Thursday, January 6, 2011

Interviews with 4 successful zoo directors from around the world

External capital investment for large audience nature venues

Interviews with 4 successful zoo directors from around the world

Interviews by John Regan
of John Regan Associates


Interview 1: Professor Chris West, Royal Zoological Society of South Australia

Background: The RZSA or Zoos South Australia is a non profit operating two sites, Adelaide Zoo and Monarto Open Range Zoo, as well as the Conservation Ark programme. In 2006 Professor Chris West, formerly of the Zoological Society of London, was appointed Executive Director, since which time very significant capital grants have been secured, mainly from governmental sources. Professor West kindly agreed to share some of the thinking that had led to this success in this interview with John Regan, who assists site based organisations across Europe with major funding potential. Chris and John were formerly colleagues at Chester Zoo, UK.

JOHN: Can you tell me a little about the degree, type and source of recent/ forthcoming external investment into your site?

CHRIS: Well, we have been successful with the Federal Government of Australia, the State Government of South Australia and the City of Adelaide. We have secured $25 million AUD over 2 years from the State, the Federal Government has contributed $1 million and the Adelaide City Council $50,000.
We have also secured corporate funding of $2.3 million, but there is a lot more on the way.
This kind of funding is huge and quite unprecedented for our kind of organisation in South Australia. The situation in the other states is rather different, as many of the big, ‘mission driven’ zoos there are actually operated by some level of Government, so receive ongoing subsidy. Arguably however, as they report to city or state officials, this ironically may make it more difficult to make a freehanded case for imaginative investment.

JOHN: Why did you seek this funding? Why did you feel you needed it? What benefits has/ will it bring? How does it fit with mission or business development?

CHRIS: In the case of Adelaide Zoo, we badly needed to redevelop a site that was in its origins essentially a Victorian zoo. Monarto, as an open range zoo, is very different, but also need substantial investment to develop its potential.
Underpinning this of course ZooSA is mission driven. So ultimately all resource is there to support conservation activities, but it is essential to constantly develop the ‘WOW factor’ so the public keep coming in.

JOHN: What case did you make to draw this funding down? Did your case reflect external political and social agenda? What were these, and how did you articulate the synergies between your promised delivery and these policies?

CHRIS: We made a strong economic and political argument for the funding to the State. Adelaide Zoo’s infrastructure was in bad need of a thorough going modernisation, and by a further 15 years time would have seen total dilapidation.
So we made the point that, by intervening at just this critical point, the State would actually save itself from a much greater investment at some future stage by when the zoo site might have become a complete ‘basket case’. We were saving the State money, not costing money! Thanks to the work of my predecessors and my current team, our site has built up a huge fund of public affection, so politically ‘letting the zoo go hang’ simply was not an option.
I would have to say the State Premier was also very forward looking and not at all resistant to these ideas once they were carefully presented to him.
The funding is in part to help bring Giant Pandas to Australia, as well as to build a new entrance and other infrastructure. The Pandas were really key in the potential to promote national and international tourism, bed nights, attendance, etc. All the usual economic development benefits were there, a general ‘halo effect’, media profile for South Australia on the international stage as well as branding the state in terms of environmental education and sustainability.
The ‘case statement’ for the Pandas was very business orientated, whereas the case statement to fund our education programme was all about numbers of students.

JOHN: Can you tell us a little about the specific process involved? Were there any particular politics, personalities or subtleties of process that you might point to?

CHRIS: Although results at this level had never before been attained, I would say it was a pretty straightforward process. A smaller population, a perhaps more egalitarian society compared to Europe, and greater acceptance of zoos generally makes networking relatively easy. My own status and experience as former zoological director at the Zoological Society of London helped a good deal as well.
It was easy to meet local politicians, who all wanted to be part of the Zoo’s success. However I had a special stroke of luck in that the Federal Finance Minister came from the same family that produced the first three Directors here at Adelaide back in the nineteenth century. He called me up to Canberra to meet the Cabinet , or part of it at least, Education, Science , Environment, etc.
I did a quick translation of the “John Regan Manifesto for Zoos” for them. “…Did you know that zoos welcome more people than sports musters, are very socially inclusive, are about science, education, community, international links, etc., etc…” But you know this stuff!
There was perhaps a residual view of zoos at Federal Government level as quasi-agricultural sites associated with negative issue of diseases, quarantine, bio-security concerns. So I did have to colour in Ministers’ understanding of zoos as conservation vehicles. But as a result of the Canberra trip, we were invited to bid for various grants amounting to $2/3 million, all on the basis of regional development.
Another stroke of luck was to make friends with a couple who just happened to be close friends with Alexander Downer the Foreign Minister. We met over dinner and then a lunch and a few glasses of local wine and it turned out that he was an elephant enthusiast and offered to help us obtain some. I gently explained that Elephants were not appropriate, but now, Pandas…..? And matters moved forward quickly again. Once the Federal Government were in for a given amount, it was time to go back to the State for infrastructure support. At the end we were only left with a very small funding gap.
It is important to appreciate the role of China as a huge trading partner with Australia in all this and the geo-political issues in the background. The Pandas will be the only such in the entire southern hemisphere, and constitute a powerful symbol of friendship between the two countries.
At one point someone at State level did actually raise the issue of dropping the Pandas, the suggestion that, in that case, “they will just go to ‘your rivals’ in Melbourne” was enough to close down that debate.

And then… the Howard Government got voted out, and we had to start all over again!
Fortunately, and yet again through personal contacts, I was able to establish a dialogue with the new Rudd administration. The new Foreign Minister happened to be a friend of a friend and so ongoing support for the Panda project was relatively easy to establish. Kevin Rudd is a great Sinophile…

JOHN: Did you finesse initial and internal ideas to reflect external agenda? If so, how do you feel about the result? Do you feel your project has been compromised? Or, on the contrary, do you feel, as a result of such adaptations, your project ideas and their delivery to have become richer, more sophisticated or of multiple socio-environmental benefit?

