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On this episode of Bloomerang TV, Sarah Durham, President of Big Duck, joins us to talk about her research into the positive impact that rebranding can have on nonprofits.

Full Transcript:

Steven: Hey there. Welcome to this week’s episode of Bloomerang TV. Thanks for tuning in. You know, if you’ve watched this podcast before, you know we have lots of cool people, lots of smart people, fund raising experts. Today’s guest is probably the coolest guest we’ve ever had on. She’s Sarah Durham. She’s the President over at Big Duck in New York City. Hey Sarah, how’s it going?

Sarah: Hey, Steven. Thank you. It’s quite an introduction.

Steven: It’s true. I met you in real-life at a cause camp in Lincoln, Nebraska, we both went over to Lincoln, Nebraska. You gave an awesome presentation and I just thought, “She’s got to come on the podcast and share her wisdom with us.” But before you do, I want you to talk about Big Duck real quick and tell folks all the cool work you do over there.

Sarah: Sure. Big Duck is a firm I started 21 years ago and we work exclusively with non-profits, and our goal is to help them communicate more effectively. If you’re not communicating well with external audiences or internal audiences, you’re probably having a hard time achieving your mission. So that’s what we do.

Steven: Very cool. And you guys do great work, you have a really good blog, awesome content, definitely someone you should follow online. But you also recently put out a really nice resource, a downloadable resource on rebranding and what non-profits should know and think about before rebranding. Can you talk about that resource a little bit and maybe we’ll talk about rebranding in general for the rest of the time?

Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. So, it’s an e-book called The Rebrand Effect. If you go to our website, which is, you can download it by clicking off of the home page or, but the reason we did this was, we’ve been helping organizations go through rebranding processes for a long time and every organization that goes through a rebrand thinks it’s going to solve certain problems and we have a lot of anecdotal evidence about what problems do or don’t get solved from a rebrand. But what I wanted was some real quantifiable hard data from organizations who weren’t my clients.

I know what happens to my clients, but I want to know what happens to the average little community-based organization that goes through a rebranding process with volunteers, or the huge organization. And so I engaged a terrific market research firm called the FDR Group and we designed a study to really try to answer the question when the non-profit rebrands? What are they doing? And what is really happening to them after they do it?

Steven: Yeah. I love that concept that you got in other people who are not your clients, which is one of many, many interesting points about the content that’s in the book. But before we talk about the data, can you talk about rebranding in general? Like what rebranding actually is? Because I feel like that’s a word that people have lots of definitions for and interpretations. What do you consider an actual rebrand? I don’t think it’s just a new logo and colors, right?

Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a term that we use perhaps too loosely. And maybe in the ’90s or the early 2000s, as people say, people were more likely to think of a rebrand as changing your visual identity, your logo, your colors, things like that. I would say in the last five or ten years you hear more people talk about messaging as part of a rebrand. My belief is that when we’re talking about branding, what we’re really talking about is perception, and perception is communicated through all kinds of things. It’s not just your messaging and your visuals, it’s the experiences people have.

If I call up your non-profit and I get trapped in voicemail, that actually forms part of my brand perception. And so when we rebrand, we’re changing things internally and externally. But in order to define it specifically in our study, we asked organizations if they had changed one of about a dozen things in the last ten years and six of them we categorized under an umbrella we call rebranding.

So, if you changed or developed a brand strategy, changed your name, developed or changed your tag line or slogan, changed your logo, developed key messages or had an elevator pitch or boilerplate, these are the kinds of things we said constituted a rebrand because those are the things that are actually the easiest to identify and measure. The more abstract stuff like cultural shifts are very hard to quantify, but they can be significant too.

Steven: Yeah, absolutely. So, what were the benefits that you found that people sort of experienced after going through a rebrand? And this would be kind of the reasons why people would want to do it other than just the logo is old and we need to update it.

