What Does Integration Mean Anyway?
It’s rare to have a conversation with a fundraising professional today where the term “integration” isn’t interjected at least once — if not a dozen times. What’s clear from many of these conversations is that our interpretation of integration is as varied as the causes we all work to support.
The reality is, there is no single definition of integration. It spans the entire spectrum of an organization’s work and evolves as programs mature and become more sophisticated. There are, however, several integration steps that you can employ today to chart your path to a “fully integrated” fundraising program.
While the ultimate goal of integration is to build more successful relationships with your supporters, the first step has to start within your organization. To make progress, it is imperative to bridge the ever-present silos of your internal departments that engage with your external constituents.
Communications, marketing, direct response, media — the titles are numerous — all need to be participants in creating a shared understanding of what is being communicated, how and why, and by whom to whom. This can be as basic as an organizational communications calendar or as sophisticated as an audience matrix and an inter-department coordinating group. What’s vital is equal representation of all relevant departments across the organization and agreement around shared goals that support the best outcome for the mission.
At the center of integration are, of course, your constituents. In an omnichannel marketplace, your ability to have a unified view of how they interact with your organization is essential. While there has been a lot of progress in recent years, many groups still have significant challenges integrating constituent data. The disparate systems that manage volunteers, advocacy, direct mail, email fundraising, social and digital marketing create a labyrinth of data that can make it impossible to even begin to unravel the constituent communications journey.
Happily, technologies are now available to integrate the data from all these platforms and create unified views of constituents’ interaction across your organization. Implementing these tools does require an investment of resources and budget, but it will provide the foundation for all of your future constituent-centric efforts.
Often overlooked, brand integration should definitely be considered as an important step along the integration journey. Many organizations struggle to align their brand positioning as they straddle traditional channels, such as direct mail with its primarily mature audience, and digital channels, such as Facebook with its younger demographic.
While we all know it can be folly to be too brand dogmatic — direct mail controls are backed by decades of learnings that cannot be simply sacrificed for brand alignment — it’s important to ensure that your brand pillars do carry across all communications as much as possible. Once again, cooperation and collaboration across departments will be key to successfully addressing marketing and development concerns and needs, while ensuring constituents experience your brand in a way that reinforces it, rather than fragmenting it.
Even today, it’s not that unusual to receive a direct mail solicitation urging your generous support for a crisis in one area of the world, only to receive an email the following day from the same organization with an appeal for an urgent need right here in the U.S.
In some cases, the experience can be even more fractured, with disconnected topics being highlighted in each channel: mail, email, social, digital marketing and website. We have to pity the constituent who has to make the call on which of these urgent issues to support. But it’s the whole organization’s loss when decision-paralysis kicks in and they choose none.
Communications integration is arguably one of the more tangible and achievable integration goals. It does not need to be a revolution, but a steady evolution to align calendars across channels and ensure that, at a minimum, we present a singular, focused call-to-action from a constituent perspective. Aside from the improved constituent experience, the benefits of collective content creation, reinforced iterative messaging and reduced resource demands also make this an essential step for every organization.
Integrated Constituent Experience
People-based marketing is the pinnacle of integration. It requires a seamless, personalized constituent experience that delivers a clear, omnichannel call-to-action that is driven by data and presented within a strong brand framework.
This level of integration taps into the true power of data, both first-party data from within your constituent audience and third-party data acquired through marketing partners, to build a detailed view of constituents’ interests, motivations and preferences. Coupled with the right marketing technology stack and a coordinated, well-planned strategy, you can deliver an entirely new level of constituent experience.
While this may seem like a far-off vision for many organizations, all the steps along this integration pathway will move you closer to it becoming reality. And your constituents — both those who benefit from the success of your mission and those who make it possible — will thank you.