“Integrated marketing communications” sounds like a buzzword, doesn’t it? Something you hear people say at meetings, but doesn’t seem to have an actual meaning. It sounds like it would fit right in with terms like “take it offline” and “move the needle” and “leverage synergies.” But it does have a real meaning. And, more importantly, it can be a game-changer for your nonprofit. (It can really help you move the needle!)

Integrated Marketing Communications graphic with people at table with a laptop

Here’s what you need to know about integrated marketing communications, and how to utilize it to take your nonprofit’s marketing efforts to the next level.

What the heck is “integrated marketing communications”?!

Integrated marketing communications is a very clunky, long name for a marketing technique. It creates a seamless experience for your supporters and donors by integrating all aspects of your nonprofit’s marketing. Instead of marketing efforts standing alone, they work together to usher your supporters where you want them and advance your big-picture goals.

Bridges and mirrors

With integrated marketing, each piece of your nonprofit’s marketing builds a bridge into another. You’re connecting all of your channels of communication. That means that your Facebook page has a bridge to your email list. Your website has a bridge to your postal mailing list. Your mailing list has a bridge to your in-person events. And there is an active process in place to usher each person engaging with your nonprofit from one place to the next, whether it’s a simple sign-up form on Facebook, a pop-up window on your website asking people to sign up for your mailing list, or a sign-up sheet to collect email addresses at events.

Integrated marketing also entails mirroring, which is another way of saying that your brand and priorities are consistent across all communication channels. What this means in practice is that all of your communications look similar, use a similar voice and are easily recognizable as belonging to your nonprofit.

Individual journeys

So, if you already build bridges and mirrors into your work, how is integrated marketing different? Even if your brand is consistent and you cross-promote well, you’re still treating your donors as though they’re the same if you’re blasting things out to your audiences on all channels. Integrated marketing treats your supporters as individuals on personal journeys with your nonprofit.

Multiracial group of men and women

Think about the various entry points to your organization. Community events, your website, your social media, your emails, your brick-and-mortar facility … the list goes on and on! There are so many ways people can come into contact with your work. And now think about all the different ways people show their support. One-time donors, recurring donors, Facebook fans, email subscribers, peer-to-peer fundraisers. And that doesn’t even begin to cover it! These supporters all come to your nonprofit for different, personal reasons. So why would you treat them the same?

Integrated marketing takes all of these factors into account. By treating donors as individuals, you’re taking into account how they came to your nonprofit, how they interact with their work and where their support has room to grow. You’ll see greater returns on your efforts by treating your supporters as individuals because, well … that’s what they are.

Little gold boxes

For a great real-world example of integrated marketing at work, pick up Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point. In the chapter called “The Stickiness Factor,” he tells the story of Lester Wunderman, the man hailed as “The Father of Direct Marketing.” Lester was responsible for building the Columbia Records Club into the biggest mail-order clubs in the world for decades. In the 1970, Columbia records wanted to bring in a slick ad firm (real life Mad Men) to invigorate the Club’s marketing. The new ad firm proposed TV commercials to raise awareness. Lester was understandably not happy — this was his account! So he proposed a classic A/B test.

The new ad firm made their ads, and aired them in certain markets across the U.S. Their ads didn’t give viewers a way to join the Columbia Records Club, like an 800 number or an address. Lester’s ads, aired in different markets in the U.S., created a treasure hunt for viewers. His commercials told viewers that they could discover “the secret of the golden box” in ads for Columbia Records Club in TV Guide and Parade, magazines where they had been running print advertisements. The “secret” was a little gold box that you could fill out, choose any record from the Columbia Records list, mail in and receive a free record. The results speak for themselves: the “awareness” ads increased responses by 19% in their markets. The “little gold box” ads increased responses by a whopping 80%.

Image of Columbia Record and Tape Club print ad
Lester’s little gold box

Why was this so much more successful? Well, the “gold box” connected the TV commercial to the print ads. The gold boxes integrated these different kinds of marketing, instead of forcing them to exist on their own. And in so doing, these “little gold boxes” actually created pathways in customer’s minds. When they opened up an issue of TV Guide and saw the gold box, they remembered the TV ads they saw. That aha! moment is why those ads stuck with people. And that “stickiness” is why they were so much more successful in getting people to take action and send in the form for their free record.

And that’s what integrated marketing is all about, really. Planting your own “little gold boxes” across all of your marketing efforts.

Coordinated efforts

Nonprofits can often put marketing efforts on the backburner or plan them on their feet, especially when they are operating with limited budgets and small staffs. That leads to reactive, fragmented marketing.

A common problem

Here’s an example: One staff member handles the direct mail marketing, so the nonprofit’s mailer looks one way. Another staff member handles planning and promoting the annual gala, so everything related to the gala looked and felt different than the mailer. And because the staff member doing direct mail marketing and the staff member planning the gala were too busy to talk to each other, the gala never made it into the mailer. So donors who give through the mail might not have even known that the gala was happening and that they could purchase tickets. The staff member who planned the gala also didn’t talk to the manager of day-to-day operations so promotions for the gala conflict with another program-related promotion. The nonprofit’s webmaster isn’t sure how to promote the gala and the program-related function equally on the nonprofit’s website (and both staff members are insisting that theirs is the most important). The social media manager is frustrated because they have to figure out how to market these two things at the same time, with conflicting imagery and messaging.

Now, everyone is annoyed with each other, not working well as a team, and the end result is multiple efforts that clearly came from different people. Most importantly, there were several missed opportunities to connect with supporters and bring in donations.

How integrated marketing helps

An integrated marketing plan prevents these kinds of issues by getting all staff members talking to each other about their plans before there’s any chance of a conflict developing, and ensuring that the fundraising activities, events and marketing efforts are not only planned in concert with one another, but that they all work together to further the mission of the nonprofit. An integrated marketing plan gets everyone on the same page so that all of your efforts feel cohesive, coordinated and consistent.


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