When it’s time to say goodbye
2011 was a big year for me. My first book, Brandraising: how nonprofits raise money and visibility through smart communications, was newly published and gaining traction, Big Duck’s team was growing, and then my mother died. Rather than give in to the temptation to hide in a cave and grieve, I signed a 10-year lease on a large, sunlit Brooklyn office with views of the East River and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Countless hours planning that new office space and the growth that might happen there gave me plenty of time to reflect. I was 41 at the time, the mother of two young kids, and an only child who was now parentless. It didn’t escape my attention that, once the lease was over in 2021, I’d be 51 and on the verge of “empty nesting”. 2021 would be a year of change too, I imagined, but hopefully all good ones. How would the next ten years play out? And what did I want to achieve in them? The premature deaths of both my parents (my dad died when I was 26) left me with a renewed sense of life being short and the importance of living it deliberately and fully. Signing that lease and dreaming about Big Duck’s growth felt like planting a tree of optimism for the future.
Let me go back to the beginning. I started Big Duck in 1994 from a desk in my living room with a noisy dial-up modem and an AOL account. I never imagined I’d stick with it for decades, and never intended to have one job for life. Still, I had very lucky timing. Being in the field of communications in the 1990s and 2000s meant having a front-row seat to watch the rise of digital communications, social media, segmentation, and so many other fun, interesting things. The nonprofit sector was also growing and professionalizing rapidly, and becoming a powerful force for good that inspired me. I had so much to learn, so much to do, and felt so lucky to be a part of a generation shaping the future of nonprofit communications. Through Big Duck, I had a lab in which to conduct research, learn, and help shape the field and the future. (Listen to this podcast episode for more on what it was like back then–and what’s changed along the way.)
But it was never just me. Early on, I saw the magic that resulted from hiring great people and then getting out of their way. Folks seemed drawn to what we were doing at Big Duck, and willing to do deep, important work for our clients and our business. Together, we developed new frameworks for nonprofit communications, built our own and our client’s expertise, and tried to help nonprofits of all missions and sizes get smarter about how and why they communicate through our insights and resources.
And the clock has been ticking away. My kids are growing up, the world is changing, and the folks on the Big Duck team are transforming, too. They are people with fresh perspectives and important insights. All of a sudden, it’s 2021– that year of change I imagined a decade ago.
Big Duck has grown, matured, and become an unstoppable force for good in the nonprofit and communications sectors, shaped collectively by our powerful team. I am ready to do something new, and they are ready to lead.
So as 2021 draws to a close, I am moving on to new adventures, and Big Duck is stepping into its own as a worker-owned co-operative (more on that here). I’m very excited to explore other uses for all of the lessons I’ve learned over the past three decades. And I’m particularly excited to see how this new role inspires even more leadership and creativity from this incredible team.
Leaving is, of course, bittersweet. I will be cheering from the sidelines and advising as a board member for the co-op. And I hope we’ll stay in touch. You can find me at sarah (at) comptondurham.com.