Sarah: Yeah. The number one thing we wanted to know is do organizations that rebrand raise more money? And the reason we wanted to know that is that we have found that anecdotally, the vast majority of organizations that invest time and money in rebranding are doing so because they think it’s going to help them connect better with individual donors and prospects. And that might be a very good reason to spend time and money if it works. So one of the questions we asked our participants in the survey, which were about 351 non-profit decision makers, not our clients, was since you’ve changed these elements that you say you’ve changed, have you seen a change in your revenue? And actually 50% of them saw an increase in revenue, so that was pretty significant. Twenty-one percent said it was too soon to tell and it actually, it turned out we had a very high number of participants who were in the middle of rebranding or had just done so in the past year or two, so it’s just too early days to say. Nineteen percent stayed about the same, 4% saw a decrease, and 7% weren’t sure.

So, 50% saying they saw an increase is a huge number and when we went into the follow-up questions, we asked things like where did you see that increase? Forty-nine percent saw an increase in revenue from individual donors of those people who said they saw an increase. We saw increases in the number of individual donors, donor retention, revenue from corporate donors, even revenue from foundation grants and government grants, which was a little bit surprising. Those numbers are not as strong as the individual donor numbers, but they’re still there, so it seems to help across the board with fund raising. It also helps with ability to attract and retain people into programs, it helps with media, uptake in media attention. So a lot of benefits across the board, even greater benefits than we expected to find looking at such a broad landscape.

Steven: What do you attribute that to? Do you think it’s mostly the visual stuff? Do you think it’s the cultural stuff? Do you think it’s a combination? What do you think it’s actually driving those sort of increases?

Sarah: Well, what we’ve seen in our own experiences with clients and the data to back this up, is that the most successful downstream effect usually comes from a convergence of a number of factors. So, it’s not just that an organization rebrands, it’s that they rebrand at the right time, and that right time is often right after a new strategic plan, or there’s a new CEO. When a new, dynamic, CEO comes in or a strategic planning process happens, what happens is people start growing in the same direction. They get reinvigorated, they’re excited with the vision and mission, and the rebranding becomes an expression of that, and a way to kind of help everybody sing from the same song book.

So those organizations see the best results and I think that that’s very true. Rebranding in and of itself doesn’t do anything, it’s the reasons why you rebranded and what you do with that rebranding that is effective. So we try to discourage organizations from thinking in Field of Dreams language, “If you build it, they will come,” that doesn’t work. It’s just a tool, it’s one of many tools.

Steven: And you work with a lot of non-profits. Has there ever been an organization that maybe thought they needed to rebrand but they had another problem that a rebrand wouldn’t solve? Does that kind of make sense?

Sarah: Absolutely. We often in the beginning of a conversation with a non-profit to determine if we’re a good fit for them, we try to get a sense of where they are in their organizational life-cycle and we ask questions about when they’ve done strategic planning. If I interview five Board members and five senior staff people and I say, “Tell me about your organization. What’s your mission? What’s your vision? Why do you exist?” and I basically hear the same things, everybody is aligned, then that’s good, that’s means there’s cohesion.

But if I hear ten different answers from ten different people, there’s an organizational development issue that has to get sorted out. People are not aligned about what this organization exists to do, and rebranding is going to be challenging. You’ve got to solve those organizational development or OD issues upstream of the rebranding. So there are some firms, we’re one of them, that can help with some of those upstream OD issues. But the vast majority of firms that do branding work, in those situations it becomes decorative, it’s putting lipstick on a pig and I would steer clear of that. I would encourage you to wait longer and solve those organizational development challenges first.

Steven: Well, people need to download this e-book right away, chock-full of really cool data and lots of really good advice. Obviously Sarah has been given that the last ten minutes or so. Where can people find this resource? They’ve got to have it.

Sarah: So, it’s at and it’s right on our home page, it’s called The Rebrand Effect, so you can scroll down the home page and find it, just click through and download it, it’s a free download. Or it’s at

Steven: All right. Awesome, Sarah. Thanks for sharing this all with us. Hopefully you’ll get lots of downloads. And follow Sarah on Twitter too, lots of good content there as well.

Sarah: Thank, Steven. Thanks, everybody.

Steven: All right. Thanks for watching. We will get you next week with another great episode. Thanks for watching and we will see you again real soon. Bye now.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.