CHRIS: There was no compromise in terms of our needs. We simply looked at what we wanted and who might be the provider. Whose interests coincided with ours?
We would perhaps have liked more initially for science and field conservation, but external funding is the art of the possible, and 10% of our revenue goes into native species conservation anyway.

JOHN: What blockages, if any, did you encounter, and how did you deal with these? Were there any internal issues to address?

CHRIS: When I arrived, I did bring with me something of a new model, the Jersey Zoo template of being all about conservation, and although there was loads of goodwill all around, inevitably there was a certain degree of culture change required.
Also, in respect of going out there and making political contacts so as to pitch for large sums of money, there was some degree of incomprehension and discomfort at board level at first, but time and people move on, and our current Chair is herself a lead giver at $0.5 million. Certainly if a supportive culture at board level had not developed, this could have been a serious impediment to our funding ambitions.
Once the funding was secured though, at an order of magnitude bigger than any achieved before, everyone fell into line.

JOHN: What resources and kind of time frame did you need?

CHRIS: Well, in human terms initially it was just me, and I have been here 3 years. We now have 3 people in development which is probably still not enough. I am also keenly aware that our database needs to be radically improved.
To date the focus has been on public funding, but we want to widen it out to corporate and philanthropic funding.

JOHN: How important was networking, raising your organisation’s profile essential or other marketing activity to your success?

CHRIS: As above, it was really all about networking. Also I remembered what you used to say when we worked together at Chester about people wanting to be associated with success. So we did lots of media work to let decision makers know what was happening at the zoo.
I myself gradually became a fairly well known name and face in the relatively small community of Adelaide and South Australia, and often get asked to speak at events or offer a media opinion on various topics.
Some time back a bloke came up to me in the street to ask “Are you something to do with the zoo?” As a result of our chat he became quite an important corporate sponsor.

JOHN: How important was external partnership in the project?

CHRIS: We applied for most of our funding just by ourselves, but we did set up a new identity, “Conservation Ark” to get away from both the ‘zoo word’ and any restrictive geography, and so we could make grant applications to the Federal Government.
There are three Universities in Adelaide. I hold professorships at two of these, and we work closely with the other. The Universities want student placements, joint research, training/ teaching opportunities and the heightened public and media profile association with us allows.

JOHN: Other than the above, what lessons have you learnt from this? Will you repeat the process, and what other relevant activities lie in your organisation’s future? What would you do differently next time?

CHRIS: I might take a bit less on if I was doing it all again. When I arrived I did an initial concept paper with 10 major aims. 8 out of these are already achieved!
Adelaide Zoo came with a lot of tradition and clearly came under a certain pressure in re-gearing. So I would pace matters more and move slightly more slowly.
On the other hand, I think you do need to act pretty vigorously get the zoo into the in minds of local corporates and political decision makers as a place where exciting things happen. The zoo was especially well placed for this in one way, as the other cultural organisations, our museums and galleries in Adelaide are run by government agencies, and so despite the best efforts of their management, find it difficult to innovate, whereas we are independent and can turn on a penny.

JOHN: How do you think the current economic climate will impact on further potential to access public funds?

CHRIS: Right now, the recessionary effect in Australia is still lagging. We are a little more cushioned than others and our bank sector not in as bad a state.
But of course it will have its effect. We are trying to make the best of it. Rather than ask for more money recently we asked the State to hand over title of the territory adjoining Monarto. This is effectively a $5 million gift, and at 30,000 acres will make Monarto, the largest open range zoo in world (… depending of course on your definition of course).
But it looks unlikely that the Government is going to being dole out big lumps of cash any time soon…

JOHN: Unless the Australian authorities see further zoo investment in terms of the Keynsian philosophy of stimulating major infrastructure projects..?

CHRIS: Yes, hmm… well, perhaps we should be asking for a piece of the $42 billion available for that purpose?

JOHN: Is there anything else you would like to tell us in connection with securing public funding for the capital development of your site?

CHRIS: I think we have covered most of it. We will certainly be continuing to see what are the right buttons to press, without in any sense compromising our mission.
For instance I recently pointed out to the State that we are actually the largest site for disability in South Australia. As you know only too well, it is all about stitching people together. Zoos are all things to all people. We need to capitalise on this externally, and believe it internally. We need to constantly point out all the astonishing array of things that we do.
One last point I might offer is the difference between corporate funders and those who hold the public purse. If convinced of the benefit, business leaders will give you the sum agreed. Political figures are a little more complex as they need to keep so many people happy. They are always coming back to the table to ask “you don’t really need all this money, do you?” I think we need to be polite but forthright in saying:
Well – yes – actually we do!

JOHN: Thank you very much

ENDS 2301 words


Interview 2: Dr Jeffrey Bonner, President and CEO of the Saint Louis Zoo

Background: Jeffrey P. Bonner trained as an anthropologist and was formerly President of the Indianapolis Zoo. The Saint Louis Zoo was founded in 1904, is a free site attracting some three million visitors and is celebrated not only for its work in science and conservation, but also in fundraising.
The Saint Louis Zoo is generally recognised as a US and global leader in conservation, education and science. Dr Bonner is a hugely respected figure within the international zoo community. In addition to numerous scholarly and scientific publications, he is the author of “Sailing with Noah: Stories from the World of Zoos”

JOHN: Thanks for giving us this time. Can you tell me a little about the degree, type and source of recent/ forthcoming external investment into your site?

DR BONNER: Well, we are about to a launch a new $120 million capital campaign. This will support three aims:
• $35 million towards a permanent endowment for the zoo
• $5 million towards various conservation programmes
• $80 million for a number of capital improvements
This latter is all about new exhibits and much needed improvements to visitor services. We badly need to improve the experience for the three million visitors who come through our gates every year.
The ease, comfort and safety of their arrival is a particular priority.

