Interview with Sarah Durham, President of Big Duck

Photo Credit: Tracy Young

UWATX recently hosted a “Brandraising” workshop for other local nonprofits to learn more about how to best utilize digital marketing to raise brand awareness and increase donations.

We brought in Sarah Durham, author of Brandraising: Raise Visibility & Money Using Smart Communications and president of Big Duck, a nonprofit marketing company based in Brooklyn, New York. She was named one of Fast Company’s most influential women in technology in 2010, among other fundraising industry awards. 

We sat down with Sarah to learn more about her company and how nonprofits of any size can utilize the many communication tools available.

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

“My parents were right out of Mad Men: both in advertising in New York in the 1960s and 1970s. I grew up in ad agencies and marketing environments. These days, I live in Brooklyn, New York with my husband and my daughters, Abi and Kate, who are identical twins.”

Why did you decide for your company to focus on the nonprofit sector?

“I started Big Duck in 1994. At first, we worked with a range of businesses and nonprofits in many sectors. The work with nonprofits was the most inspiring and challenging, so in 2000 I made the decision to specialize in work with nonprofits.”

What causes do you care most about in your personal life?

“I lost both of my parents to brain tumors. Today, I serve on the board of the National Brain Tumor Society, the leading organization funding research and changing the system for people affected by brain tumors. I’m really passionate about that work.”

What is your favorite part of the work you do?

“I love it all! I suppose the best part is working with such incredible people; people who work in this sector are passionate, values-driven individuals. Our clients and my staff are always inspiring me. It’s an honor to work with people who are changing the world.” 

Tell us about your book, Brandraising: Raise Visibility & Money Using Smart Communications, and related speaking engagements.

“Most nonprofits can’t afford to hire an agency like Big Duck, but really need help understanding how to manage their communications and brand, especially from a fundraising point of view. The book was intended to be a helpful guide for those nonprofits.

I probably speak 30 to 50 times each year, and have done so for the past 8 or 9 years. The farthest away speaking gig was in Jerusalem. I love getting to meet people in places I met never have known about otherwise and find that we have so much in common.

What is the most common mistake you see your clients making when first bringing them on? 

“I am not sure there’s such a thing as a ‘mistake;’ It’s all about learning, trial and adjustments. I wish nonprofit organizations did a better job supporting their staff’s capacity and professional development though.

For instance, I’d like all nonprofit professionals to regularly attend conferences and read trade publications to stay abreast of what’s happening. Fundraising and communications are changing fast, and there are a lot of best practices. It’s hard to keep up if you have limited time and resources to learn with.”

What can nonprofits with a very small or no budget do to help raise brand awareness?

“Read up and boost your knowledge; My book Brandraising might help. There are tons of great free resources online too. If you start with our blog, you’ll find our blogroll which links to many other great resources.”

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