Zoos Victoria ‘Safe Haven’ and ‘Mali in the City’ Campaigns

The Challenge

Zoos Victoria is a Victorian charity which comprises Melbourne Zoo, Healesville Sanctuary (The Sir Colin McKenzie Reserve) and Werribee Open Range Zoo. Melbourne Zoo celebrated its 150th anniversay in 2012 and this was an opportunity to leverage this anniversary as a key element of a major capital fundraising campaign with a target of $85million over five years, attracting $20million from philanthropy and corporate support.

By 2010, fundraising at all three zoos had become moribund with little fundraising or donor activity for more than a decade. The revitalisation of the Zoos Victoria Foundation and a restart of the fundraising strategy was vital to attracting philanthropic and community support

The Background

Zoos Victoria had already done a lot of work to reposition the zoos as conservation organisations focused on 20 of Victoria’s most threatened species. The idea of our zoos as a ‘Safe Haven’ for threatened species resonated with our constituents, staff and stakeholders alike and became the backbone of the fundraising strategy.

Still, many people in the community assumed that the zoos were government funded or were privately owned (which they definitely weren’t) and therefore didn’t understand why philanthropy was necessary.

The history of these organisations is long and it is worth a visit to the Zoos Victoria website for more info.

The Response

The ‘Safe Haven’ campaign and the associated celebration of Melbourne Zoo’s 150th anniversary were seen as key strategies to relaunch Zoos Victoria to the community. I was hired as the Director of the Zoos Victoria Foundation to kick start the fundraising strategy and launch the ‘Safe Haven’ campaign to the philanthropic and corporate communities.

Mali the elephant immortalised in sculpture – this is two of the fifty produced and were positioned outside the Melbourne Cathedral

Using the forthcoming anniversary, the ZV Foundation re-established relationships with major philantroopic partners such as trusts and foundations who had supported the organisation in the past but had been a bit forgotten.

Melbourne Zoo created an anniversary committee which created amazing events such as ‘Mali in the City’ to bring our baby elephant to the people of Melbourne in the form of 50 sculptures which were decorated by creative volunteers – including well known artists – and positioned around the city before being sold off for auction. Mali became an elephant super-star! Mali, born in January, 2010 to mother Dokkoon instantly became a media star and thousands of visitors flocked to the Melbourne Zoo to see her.

The premiere Zoos Victoria Gala Ball was another first for the organisation. Attracting the cream of the philanthropic sector each wearing black tie with a touch of wild, we attracted a fantastic range of people who bought tables and auction prizes resulting in a fun, memorable and profitable event.

The Results

With any large organisation, no one person can claim the success of a particular strategy. However it is true that the Zoos Victoria Foundation under my leadership raised more money and attracted more long term significant philanthropic and corporate support than it had in its history.

From humble beginnings in a rather neglected, spidery prefabricated hut behind the elephant enclosure, the Zoos Victoria Foundation blossomed with help of a supportive Zoos Victoria CEO, the Foundation Board Chair and a clear strategy, to becoming a strong fundraising and partnerships engine.

The stars aligned to bring together a corporate strategy focused on threatened species at a time when the community was really starting to care about the loss of Australian species, the anniversary of Melbourne Zoo, the birth of a very special elephant called ‘Mali’ and major capital works needs.

These elements were brought to life by the right leadership group who saw the opportunities and made the most of them. This all culminated in a highly integrated strategy of amazingly effective activities within and outside the zoo walls, over a three to four year period that were new to everyone and which broke new ground for the organisation and the fundraising sector and attracted new sponsors and donors which would not have been attracted to the organisation without these elements being in place. The Mali in the City and Safe Haven Campaigns won FIA awards.

Zoos Victoria Foundation delivered over $20milllion in philanthropic and corporate support over five years including major sponsorships from ANZ bank and AGL. Several major philanthropic trusts and foundations renewed their relationships and continue to support the zoo to this day.