JOHN: Is that an especially ambitious target? It might seem like a lot from a European perspective?

DR BONNER: The target is and should always be something of a stretch, but on the other hand it needs to be ambitious and not unrealistic.
I have been here seven years now. When I arrived a successful $70 million campaign was just ending. So we felt we have given our constituency a good enough rest in six years.

JOHN: How did you decide what the subject of your fundraising should be? Was there any tension between what you wanted most and those things easy to raise funds for?

DR BONNER: We asked ourselves certain basic questions. In the wake of our last campaign , what should be the next master plan? Where do we need to go next? And what was the best way to serve our audience?
Three major areas, three major needs came clearly out of this exercise.
First we needed to improve arrangements for visitors arriving at our site and crossing a major road in front of our entrance. There had been one terrible tragedy where a child lost his life due to a drunk driver, and there have been several other near misses. This was an unacceptable situation that we just had to do something about.
Secondly we wanted to improve conditions for the marine mammals we look after, sea lions and polar bears in particular. Marine mammals ideally need to be in salt, not fresh water. The US Federal authorities will mandate this soon, but we just didn’t want to wait.
And finally, there were various practical upgrades of visitor facilities. We needed new restrooms and better provisions for supplying wheelchairs and catering for wheelchair users. This reflects changing demographics. We just get more requests for wheelchairs these days, and are welcoming older people in greater numbers, which means more restrooms!
Your question refers to what we ‘wanted’, but really it was a matter of needs, not wants. None of the items above were really optional.

JOHN: And so where did, or will all this funding come from?

DR BONNER: Okay, $5 million is coming from the Federal Government and there will be more modest contributions in due course. No funding will be coming from the State or Local Government

JOHN: Why is that exactly? Can you explain the situation for readers outside the United States?

DR BONNER: It is because St Louis Missouri Zoo is effectively unique in its organisational set up in USA, and indeed perhaps worldwide.
Our organisation is the equivalent of “a school district”, that is to say we benefit from a property tax on residents within a certain location on the basis that we provide a free amenity to the public. This tax then provides a substantial part of our revenue funding, about $20 million a year. So, in a sense, we are part of the State of Missouri and it would not be appropriate or expected to look to the State of Missouri for capital investment.
Our overall operating costs are around $55 million a year met by this tax, philanthropic donations and return on investments (the return on investments has not been so good recently..!)
The State has helped with the costs of video surveillance, but this is part of its overall anti-terrorism programme.
The $5 million I mentioned above from the Federal Government was due to an “earmark” in a wider transportation funding bill thanks to efforts on our behalf by a local senator who was Chair of Transportation committee at the right time.

JOHN: “A federal earmark”..?

DR BONNER: Yes, that’s a congressional provision that directs already approved funds to be spent on specific projects. An earmark has to fit something already in the Federal budget.
Another example was funding designated for the zoo from USAID for a programme in Niger.
Only the biggest institutions can really go after this kind of funding. We employ a Washington lobbyist for $70/80K a year to bring in this kind of funding.

JOHN: Do you think you get a good return on that spend?

DR BONNER: Well, over 4 or 5 years we spend, say, $350,000 and in return win $5 million! Compare that to any other kind of financial investment the zoo makes in cost/ benefit... I would call that a terrific rate of return!

JOHN: What case did you make to draw this funding down? Did your case reflect external political and social agenda? What were these, and how did you articulate the synergies between your promised delivery and these policies?

DR BONNER: We had a formal ’case statement’ put together by an international consulting firm. This called for a $20 million lead gift, which I am pleased to say we have already secured.
When we engage with each prospective supporter, we use a slightly different case statement for each supporter. Named gift opportunities are made available to donors at different levels.

JOHN: You are clearly very successful, but why do people support the zoo? Is because of the conservation mission, or because they value the zoo as an amenity? Or is it because the right person asks them and because it confers social status?

DR BONNER: I would say all the above, but also because our citizens literally ‘revere’ the zoo as an institution. It is our centennial next year and we actually welcome and provide free access to over three million visitors every year.
St Louis Zoo is a huge thing in the lives of so many. The free entrance status is a large part of that, and helps with corporate and foundation giving as well.
We intend to hang on to our free entrance status.

JOHN: So is there any ‘downside’ to being a free site?

DR BONNER: Well it would be nice to have 3,000,000 multiplied by so many dollars for every admission, but…
The bottom line is that our mission is to connect people with nature, and we connect with a lot more people on account of having no financial barrier to access our services.
As a matter of fact, in a recession, in this sense at least, we perform even better as people will seek free leisure activities even more.

JOHN: In setting out your stall for external funding, is there any conflict between internal and external agenda..?

DR BONNER: I am struggling to identify any internal problems as such. When I think of internal issues, my thoughts go to whether our IT systems are all they should be, rather than any human or political agenda. There is no conflict between what we can get and what we want. We decide precisely what we need, and again it is very much what the zoo needs, not wants.
Everything is drawn from the master plan exercise

JOHN: Does St Louis need to make a strong ‘regional economic development argument’ to secure funds?

DR BONNER: The case is there, but to be frank, it is so obvious, we don’t really need to be explicit about it.
People look at the baseball team here in St Louis which also draws 3 million visitors. They immediately understand its value in bringing in visitors, creating spend and jobs, developing a sense of place and confidence, etc. And they think the same of us.
After all the drive time for the zoo can be estimated as wide as 250 miles

JOHN: That would seem be very wide compared to most UK or European zoos... But then our human geography is very different

DR BONNER: I think so, but that calculation is based on our advertising policy, and we would not waste our money if we were not sure of our market. In fact our publicity goes much wider and we had two recent articles recently in the New York Times.

JOHN: So what blockages are there, if any, to your current fundraising?

