Fundraising Like It’s Second Nature

On March 10, 2012, the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin held a fundraising event: A Ride on the Wild Side with Jack Hanna. All proceeds from the event went to the Arctic Passage Project to fund new habitats for polar bears and seals.

Jack Hanna is a well-known zookeeper who was once the director of the Columbus Zoo. He is a recognized celebrity zookeeper who has done much to raise awareness about conservation and wild animal issues for many years.

Keeping Everyone in Mind

The sold out, adult only event offered both VIP and general admission ticket opportunities, so individuals of varying means were able to attend and contribute. Tickets for the event cost $75. There was also a VIP reception with Jack Hanna at the beginning of the evening offered to individuals willing to purchase a $150 ticket; this included a bottle of wine and preferred seating. For $1000 individuals could purchase a table. There was also a wildlife show hosted by Jack Hanna.

The lead up to the event included a raffle for a Toyota Prius, in keeping with the conservation theme.

Different funders learn about events in different ways. The organizers of the Ride on the Wild Side event reached out to their potential patrons through many different types of media: postcard invitations sent to 20,000 people, ads in local magazines, newspapers, newsletter, e-blasts, Facebook, Twitter, and a digital billboard

The organizers relied on traditional forms of media and word of mouth, which remains the most important and effective selling strategy even as technology advances.

Defining Success

“We received the most comments about the digital billboard. However, we did not survey attendees, so we do not have an accurate way to measure this,” Cathy Sheets of the Henry Vilas Zoo told me.

For those planning similar advance, Cathy offered this advice, “Begin planning a year in advance. Lay out the event in as much detail as possible, monitor advertising effectiveness. Define your goals clearly. Remain flexible and calm under pressure. Don’t forget to enjoy the event, and make sure you have a great photographer and/or videographer to record the event.”

After the event, the zoo posted galleries of photos to its site, so visitors could remember the experience.

For Cathy, the highlight of the event was, “The ability to share an important conservation message and raise funds for a vitally needed capital project by providing attendees with up close animal experiences and the opportunity to meet Jack Hanna and be inspired by his experience and stories.”