Elist Mailing Workflow Notes

This is an outline of typical ‘workflow’ editing and sending an Action Alert or other similar mailing on websites using CiviCRM (currently OVEC, SORO, WVEC and CAG – eventually WVOTER). Let me (Don) know if I forgot something (or if anything is too confusing) and I’ll update these notes.

  • Start a new post and type in a title.  Do not enter any content yet.  The title will automatically be used for the subject line of the email (it can be altered in the mailer software if desired).
  • In the ‘Single Post Template’ panel select the appropriate “elist” template (such as Alert – elist format, or Update – elist format or similarly named templates).
  • Click the “Publish” button. This will load the default content for an action alert (or whatever type of elist post). The content must be left blank to trigger loading of the default content [See note 1]
  • Type or paste the text (and/or imges) of the alert in the table cell that says Your_text_here. Try not to grab the table cell boundaries or it may frell the width settings (there is a simple trick to fix the width if you accidentally drag it).
  • If the alert is going to be posted on the website, also be sure to put something in the excerpt field as well as setting tags, the featured image and author.  Leave the “Uncategorized checkbox checked  for now (so the post will not be visible on the website while it is in the elist format).
  • When finished editing the alert and settings, click update.  When a post utilizing an elist template is updated, WordPress automatically generates an email-optimized copy of the post in CiviCRM’s mailer template table.  Leave the WordPress edit window for the post open.
  • Open a CiviCRM window and click ‘Mailing – New Mailing.’ After the mailing window opens and initializes itself, select the corresponding item in CiviCRM’s “Template” drop down list. The Action alert post should appear in in the HTML panel with the date and view online links fleshed out. Scroll through the HTML panel to be sure the alert appears correctly.
  • If necessary, go back and update the WordPress post (typos or other corrections). After updating the post, you can reload the template in CiviCRM by clicking the x next to the template name in the ‘Template’ drop down list, the re-selecting the same template.
  • Edit the ‘Subject’ field if necessary (the email subject line) and type in a name in the ‘Mailing Name’ field (or copy/paste the subject).
  • Select the appropriate group in the Recipients drop down list.  For targeted alerts, the mailing is started by first doing a query, then starting a mailing from the query results list.
  • Select the desired mailing footer using the Header and Footer tab.
  • If you’ve done all the above, and the email doesn’t contain any html not valid for email [See note 2], the ‘Send test’ and ‘Next’ button at the bottom of the mailing window will become available for clicking.  Send a test to yourself and verify that everything in the mailing looks right and that links work as expected.
  • If the test mailing is correct and ready to go, click the ‘Send’ button. 
  • Click on ‘Submit Mailing’ to schedule the mailing to be sent immediately(esque), or set a desired time and then click Submit Mailing if you want it to go out later.  When sending immediately a couple brief error messages may pop up saying the scheduled time is past (if the server clock is a little bit ahead of your computer clock) – CiviCRM will still send the message the next time the Send-Mail Cron job runs. [See note 3]
  • Once the mailing is scheduled, go back to the edit window for the post in WordPress (or re-open it if you’ve closed it). Change the ‘Single Post Template’ to the appropriate online format.
  • Also unclick the Uncategorized category checkbox and be sure the proper “online” category is selected (such as Action alert – online format), then click update. The post will look the same in the editor window, but the public online version should now look like a normal post rather than an email (it will include the normal header, menu, sidebar and footer for the given website).
  • Verify that the newsletter post appears on the home page and that the post appears in the proper online format (rather than still looking like an email).  Note that on the SORO website it is necessary to manually add the post to the home page alert list by adding a position number to the custom field named “a_current_issue_order.” Also take a moment to be the post is in the proper category with relevant tags, has a featured image, and that the excerpt has been set.  If you forgot anything, simply edit the post to include the missing info.

Note 1: If the content field is empty when WordPress saves a post, WordPress checks whether default content has been defined for the chosen template and loads it into the content panel. The default content for ‘elist’ templates includes elist headers, shortcodes for date and online url, and a predefined html table with inline css suitable for mailing purposes.  Newsletter  or blog digest templates may also includes a long shortcode to display the article list (‘long shortcode’  may be a WordPress oxymoron).  Training may be required to configure the long digest shortcode.

Note 2: Examples of invalid html in an email include Twitter-embed scripts (or any javascript), forms, embedded video. embedded audio.

Note 3: The mailing job runs every 10 minutes, so if you schedule a mailing to go out at 9:25, it won’t actually start going out till 9:30.  Also, CAG’s elists are so big that they may time out the mailing process on the server. When that happens CiviCRM simply resumes sending the list the next time the mailing job is executed (within 10 minutes).  Depending on time of day, mailings may take slightly longer due to load on the mail server (and how many times it times out). For a list of 4000 names it will take 20 to 40 minutes for the mailing to finish sending. If you refresh CiviCRM’s Mailings-Scheduled and Sent Mailings’ page it will tell you whether the mailing is still scheduled, running or completed (this is the page you land on after clicking ‘Submit Mailing’).

Updated: August 12, 2019 — 9:45 am