DR BONNER: Quite simply, it is a terrible economic climate in which to raise funds. Our annual fundraising success stood at $40 million last year. This year, I will be pleased if we make $10 million
I know of one particular giver who was about to make a $5 million gift, but has now deferred this.
So our campaign target is aggressive, but I believe still realistic and achievable.

JOHN: What resources do you think you need to successfully complete the exercise?

DR BONNER: Well first of all there is the time allowed. We calculated we needed five years to reach our $120 million target. Now it looks like it will be six.
In personnel terms we have twelve people in tour development department. That is out of some 300 staff overall.
And then there is me. As CEO of St Louis Zoo, I see my job as primarily fundraising.

JOHN: That might surprise some zoo directors outside the USA…

DR BONNER: Well, of course, I am ultimately responsible for all the other functions of the zoo too, including the animal collection, visitor services, etc. but I have good people to look after all these things for me. External funding is vital for the continued operation and growth of our institution so it demands my full attention. Major donors also deserve contact with the organisation’s most senior figure, so I make sure I am personally present for all the major ‘asks’.

JOHN: How important is any form of external partnership or championship to the process?

DR BONNER: I would reference our governing board here. Our trustees and friends have recently merged. We are very fortunate in having a network of affluent and well connected supporters, as ‘peer to peer’ solicitation of gifts is vital. In all, we have some 80 people who volunteer to raise money for the zoo.

JOHN: What lessons have you learnt in terms of fundraising and external funding? Are there things you would avoid in the future, or element on which you would place more stress..?

DR BONNER: I know now more than ever that you cannot stay close enough to your donors. Even after the campaign is over, it is essential to keep thanking people and making sure they know how much you appreciate their generosity, even though you are not going to ask again for years.
So we are just as ‘nice’ to our supporters years after our last campaign, as we were before.
It is crucial to devote a proper budget to donor relations and donor cultivation. So anyone giving over $1,000, gets a full ‘behind the scenes’ tour.

JOHN: How does corporate fundraising figure in your programme, and what motivates business to support St Louis Zoo?

DR BONNER: Few corporations are still in as good shape as a couple of years ago, so we just have to roll with that.
Interestingly though we recently secured one $5 million from a corporate source on condition we don’t tell anyone! They felt it would look inappropriate in the current climate.
As for why they fund us, well, naming rights, high visibility, enhancing the corporate name.

JOHN: So it is pure commercial sponsorship..?

DR BONNER: I would say a mixture of sponsorship and a kind of philanthropy. You see large commercial presences need to attract and retain talent for city. They depend on a pool of high skilled, motivated labour. So supporting St Louis’ amenities, ensuring St Louis remains a good place to live, is in their own long term interest.

JOHN: From everything you have told me, obviously institutional civic pride underpins your fundraising? Where does the zoo rank in terms of prestige in comparison with institutions that might be more traditionally described as cultural?

DR BONNER: Together with the art museum, the zoo is right at the head of the pack. However note the difference in attendance numbers between the two organisations: some three million for the zoo compared with some hundreds of thousands of visitors at the Arts Museum.
Then, coming behind the front runners, we have, as you may know, a very famous botanical gardens here in S t Louis as well as the St Louis Symphony Orchestra, and the history museum

JOHN: Is there anything else you would like to add as to the subtleties of raising funds?

DR BONNER: Adding to my earlier comments as to what I would do different, I don’t think we started endowment building early enough. You should ask for your endowment gift (i.e. an annual gift) at the same time as your one–off, capital gift. It should not be a case of one or the other. In asking supporters to help build the permanent endowment, basically we are appealing to donors wish to see their zoo still be here and flourishing in 50 years time.

JOHN: Dr Bonner, thank you very much indeed.

DR BONNER: You are very welcome.



Interview 3: Dr Jörg Junhold, Director of Leipzig Zoo, Germany

Background: It is largely thanks to Dr Jörg Junhold that Leipzig Zoo is now one of the most modern zoological gardens in Europe, and has been referred to as the “Zoo of the Future”. Pongoland, the world’s largest zoo facility for anthropoids, is a joint enterprise with the Max Planck Society. Gondwanaland, a tropical house, based on a concept that is unique in Europe, is due to open in 2011.
Historically coming under the ownership of the City of Leipzig, the Zoo changed its status in 2000 to become a limited company working for non profit (similar to NGO).
Dr Junhold also serves as the Chair of the Marketing Committee of the World Association of Zoos and Aquaria.

JOHN: Thank you for agreeing to this interview and I hope the questions I sent in advance will be useful..?

JÖRG: Yes, I think they are, and of course we have already met at some of the EAZA conferences, when you presented on various ideas for funding of zoo sites?

JOHN: Yes, that was me alright.

JÖRG: I think this is a very useful exercise, and it was very interesting for me to read your former interview with Chris West of Adelaide Zoo

JOHN: It is fascinating to compare and contrast the experience of zoo directors in very different parts of the worlds who have been successful in raising external funds. There are similarities, but also many differences. I interviewed Jeff Bonner of St Louis Zoo, USA the other day and he said that, as Director, his job was fundraising.

JÖRG: Yes, Jeff has to raise money from… from everywhere!

JOHN: Can you tell me a little about the degree, type and source of recent/ forthcoming external investment into your site?

JÖRG: Well, over the past ten years, there has been lots of investment on new buildings and new enclosures.
We made a master plan in the year 2000 which would take fifteen years to roll out. So we are now right in middle of that process.
Our original calculation was that we would require a budget of €120 million, plus a further €20 million contribution from the Max Planck Society.
I can tell you a little about several individual projects that are separate parts of our master plan.
First of all there is the Lion Savannah project in 1999/2000, one of our first projects. Nearly half the cost was met by a big public campaign asking for donations, €1.5 million, which was 44 % of the total.

JOHN: So the Leipzig public do think about the zoo in a philanthropic way?

