plain sick of hearing about the mountains. Don’t even talk to me about the piedmont people. Merge tags make it easy to send tailored messages within the same campaign:






If you’re from Savannah on the coast, Helen in the mountains, or Atlanta on the piedmont, you’ll see what probably resonates with you the most. Everyone else sees a generic call to action.

Don’t be afraid to take advantage of dynamic merge tags in a much more robust way. We’ve put together a merge tag cheat sheeta merge tag guide, and a primer on conditional (or dynamic) merge tags if you’d like to learn more.

You can also start at the beginning with MailChimp for Nonprofits, our introductory guide for your organization.