Thursday, May 10, 2012

Zoo turns to animals to help with capital campaign

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The Snidely Metro Zoo is turning to its animals to help with fundraising for their new $10 million expansion.

The Zoo, one of the nation’s largest, was having trouble with its new “Animal House” capital campaign. After a year of fundraising, only $500,000 had been raised by the zoo’s human fundraising staff. That’s when Executive Director Dibble Brewer got the idea to use the Zoo’s animals to help fundraise.

“I was wondering who we could get to really take a bite out of our capital campaign as I was looking out the window of my office at the lion’s enclosure. The lions were having their usual breakfast of frozen meet on a stick. Then it hit me. Why not use the penguins?” She said.

After consulting with the Zoo’s chief zoologist, Brewer evaluated each one of the Zoo’s 300 animals to see which would make the best fundraiser. The meerkats and lemming were rejected because they could only work in groups of three or four. Likewise, the giraffes and the hippos were turned down because they were too big. Those who made the first cut were the lions, cheetahs, polar bears, penguins, anteaters, tapir, wild asses and a Komodo Dragon named “Sid”.

“I picked the ones that had the same qualities as our successful human fundraisers. They needed to be warm and inviting. They needed to listen to what donors really wanted. They needed to help motivate people to see the wisdom of giving to the zoo. And they needed the ability to understand the difference between friendly donor behaviour and actions that threatened the animal’s place in their pack’s hierarchy when their territory was violated. Those kinds of things,” said Brewer.

Brewer used her existing fundraising staff to help put on training seminars for the animals to help them adjust to their new role. In three all day sessions, the animals learned about the Zoo’s mission and vision, the campaign’s case for support, the “do’s and don’ts” of asking for a major gift and a crash course in the Zoo’s fundraising database. They based their training program on one designed for the Zoo’s board of directors.

“It was amazing how similar the two groups were. Both would both sit there, sleeping through most of the sessions, make a lot of grunting noise through the presentations and then come back to life during snack time,” said Brewer. “We also found that just like board members, lions can really be cranky and bite people’s heads off for no apparent reason. Funny that.”

Because the animals were “visual learners”, a great deal of role-playing was used to prepare them for their fundraising jobs. This worked well until the animals were paired up with a buddy to practice their donation pitch.

“In hindsight, our trainers shouldn’t have matched the meat eaters with the plant eaters. We learned a lot of lessons that day. It took the rest of the afternoon to clean up the mess. We won’t be making that mistake twice.”

The issue of using the fundraising database was very challenging for the animals since most didn’t have opposable thumbs. This was eventually solved when the zoo brought onboard a number of primates from the ape enclosure to help input data.

“In testing, we found that human fundraisers were just about the same as chimps in using the database. The only real difference is that the humans went for coffee breaks and the chimps just sat there in a group picking ticks out of eat other’s fur.”

The first sales calls were made to those donors coming up on a pledge renewal and who had made donations to the zoo in their wills. Brewer said these would be the donors mostly likely to give again.

The initial results were very promising. Of the dozen animal fundraisers released by the zoo, only two went on a wild rampage eating dogs and cats and running amok at nearby elementary schools. The others did a fair job of making the pitch and getting results. The zoo raised more in one day with the animal fundraisers than any single day with their human counterparts.

“We were very pleased. The penguins especially did a wonderful job. People just gave and gave and kept on giving when the penguins waddled around their offices and homes. The tapirs and the wild asses did so-so. The lions had mixed results. One donor called the Zoo ten minutes after a lion came to their door and said they would pay anything not to be asked again. The other two donors the lions visited never responded at all, and in fact died in terrible home accidents shortly thereafter. Very sad.”

The Zoo plans to keep the animal fundraising program going and expand it to other animals in the near future.

“We have a whole snake enclosure that we haven’t tapped for fundraising yet. I think that’ll be our next move.”