JÖRG: Yes, they are very proud of their zoo. 40% funding then came from or through the zoo. We asked all our visitors for a special amount on top of their standard entry fee. We called it “The Lion’s Share”. The remainder (16%) of the costs came from the city.
The second project was Pongoland, which caters for primates. Nearly 85%, €17 million of the costs came from the Max Planck Society. The MPS founded a new institute here in Leipzig in 1997 based around evolutionary anthropology. The Zoo is a partner of this institute.

JOHN: So who actually owns the facility?

JÖRG: The Zoo owns the land. The MPS owns the facility itself, but we have a cooperation agreement and operate it jointly. The Zoo is responsible for looking after the animals’ welfare, for breeding programmes and conservation work; the MPS is responsible for all the scientific research.
We share the running costs on a 50/50 basis.

JOHN: Does this work well? Are there any problems?

JÖRG: There are not really any problems. At the start perhaps it was not so easy. As you know, researchers with a scientific background are not always quite the same sort of people as zoo people with their emphasis on good husbandry.
But it is a very good partnership and works very well now.
Our third example, currently under construction, Gondwanaland (named after the giant pre-historic supercontinent) is a giant tropical house. It will stretch over 1.7 hectares and will cost €60 million.
50% of this will be financed by the State of Saxony from its tourism development budget.

JOHN: Is this ultimately European Union money?

JÖRG: It is a mixture of EU and German national money. There are special EU funds for the former East Germany. I am not sure what you call it in English…?

JOHN: That would be “the Cohesion funds”. Was it easy to win this money..?

JÖRG: (..laughs..) No, it was not easy at all to get €30 million from the Free State of Saxony! We had to work hard to convince the Minister for Economic Affairs.
€21 million came from the zoo itself. €12 million of it is a bank loan and €9 million came from cash flow, legacies and investments.
And finally €9 million from the City.
We cover all the running cost ourselves, but receive a 20% subsidy from the City. If in a good year, we earn more money than we need for running costs, we can keep it, and spend on whatever projects seem most important.
So to summarise the capital picture, of the overall investment or master plan budget of €120 million, 55 % came from the Zoo (including a bank loan of 25%), and the rest from the public, the City and the Free State of Saxony.

JOHN: So tell us a little more about the problems and issues in dealing with the funding authorities, and the strategy and tactics you used.

JÖRG: There is a very special history behind Leipzig Zoo. When the Wall came down twenty years ago in 1989, the Zoo was in a bad state. There had been no larger investment for about 20 years.

At the start of 90s it was time for a decision, and there were just two options: close the zoo, or turn it around and establish ‘the zoo of the future’.
So the master planning exercise was not only a practical tool to develop the Zoo, but also a device to show the politicians the potential of the Zoo as a leisure destination and a cultural and social centre.
We were determined to demonstrate to our politicians our vision and our willingness to become the number one attraction within a 150/200 kilometre radius.
The visitor figures had declined in the 1990s, due to worn out infrastructure and enclosures and competing leisure attractions

JOHN: When you made the case in terms of tourism and becoming the number one attraction, was it only in terms of tourism itself, or in terms of jobs, civic confidence, international links, education, science, academic partnerships etc..? Or was it largely a matter of more tourists and their spending power..?

JÖRG: It was not just about tourists; it was about the local population as well. The people of Leipzig and Saxony are on very familiar terms with their Zoo. They love the Zoo with its long traditions and rich history. It is very much at the centre of public life. So this reality of being one of the main parts of the social, cultural public life and tourism fabric of our community, together with an ambition to become a key player in the zoo world, furnished the main arguments.

JOHN: Were there any internal difficulties, people wanting to keep the Zoo as was, not understanding need to court politicians and to change..?

JÖRG: Absolutely, when I started eleven or twelve years ago, there were people who asked why we needed to change at all.
There were some people I needed to convince internally. We held lots of workshops to communally develop a new vision and mission, to decide together what kind of institution we wanted for the future. So, yes, we had to change minds and started this internally, but we also had to do this outside the Zoo as well.
There was some resistance to new ideas, and people saying we would end up with some kind of “Disney park”. So we had to build up a lobby that understood the need to move forward.

JOHN: So how did you build up that lobby? What strategy did you use to convince people externally?

JÖRG: As Chris West mentioned in his interview, networking is very important. Personally, I did a lot of lobbying… lots of discussions with political figures, with the Mayor of Leipzig. I also met with public groups and various stakeholders. We really used the media as well, making sure we placed lots of positive stories on the Zoo. We looked to create a positive image via the media and make people see the Zoo as a key institution, as well as my concentrating personally on the smaller key group of politicians and City officials and so on.

John: And did you make comparisons with other zoos elsewhere in Germany and outside Germany. Did you look to internationalise the agenda so as to make Leipzig aspire to have one of the best, if not the best, zoo in the world..?

JÖRG: Not originally, but now that we have established ourselves, we do want to internationalise our work and profile. We certainly wish to get more influence on national and EU levels. I feel this is still a weakness. Leipzig Zoo is one of the top visitor attractions in Germany, bringing huge economic development benefits regionally and nationally. And yet I would say our influence on a national and EU levels is not reflected in this.

John: I am guessing you are making a comparison with art galleries, heritage cultural organisations..? Fewer visitors from fewer parts of society – yet, more influence..?!

JÖRG: Absolutely, I don’t know how you say it in English….’Hochkultur’, so called high culture, the opera, museums, art galleries…such organisations seem much better and more organised at lobbying

John: And you are saying that this is not only the case in Saxony and Germany, but on a trans-European level..?

JÖRG: Absolutely. There is great potential there I think.

John: I have to say agree. I have been frustrated for many years that suggestions as to cohesive lobbying on behalf of the zoo sector get talked about, but never seem to actually go anywhere.

John: What have you needed in resources to deliver your huge success in external funding?

