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OpenOffice For Mail Merge 


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Using OpenOffice For Mail Merge

Sept 24, 2010 It's gonna hurt, but this should reduce the pain a bit. OpenOffice v3.1.1

I help run a nonprofit that we keep lean and distributed meaning that volunteers (nobody gets paid) can do their various functions from wherever they live. That includes printing membership cards and other documents that go out as members join, renew and earn ratings. The need has been growing which is a mixed blessing, especially the ratings, since each new rating means a new card. That's obviously our goal, and we're thrilled it's happening, but workload has increased dramatically. That makes it important for our processes to work anywhere.

MS Office does mail merge brilliantly simple but it costs hundreds of dollars. To equip 4 or 5 people with it would cost well over a thousand $ so we've opted to use free OpenOffice package for our documentation and printing. It's free but it's distinctly not easy!

These instructions must be followed extremely closely, including closing and opening the document near the end. At least on two computers we have, it will otherwise throw an error. Also, the Mail Merge Wizard does NOT work on documents having graphics.

Inport the data into a valid text file
  1. Copy members into the file "PutMembersHere.txt" below the field names. The 1st line of headers must be intact since the field names there must be matched to the field names used in the form letter.

  2. File|Save. Keep the same file name, this file will be used by the spreadsheet program.

Create a Spreadsheet with the data
  1. Open SpreadSheet program.

  2. File|Open, select the file type by scrolling down to “Text CSV” on the spreadsheet part of the list. It won't work with any other file type, even if they say “Text”. Then select PutMembersHere.txt as the file.

  1. It will ask for a delimiter, put the tilde in "Other". There is no need to erase the default tab.

  2. File|Save As Change the type from .csv to spreadsheet .ods, use a file name that's yyyy-mm-dd-members (or something similar that's easy to remember).

Make a Database
  1. Open the Database program. A Wizard will start.

  2. In the Wizard's dialogue box, select radio button "Connect to an existing database", choose "Spreadsheet" from the dropdown box then press Next. (see screen shot below)

  3. On the Set up Connection dialogue, Browse to the spreadsheet file you created earlier and press Next.

  4. On the Decide how to Proceed dialogue, deselect "Open the database for editing" and click Finish.

  5. On the Save As dialogue, enter filename yyyy-mm-dd-members and press save. This will save an ODF database file such as “2010-03-21-members.odf” and exit.

Make the LetterWithCard
  1. Caution: Do not, at any point, use the built-in Mail Merge Wizard. That will cause the graphics to disappear.

  2. Start Open Office Writer and open the LetterWithCard.odt file.

  3. IMMEDIATELY save as it as yyyy-mm-dd-members.odt.

  4. Press F4, a list of databases should come up. Hopefully, the database you just created will be in that list. Click on the little plus sign next to it, then the plus sign next to “Tables” then click on “Sheet1”.Edit|Exchange Databases, On the right side under “Available Databases” select the plus sign of the database you just created. If that database isn't there, browse for it. Click on “Sheet1” then click on “Define”.

  5. Exit the program. Restart and reload the text document you were just working on.

  6. File|Print. It will ask if you are doing a mail merge. Select YES and finish printing. Consider printing to a PDF to make sure it worked then printing the PDF.

If this doesn't work, probably throwing the error about a connection could not be established, curl up into the fetus position and try the following:

  1. Edit|Exchange Databases

  2. Browse for the ODF database document you just created.

  3. Click the little plus sign beside it's name then click on “Sheet1” then click on “Define”.

  4. Close the program. Open the letter file you just exited ( 2010-03-21-members.odf).

  5. Try printing again.


1. When opening the spreadsheet program make sure to select the Text CSV file format before selecting the file.

2. You're only opening the database program to bind the spreadsheet to a database. The spreadsheet MUST have been saved as an ODS file.