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Integrated marketing for nonprofits

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If you think integrated marketing sounds like a reference to the distant future, or one that has nothing to do with your nonprofit, think again. The term may be a mouthful, but it's a concept at the heart of successful marketing for many for-profit companies, and one that nonprofits would also do well to adopt.

It's really very simple. Integrated marketing recognizes that it's important for a marketing campaign to have a comprehensive plan, where all the communication tools are working together, in order to create a consistent message. These tools include social media, direct marketing, direct mailing, public relations, and everything in-between.

So, for example, if your direct mail staff doesn't know what your social media staff are doing, or vice versa, you need integrated marketing to provide maximum communication impact.

We asked Chris Carter, senior marketing/fundraising executive of Chris Carter Marketing, to explain more about what integrated marketing actually looks like and how charities and non-profits can implement and benefit from it.

CharityVillage: What is integrated marketing?

Chris Carter: Integrated marketing is consistent messaging across all communication channels, aligned around a clear marketing plan with specific actions and desired outcomes. Have you ever received a mailpiece from a charity with an ask, looked at their website to see that it’s talking about their upcoming event, and then received an email about the swag they’re selling at the event? This is integrated marketing at work, boosting engagement and supporting your fundraising goals. Ultimately, successful integrated marketing should serve the donor’s needs as much as yours.

Charities and nonprofits can learn a lot from the corporate sector regarding integrated marketing, particularly the retail sector. Perhaps you've noticed how there are appropriate sales at the right time of year, whether it's Home Depot selling tools and outdoor furniture at springtime, or a travel company promoting beach escape packages in the winter? All charities should be able to think of their work in similar ways: A conservation charity can talk about rare flowering plants in the spring. It's ideal to line it up with other things going on such as holidays, but it doesn't have to be. An animal welfare organization might arbitrarily decide February is cat month and then run with it.

CharityVillage: What are the benefits for charities that implement integrated marketing?

Chris Carter: Integrated marketing presents a clear message with a single call to action. Focusing your message every time you communicate will make it simpler for supporters to understand what you’re saying. If you’re asking people to share and retweet in one place, then asking them to sign a petition for something else over here, and asking for them to donate to yet another cause in print ads, the message gets muddled. There will be times when that happens of course — you need to promote an upcoming event in the middle of your holiday campaign, for example — but if your call to action is consistent it can still be successful. If you are doing Giving Tuesday, then the lead up to that and that day itself should be focused. Everywhere you communicate with donors should be about Giving Tuesday during that campaign. Don’t send an email talking about the results of your last campaign; that can wait. Focussing on the campaign at hand will boost support for Giving Tuesday, which ultimately helps with your lead generation as well as accomplishing the central fundraising goal.

Integrated marketing also represents your brand more clearly, especially in the possible confusion of a charitable landscape where there are similar organizations, all competing for donors. For example, have you ever opened a mailpiece from a nonprofit, but then when you went to check out their social media, you weren't even sure if it was the same charity? Not everyone has instant brand recognition, but if you want your supporters to remember you, you need integrated marketing to accomplish that for you.

Another benefit of integration and streamlining your messaging is that whatever your key call to action is during the chosen period, for example making a donation, you will naturally receive a boost just by integration without further expense, often by a double digit percentage increase.

CharityVillage: What are some barriers to starting integrated marketing?

Chris Carter: The biggest barriers are not staff resources, though many people expect that. True integrated marketing changes the way you work with other departments, so it can be a challenge to get everyone on board. It requires working farther in advance with your work-back schedule, for example to accommodate print and design schedules for direct mail, even though social media staff may be used to shorter timelines. It requires more cooperation among staff, whether you work in different departments or different parts of the country, and this can require extra effort to coordinate meetings and align work plans.

Once you’ve begun your integrated marketing plan, it takes time for it to bear fruit and, quite frankly, it may not even be noticeable in obvious ways. No one’s going to say they donated because your DRTV ad matched your social media imagery! But slowly these things come to fruition. Generally, integrated marketing means a different way of doing things that you’re already doing. So if you already have a website and social media and direct mail, that’s great. You don’t need to add a whole bunch of new things in your integrated marketing plan, you just need everyone to work together on what they’re already doing. It takes some vision and some time to get everyone on board and moving forward together.

CharityVillage: What are some easy ways a charity can start implementing integrated marketing right now?

Chris Carter: Two things: Start earlier and talk more. Have a meeting with a couple of people who have a similar role in different departments and say, "I have this idea." Make it a long enough timeline so they don’t get stressed thinking about deadlines or re-working content that’s already done. Maybe say, "What about our fall campaign? Can we do it just a little differently this time? Can we get our social media staff and direct mail staff and our events staff and our website staff on the same page now, well before the campaign, and align our visuals and messaging?" A cross-functional team meeting can make a huge difference: Literally map out your integrated marketing plan, put up key dates and holidays and build out themes, lining up your channels. Talk to your co-workers about the benefits of integrated marketing, and they should see the value it adds for a little bit of effort.

CharityVillage: If someone wanted to learn more about integrated marketing for their charity, what could they do?

Chris Carter: Ryann Miller, Director of Nonprofit Services at Care2, and I, have been working on an integrated marketing conference to do just that. We noticed a gap in the marketplace, namely that most training for charity marketing and fundraising staff is very “siloed”, with topics only addressing each specific niche, none of which involve integrated marketing.

So we founded Xlerate Day, an integrated marketing conference specifically for charities and agencies who work with them. Our first Xlerate Day comes to Ottawa on January 26 to share, inspire and start conversations. We’d love for CharityVillage readers to join us in Ottawa or at our Vancouver Xlerate Day later this year. Reserve your seat for January 26th.

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