JÖRG: We started with a small team, the team required to actually set up the master plan itself, and build the new enclosures. Then this group grew, and we added architects, curators, marketing people, external experts in leisure and later financial people.
We needed two years to finalise the plan and define our first steps. We then divided our future into three development phases. This was to make it easier for the politicians to accept the finance required. After each phase was complete, we carried out an evaluation. This was all part of the strategy. We wanted political figure to only have to decide on €30/40 million at a time, and not €120 million in one go!

John: A matter of asking politicians not to look too far ahead…?

JÖRG: That’s exactly right.

John: And do you do all of the negotiations for funding as Director yourself, or do you have dedicated staff?

JÖRG: Originally the main part was my job, but now of course we have the Head of Marketing, and those responsible for corporate sponsorship.

JOHN: Is corporate sponsorship important to you?

JÖRG: Yes, we have a sponsorship system with 5 corporate sponsors at Gold (€75k), Silver (€50k) and Bronze (€25k) levels. We currently have 5 Gold sponsors:
• Mercedes Benz
• the newspaper, Leipziger Volkszeitung
• the ice cream manufacturers, Langnese
• the bank, Sparkasse Leipzig
• the brewery, Reudnitzer

JOHN: I am slightly surprised that you have a brewery as sponsor. In the UK drinks companies might be reluctant to sponsor a zoo, fearing a misperception that they are trying to market to children. Of course every zoo I have ever been to does have a bar selling alcohol..!

JÖRG: No problem here. The sponsorship is tied in with a contract to sell all alcohol and soft beverages.

JOHN: How important have various forms of external partnership been in your external funding success..?

JÖRG: I would say the Max Planck Society was the most important external partnership. Otherwise we largely achieved the external funding ourselves.

JOHN: Can you point to any lessons you have learned, perhaps mistakes you made… things you would do differently if you were starting all over..?

JÖRG: Good question! (laughs) I think now that we are in the middle of the masterplan, we need to evaluate, but I don’t think we have made any major mistakes. However, in the future, we will have to look more to our mission, to implement more quality projects on conservation and sustainability and communicate on these to the public.
I think in the first ten year plan the main focus had to be the investment itself, but now we have the opportunity to act as a role model, to practice corporate social responsibility “walk the talk”, as well as “talk the talk”.

JOHN: What about the current recession. How will thus effect external funding?

JÖRG: I think Germany is a little like Australia as in your interview with Chris West at Adelaide Zoo. The recession’s effects are still lagging. There is a slight increase in unemployment and decrease in consumer spending, but no major effects at the moment. Of course we are all concerned for the future of the German car industry…
But, personally, I think, as a zoo in the middle of Europe, people may sacrifice their holidays abroad, but will still come here. In fact they may come even more, so we have a situation with which we are very comfortable.

JOHN: Well that seems to be the case all over Europe. Zoos are reporting strong starts to the year.

JÖRG: If the economic climate gets too rough with decreasing visitors, then of course that will eventually have its effects on us. However for next 3 to 5 years our funding agreements are firmly in place (capital and subsidy), so we do not need to worry there.

JOHN: That is good news!

JÖRG: Yes, and hope that it will continue.

JOHN: Are there any other matters you would like to share with us in terms of your success in external funding? Any important questions I haven’t asked?

JÖRG: We have covered a lot. But I would stress what I mentioned before, that we should work to get more influence at National and EU level with politicians. There is lots of potential there.
Also, I think in our country we need to prove we are economic players, too. We need to have a better understanding of what our customers want to have. But of course this needs to be balanced against conservation mission
We definitely need more political impact.

JOHN: That is very interesting and actually fits in with work I have done in the past. A few years ago, on behalf of a grouping of UK zoos, I put together a document called ‘The Manifesto for Zoos,’ which looked to articulate all the outputs of good zoos that support Government policy. It is probably out of date now, and I would write it differently, but it is all about looking to win more influence with Government for the zoo sector. I will send you a copy.

JÖRG: That sounds very interesting. I look forward to reading it.

JOHN: Jörg, thank you very much indeed for sharing your experience

JÖRG: My pleasure, John.



Interview 4 with Lena Linden, June 2009
Dr Lena M Linden was the inspiration behind, and founder of Nordens Ark, Sweden, and has been its chief executive for over 20 years, creating a unique institution and facility. She has degrees in zoology and geology, ethnography and physical geography. She has an honorary doctorate from the University of Gothenburg, and is a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry. She is Treasurer of the International Species Information System as it undergoes its multi‐million dollar transformation into the global Zoological Information Management System.
She has committed Nordens Ark to a pioneering role of linking conservation of endangered species in and out of the wild, providing the public with a stunning recreational experience combined with public education and awareness, sponsoring applied research and providing training for young professionals. In support of all these ambitions, Lena has also been remarkably successful in winning substantial external funding. In 2007 JRA Ltd held a brief funding workshop at Nordens Ark to assist with forms of EC funding beyond those already secured by Nordens Ark.
Shortly before this interview was being carried out Nordens Ark had concluded a very successful ‘summit’ meeting on threats to biological diversity convening conservation biologists from all around the world. The event was attended by Crown Princess Victoria and renowned primatologist Dr Jane Goodall.

JOHN: Lena, before we talk about funding, how has your recent conference worked out? I know it has been many years in planning, so I hope it has been successful?

LENA: The summit was very successful. I was especially pleased at the presence of both the Crown Princess and Dr Jane Goodall.
Some things I think I learned from the experience were that it was good to extend participation beyond people with a biological background, and also that it is crucial to have a good a good facilitator. Andrew Acland did an especially good job in that respect. The contribution of Mark Stanley Price (formerly Director of Jersey Zoo) was also very important in designing the program finding the right participants and to collaborating with the facilitator .

JOHN: A successful event, and of course you have been also very successful in winning financial support from the outside world, can you tell us how this all started?

