A Conversation on Integrated Marketing and Fundraising, Part 1
[Editor's note: This is part 1 of a three-part conversation on integrated marketing and fundraising with members of the fundraising sector's newly formed Integrated Marketing Advisory Board.]
Last month, 12 key players in the fundraising sector joined forces to create the first-ever Integrated Marketing Advisory Board (IMAB). With integration engulfing every aspect of life from retail to communications to nonprofits, the participating organizations — Amergent, Avalon Consulting Group, Barton Cotton, CDR Fundraising Group, Convio, Donordigital, Grizzard Communications, hjc, Merkle, Russ Reid, SCA Direct and Thompson Habib Denison— are committed to pooling resources and providing a sounding board for fundraisers and organizations of all shapes and sizes to address the issues that arise around creating a truly integrated experience.
Here, FundRaising Success speaks with IMAB Chairman Michael Johnston, founder and president of Hewitt and Johnston Consultants (hjc), and IMAB member Sara Spivey, chief marketing officer at Convio, about the role of the IMAB and the importance of integrated marketing and fundraising in today's landscape.
FundRaising Success: How did the Integrated Marketing Advisory Board come about?
Michael Johnston: The practical spark came from Convio founder Vinay Bhagat reaching out to partners and collegial friends to say there's a gap in knowledge around integrated marketing in the sector — would people want to come together and collaborate on creating new material, filling in gaps? That's the practical spark. … I was talking to Steve MacLaughlin from Blackbaud, and he wanted to hear how and why this was happening. His quote I think is true: "The alternative is zero."
In the commercial sector, there's the acronym IMC [integrated marketing communication], integrated marketing approaches, there's been an MBA in integrated marketing in the commercial world for a number of years. But in the nonprofit sector, and it makes sense — we have limited budgets, limited resources, only so much time to put together business rules and best practices — organizations just haven't been able to create good curriculum to help and guide organizations to do this better.
FS: What do you see as the IMAB's role?
MJ: At the beginning, our role is really to be a spark. By bringing agencies together, it means we can bring resources to bear; we can assign these resources to collect information (case studies). Because there are a lot of agencies here, it means there's lots of clients and lots of comparative knowledge already at our fingertips. We really want to be the spark to a further conversation. In the beginning, it's only going to work if you have organizations who bring the comparative experience. They can move corporate resources to say we're going to assign people to collect this, analyze and then get it up for conversation and stimulate the sector. So it's really the beginning of the beginning.
Sara Spivey: At minimum, if we did nothing but just share what each one of those members is doing in some of these areas with practical applications of how people think about integrated marketing, we've already advanced the ball. To me, that's kind of the table stakes. There's so much more we can do, but just the fact that, if you think about a nonprofit that may work with one agency or vendor over time, we can only provide so much perspective based on what we see. Well, if you add 11 more agencies to the fray and potentially over time more vendors and potentially over time maybe even some nonprofit participants, you just open up the funnel of collective wisdom and collective experience to be shared. The first year here it's, "Let's all share what we know, because it's a lot, and then figure out how you build on it as a group."
MJ: If you just look at society itself, this phenomenon of, let's say, wiki science — for example, the University of Toronto is branding something called wiki science. There is a collaborative effort to identify and understand a bunch of different proteins. It's foundational science that's being done, and it's being funded by four absolutely cutthroat competitors in the pharmaceutical world. Competitors day to day are collaborating with researchers and the broader science community to tackle a problem that they can't fill in themselves. They have neither the resources nor the breadth of experience to tackle this. There could be proprietary things that roll out of the collaborative research. No one's naive enough to think that that won't happen. But I like to translate that to what we're doing over time, that it's kind of wiki-integrated fundraising.
We're going to start as agencies, and competitive agencies, to collaborate on foundational research and foundational thinking to fill in gaps and to create something that the NGO sector can use — and this isn't going to be ultimately successful and transformative without us opening up the conversation over time. We want people collaborating, co-editing, pouring lots of material into this place beyond the initial agencies getting good material up, starting to build the foundation. Then we want to stimulate, engage and pour in lots and lots of different participants into this over time. That means we've got to do it right at the beginning, but everyone takes responsibility of this over time.
FS: How vital is collaboration in the sector, especially in this day and age?
MJ: We're hoping that our collaboration is going to set an example — we're not going to teach others how to collaborate — but that NGOs see that they too can do this. I've been doing this almost 25 years in fundraising, and I seem to see a lot of organizations tightening up and being very proprietary. They used to share more. That seems to be running counter to what you see in other verticals. In science research and development and other commercial areas, there's more collaboration, and in some ways I see less collaboration in our sector. So I hope this is a good example and starts to get NGOs thinking they can collaborate on knowledge development in integrated marketing, let alone other areas.