Leveraging Opportunities of Scale in Strategic Planning & Economic Impact

Indianapolis Zoo


As Dr. Rob Shumaker moved into the President and CEO role after long-time chief executive Mike Crowther retired, the Indianapolis Zoo leadership team knew the timing was right for a bold update to their strategic plan: a visionary plan to build on the organization’s rich history and launch the Zoo into the future. Additionally, the Zoo was initiating a capital campaign for a suite of best-in-class improvements. To make a strong case for the new master plan features, the Zoo wanted to understand how that investment in the organization would pay dividends in the community.


Based on ZA’s industry-leading reputation for strategic planning and economic impact studies, our firm was selected to provide both of these services to the Zoo. By engaging ZA in these two projects simultaneously, the Zoo benefited from shared knowledge across both projects, improving each outcome.

While the arrival of the global pandemic mid-process shifted some priorities for the Zoo, a commitment to their strong business principles enabled them to stay on-task, eventually allowing them to emerge from a difficult year more focused and driven than ever before.

Despite the pandemic, ZA and the Zoo continued to drive the process forward, gathering input and testing strategy with over 225 staff, internal and community stakeholders, and members of the Zoo’s board of directors. Central to this work were key areas on which they wanted to capitalize: the Zoo’s international conservation reputation, continued innovation, and building on their strong philanthropic success.


The impact study results revealed a 20% projected increase in total economic impact with the implementation of the new plan over the next 10 years, including 3,769 jobs supported and $535M total impact dollars. Primary drivers are the Zoo’s direct operations, spending from its visitors to the site, and capital expenditures in visionary new master plan features.

This impact will buoy the Zoo’s status as a cornerstone economic driver in the region, and be a critical tool to achieve their new strategic goals as 1) a conservation leader, having already established a new Global Center for Species Survival (GCSS) in partnership with the IUCN Species Survival Commission, tied with an elevated visibility and impact of the Indianapolis Prize; 2) continuation of innovation through habitats (including GCSS and others); 3) financial strength and sustainability, aided by the economic impact study and continued fundraising efforts; 4) furthering their role as a community builder and destination; and 5) focusing on the Zoo’s culture, including implementing the new strategic plan into the culture, in part through training on the new mission, vision, and values.

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Dr. Frederick Lahodny

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