LENA: Well from the very beginning when I began at Nordens Ark, it was clear that we were not going to make enough funding just from visitors. If we were going to expand and to fulfil our mission, new investment had to come from outside.
Basically our funding has come from two sources: various foundations within Sweden; and Government funding to “match” the applications for EU. The foundations split into two sorts as well: private philanthropic foundations set up by individuals or families, and those attached to certain financial institutions, such as Swedbank (Sparbanksstiftelsen Väst).
In approaching foundations, we basically just described exactly what we wanted, and in most cases, they were responsive.
The second kind, the public funding was funding from the European Commission. These were the Structural Funds, and had to be matched by money from the Swedish Government. In our case, these were budgets controlled by the regional government.
Both rural areas and West Sweden were prioritised, so Nordens Ark was lucky in both respects. It was also important that we were an NGO, a non profit organisation
These funds helped to pay for our hotel and our lecture theatre

JOHN: We talked a little when I visited Nordens Ark last year about the potential for Nordens Ark and other zoos across the EU in rural areas in the new Rural Development Funds launched in 2007 (a separate fund from the Structural Funds). Did you ever go back to look at these again?

LENA: We have not recently received any funds from the Rural Development Funds, at least not since 1999.
We did consider this funding after your workshop here, but to be frank, we have had so many developments over the last 6 or 7 years, that I think we really need to just consolidate and evaluate all this progress now.
In addition we are not really ready just yet to look for opportunities for new capital projects, but may look at this in the future.

JOHN: Can you tell us a little about the case you made to the regional authorities to win this money?

LENA: Well, it was important that we were a rural location, and we showed that these developments would create real jobs. Also we could prove that Nordens Ark was profitable enough to run our core programme. We were seen a reliable, growing organisation who could actually use the funding available. Our education activities on all levels ( preschool children up to university level ) and also for disabled children, were also important for their decision to support us.
The regional government actually liked the fact that we actually asked for ‘big money’.

JOHN: That’s really interesting. So the authorities valued the fact that you could “help them spend their own money”..!

LENA: Yes, and we could show them concrete results. They and others could actually come and see and touch the benefits of EU and Swedish Government money. They wanted ‘substantial’ things.
In fact they were so pleased that they asked us to come back and apply for some more funds. So we applied for our wetlands project and amphibian and reptile programmes.

JOHN: How did you see the project to win external funding fitting with Nordens Ark’s mission..?

LENA: All of our external funding was driven by our mission needs. We really needed all kinds of practical facilities for our own work, and these would also be of use to other external partners.
Partnership with universities was very important. We made the case that Nordens Ark is a resource for universities, especially Gothenburg University and National University for Agriculture, (with whom we have official contracts) and other universities throughout Sweden.
I should stress that, whilst the partnership with these universities is very important to get funding, the projects so funded are entirely ours, with one exception, our research school.
This had to be an “official partnership” with a university, and cost SEK 3.9 million However the University retained a standard commission of 33% , so SEK 9,000,000 as “overhead costs”. This was very irritating. but is an unavoidable standard condition where the University is an “official partner” in a funding arrangement.
That is why Professsor Claes Andren (whom you met during your visit John,) although Professor of Conservation Biology at the University of Gothenburg, is a direct employee of Nordens Ark. I didn’t want to pay a commission on his salary!
So to summarise, we have had 3 projects externally funded over the last few years, the hotel, the lecture hall and the wetlands. All of these together cost 57 249 570 SEK. and EU funds have covered 20 784 555 SEK and Nordens Ark 1 313 013 SEK out of that and the remaining costs 35 152 000 SEK have come from many different external sources. And it has all happened during six years, 2002 – 2008.
The money spent on the Hotel is totally 31 397 962 SEK ( EU Funding 12 317 555 SEK and Nordens Ark ‘s input 72 791 SEK and the rest 19 006 654 SEK from different types of external funds.
The Annedal ( lecture hall, vet clinic, lab, staff area ) total cost is 15 101 608 SEK ( EU funding 5 867 000 SEK and Nordens Ark 292 220 SEK and the rest 8 942 388 SEK from external funds)
The Wetland area cost is 10 750 000 SEK and (EU funding 2 600 000 and Nordens Ark 950 000 and the remaining costs 7 200 000 SEK from external funds)
10 SEK is approximately 1 Euro…slightly more right now.

JOHN: Was there any disagreement at the beginning within Nordens Ark as to the funding project?

LENA: Not really, except there was some internal concern as to Nordens Ark perhaps being gradually ‘taken over’ by the Universities, a worry that the scientific researchers and their more academic agenda might become dominant over more core zoo concerns such as husbandry and biodiversity skills.
But actually the opposite happened. Our own animal staff have become so admired by the visiting students, and the University has grown to more and more appreciate the work that we do.

JOHN: I almost expected just then you were going to say just then there was an initial worry at Nordens Ark becoming associated with the overall issue of the more invasive aspects of ‘animal research’ that might be linked to the University?

LENA: No, that wasn’t an issue. All the work of the University was focussed on our own needs in biodiversity and conservation. The University needed our resource, and we needed the information produced by their research, so it was a good match

JOHN: Were there particular tactics used in securing the funding?

LENA: Well, you know, the relevant people in the Regional Government liked Nordens Ark right from the start. We had the opportunity to talk to them right at the beginning before their own strategies were finalised and let them know what we wanted to do.

JOHN: That is really interesting. In one of the presentations I do on funding, I suggest where an organisation realises it simply cannot ‘win’ within a given funding regime, they should find a way to ‘change the rule’s. That is a little like your situation…?

LENA: Yes in a way. In terms of tactics, certainly just going out there and telling people about Nordens Ark was all important, what it is really there for, and what it could become in the future

JOHN: So networking was important..?

