The Zoo and You—Nonprofit Lessons from the Lincoln Children’s Zoo

Back in 1959, Arnott Folsom had a vision to build a zoo. And six years later, the zoo would open its doors in Lincoln, Neb., and would be unlike normal zoos—this zoo would be touchable.

Starting in 1965, the Lincoln Children’s Zoo opened its doors for children to interact with animals. And when those children grew up, their children came. One thing has remained constant since the beginning—up close and personal has been the only way the Lincoln Children’s Zoo knows how to operate.

Strategic Communications Director Ryan Gross said the zoo hadn’t changed in that aspect since Folsom opened the zoo.

“We get you as close to the animals as possible and we get you to engage [with] as many animals as possible,” Gross said.

So what else makes this zoo unique? The Lincoln Zoo is a nonprofit organization, going through many of the same obstacles and triumphs of other organizations. Here’s their story, and how you can apply it to your own organization.

Biggest Day to Day Challenges

Like so many other nonprofits, Gross said the Lincoln Children’s Zoo is faced with minimal resources to complete huge jobs. Among those obstacles, the top hurdles facing the Zoo include lack of resources for staffing and funding.

“I would love to create a new department and let that department research and develop a product for months before we put the product up for sale,” Gross said. “But it doesn’t work that way.”

To combat those challenges, Gross said putting an emphasis on the volunteer programs was necessary. “If you can get volunteers to help as much as possible, that’s what makes this [running your organization] successful.”

Most Interesting Way to Connect Online with Constituents

One of the best ways the zoo is utilizing their website to connect with their constituents involves increasing involvement levels and education. Gross said their website was a gateway for constituents to take part in various camps, purchase memberships or learn about animals.

“I would say it [our site] allows our guests to engage in our programs more easily and then learn about the amazing animals we have here.”

One look at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo website and it’s evident that they understand how important it is for any nonprofit website to reflect that organization’s qualities.

Looking to the Future: Incorporating More Online

In this day and age, an online presence is important for the survival of any organization. Gross says one of the most important considerations for a nonprofit’s website is “how you can utilize your website to make it most convenient for people who engage your organization to get involved.”

That means that whether site users are looking to donate, volunteer, or learn more about your organization, your site should be easily navigable so that site users aren’t turned away.

For the Lincoln Children’s Zoo, that means being a resource for schools and children in the community to help them learn about animals, science and nature. Gross said the website should be a place for people to visit and learn about all the animals that the Lincoln Zoo houses.

“We are working on trying to add our entire animal collection onto the website,” Gross said.

For more on the Lincoln Children’s Zoo, be sure to check out their website.


Lyndsey Hrabik

Lyndsey is a former editor for Nonprofit Hub and Nonprofit Hub Magazine. She now serves as a guest contributor, writing on topics such as social media, technology, marketing and starting a nonprofit.

May 1, 2013

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