“There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.”
The past week has been a challenge for all of us, and the scale of the challenge is not one most of us have experienced in our lifetimes. While we don’t know precisely when we’ll begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, one thing is certain: it will come.
Few institutions are more iconic than the local zoo or aquarium. Visitors have come to us for generations to celebrate each other and the natural world (and future generations will keep coming). That status confers tremendous responsibility, and that responsibility is more important now than ever.
We must continue to live up to our promise and find new ways to leverage our strengths towards the service of our communities. It is our communities who need us, and it is our communities who will help us get through this. With that in mind, here are a few ideas on what zoos can do right now:
Empower the Ad-Hoc Educators
Many of us with school-aged children find ourselves thrust into a new role as primary educators. AZA organizations have tremendous resources to empower parents and caretakers in this task. This could be as simple as developing worksheets or lesson plans in biology, or as complex as creating live-streamed, age-appropriate virtual classroom sessions for students to follow along with at home, like so many zoos and aquariums are already doing. Engage and inspire them today and continue to find ways to connect and cultivate the future guests, members, and donors well into the future.
Make Us Smile
Communities love their zoos and aquariums deeply. There are many reasons why, but an obvious one is that they connect with your animals. Simply put, animals make them feel happy. Don’t underestimate how powerful a simple smile can be—we could all use one these days. Use your massive social media networks to give your followers a reason to forget, if only for a brief moment, the challenges of the day, while at the same time not letting them forget about the important work you do every day.
What got you up last month is the same thing that should get you up this week. Despite how the world has shifted, our missions matter—maybe even more now. Saving wildlife, protecting and preserving our natural world, connecting with and inspiring communities. It’s these shared values that bind us together. Let’s not lose focus on our passion.
Be a Helper
Your communities are hurting. At times like these, we should creatively look at how we can be resources to those who may need us most. What assets can we leverage to benefit those around us? Can idle foodservice staff and facilities be reactivated to create healthy meals and pick-up points for hungry students? Can staff become a resource for animal shelters who have lost capacity? The investments we make now in our communities will be remembered for generations to come.
Flex Your Muscles
While you’re not the only not-for-profit/community service entity in your region, you are likely one of the biggest. The popularity and reach of your organization has always been your strength—your ability to communicate with huge numbers of constituents is unmatched. You can activate them now for the greater good. Could one email from your organization result in a massive influx of goods for your local food pantry? With one tweet, could you mobilize an army of volunteers to support others in your communities?
Zoos and aquariums have been around for over a century and have survived and then thrived through wars, depressions, and other crises. This too shall pass, and we will emerge more resilient and more committed to our missions.
Over the coming days and weeks, the Zoo Advisors team will be sharing additional concrete tips on how to weather the economic hardships we all will be facing. Next up, we’ll be talking about how best to position yourself to benefit from stimulus dollars that will come available.
As always, if there’s any way that we can be a resource for you, please let us know. For now, there’s no “scope of work,” there is only “us,” and we’re all in this together.
Stay well and healthy,
The ZA Team
David, Zach, Kathy, Eric, Jackie, Kristin, Denise, Sherrie, & Becky