LENA: Yes, I was invited to lots of formal and informal events … parties and seminars. I tried to go as many of these as possible, and then to invite people back again to Nordens Ark.
Events at Nordens Ark are very useful to make contact with people. So last week’s conference and the presence of the Crown Princess and Jane Goodall was a wonderful opportunity to show people what Nordens Ark is all about.
I go to events in Stockholm as well. Recently for instance I was there for a celebration of one of Sweden’s biggest NGO’s, and met Julia Marton-Lefèvre, the Director General of IUCN.
I also often just send tickets to relevant people, so they can have a private visit, whenever suits them.
As part of the networking strategy we meet regularly with all kinds of decision makers and let them know our future plans. For instance, in respect of last week’s conference, which was supported in the end by the Swedish Government, we first told the authorities that we were planning this 4 years ago. Then we reminded them 3 years ago and showed them some early plans; then again 2 years ago with more detail; then 1 year. And then, finally, we said “Okay – now we are doing it!”

JOHN: It must be a little difficult as Director having to do all of this external work and to have all the practical tasks of managing Nordens Ark at the same time?

LENA: Well, yes it was at the time, but now fortunately for the last 1.5 years I have a marvellous Deputy, who focuses for me on most of the internal matters. The chemistry between us is so good, that he knows when he can just take care of certain matters himself, and when he needs to keep me informed

JOHN: In terms of resources, at the outset of the project to raise the money, what did you need in human terms and in timescale?

LENA: Well, it is just me. As a relatively small organisation, Nordens Ark does not have an employee dedicated to external funding as such. Although we do have a very good person who looks after our membership club.
We also have a system to stimulate and manage giving in wills through ‘bequests’. We derive between SEK 2 and 3 million a year from this source.

JOHN: Can you remind me briefly of the overall financial picture for Nordens Ark..?

LENA: Okay, our turnover is SEK 30 million.
35/40% of this is supported by some form of fundraising ord external funding
30% comes from the entrance fee
30/35% from education visits, retailing, catering, the hotel and other sources (wood and other activities from the property )
And of course then there is the wider Nordens Ark estate of 383 hectares of forest. We have the income from harvesting the lumber that this brings

JOHN: How important is external championship to your fundraising?

LENA: Well members of the Swedish Royal family are of course tremendously important. As mentioned above, our partnership with the University is also quite pivotal to our success.
I should also stress that the Head of our Regional Government is a key ally
Strangely enough the local community government of Sotenäs is not especially supportive of Nordens Ark.

JOHN: So the regional government helps you, but the local government does not…? Why is that?

LENA: We don’t really know. It is certainly not a matter of finance. Perhaps it is because they are not comfortable working with a ‘private’ organisation, even though of course we are non-profit and the second largest source of employment in Sotenäs.
Another aspect of the Government which does support us though is the road authority. You may remember us talking about it when you were here, John..? They helped us with a tunnel under the road that runs through Nordens Ark

JOHN: If you were doing this all again, is there anything you would do differently?

LENA: I think most of what we did I would just repeat. However, in the first years it would have easier if we had had some working capital. In those days, it could be a little too easy to get loans in Sweden, but it would have been useful to have had some money to move things forward more swiftly.
One big advantage we had all along though was that we owned all the land. So we never had to ask permission of any outside authorities for anything we wanted to do. We could make quick decisions on our own.
In terms of reporting back to our funding we meet regularly with the ECS and explain our progress. To get the last 10% in particular we have to provide a full report and evaluation of our project. So for instance, we might have estimated the creation of 3 jobs, but actually generated 4, and so on.

JOHN: Is the current financial climate going to affect Nordens Ark and its fundraising badly?

LENA: Well, a little, we have lost sponsors and conference bookings. One of our biggest foundation supporters, supporting a professorship, has had to suspend its funding.
But individual people remain generous and make up for the losses in other areas.
Also the Swedish Krona is very low at the moment, so this is good for tourism and more visitors will help.
I should also mention a new lottery system that has come to Sweden, which originated in the Netherlands. Basically in addition to the individual winner who bought the ticket getting a big prize, all the households who share that person’s zip code or postcode get some money too. It is very popular! 20% of the funds generated go to ‘good causes’ and Nordens Ark was selected as one of these to win a grant of SEK 750,000.
We were able to announce this during the recent event when the Crown Princess and Jane Goodall were here, so that brought us some marvellous publicity.
Visitors are still coming. February and March were not so good, but our April figures were double last year.

JOHN: Tell me a little about business sponsorship. Is this important to Nordens Ark?

LENA: Yes, we have 5 ‘head’ sponsors. These pay us a fee and also provide “sponsorship in kind”. For instance all our site insurance is covered by a sponsoring insurance company.
Then we have 35 to 45 smaller sponsors. They bring in about SEK 2 million
We also use a telemarketing company to call people and sell various kinds of simple merchandise to support Nordens Ark. Everyone knows that the goods involved would not normally be worth the price, so it is very much a case of an ‘excuse’ to make a donation.
To complete the picture in terms of people supporting Nordens Ark, we benefit from some of members acting as volunteers to decrease our costs. We are allowed 2 volunteers for 6/7 hours a day in Spring, Autumn and Winter, but are not allowed any volunteers in Summer. This is because the Trade Unions we work with are concerned that, past a certain point, this could take away employment from paid workers.

JOHN: Lena, thank you for such an interesting and comprehensive account of Nordens Ark’s success. Long may it continue!

LENA: You are very welcome John.


For Books on Zoo Management and more please visit
For regular updated Zoo News, Views, Reviews and Vacancies please visit
 Zoo News Digest on
Learn More About Zoos and Aquariums by visiting
and subscribe to the largest and longest established zoo related ezine
by clicking

'No Mirrors Involved'
Snow Leopards
Photo supplied by Peter Litherland of the

To advertise on Zoo News Digest please click

No comments:

Post a Comment