Tom Phelan posted this on ISED-L and I'm reposting it here, because I want to be able to find it again, and in case anyone here has any responses...
[Retrieved from ISED-L list-serv 3/09, CC3.0 a, s-a, nc license.]
We are increasingly sending non-confidential information using email merges rather than postal mail. This has saved us thousands in postage and even more in time saved stuffing and processing envelopes. I'm posting for two
reasons: First, to let you know about two tools we've found to be very useful for sending email merges. Second, to ask you to reply with any tools or services that you've found to be useful for electronic communication.
Specifically, if you've found any tools or services that can be used to securely send custom information in a user friendly way. While it's fine to use email merges to send pdf schedules (see below) we are not comfortable doing this for things like school debit card invoices, advisor reports, parent login information for our web portal, etc.
Here are the two tools we've found to be very useful for sending email
World Merge is an inexpensive and very easy to use email merge program that can pull data from pretty much any source including Excel, Access, or an ODBC source. We use a SQL view to tie right into our Blackbaud database to pull parent email addresses. It works very much like making a Microsoft Word merge document. It can create either plain text or html emails and you can specify a unique files to attach to each message. For example, we could use World Merge to send pdf schedules to parents for parents day with the schedule attached as a pdf. Optionally, you could include the schedule as html code stored in a field in the data source and then include the schedule in the body of the email. Another thing we use it for is sending internal notices such as notices from the Dean's Office to students cc'd to advisors for common infractions.
World Merge can act as an SMTP server sending documents directly to the Internet, but it works best if you set it up to relay mail through an existing SMTP server especially if you have spf records set for your domain.
We have other tools for sending email merges such as Blackbaud's NetMail, but WorldMerge is so easy to use and flexible we've found that it is the tool we reach for most often when we want to send an email merge.
*ARTS PDF Split Pro*
At $3K, this product is pricey but it has already paid for itself. In a nutshell, it allows you to split any PDF based on content within the PDF.
For example, we used it in conjunction with World Merge to send pdf schedules to all students. We print student schedules to a pdf file making sure to include the student name (or number) in the PDF. We then used ARTS PDF Split Pro to split the PDF whenever the student's name changed and to name each file after the student name on the pdf. In a few seconds we produced one pdf for each student with file names equal to each student's name. We then used World Merge to send these pdfs to all students. While students have the ability to see their schedules online, many prefer the PDF and there are other things we use ARTS PDF for that we have no other way to distribute electronically. Lastly, the other thing we use this for is to break things like student grade reports and transcripts into separate PDF files which can then be easily imported into our document management system.