Why Mess With Success? An Education Programming & Staffing Assessment of Rosamond Gifford Zoo

Three elephants


As we often find ourselves saying here at Zoo Advisors, there are two times to conduct a program audit: when things are going well, or when they’re not. In the latter case, the strategy is obvious: figure out what’s going wrong, and what needs to be changed to fix it. But the audit of a healthy program is just as important, and often overlooked. After all, why mess with success?

Because it’s an opportunity to nudge something good towards something great, and to take a measured look at component parts to see what can be changed to further maximize impact and financial success.


In the summer of 2014, Zoo Advisors was engaged by the Friends of the Rosamond Gifford Zoo to conduct a full assessment of their education programming and staffing in an effort to maximize an already strong program. The goal was to ensure that the department was making the absolute most of its human and financial resources, and to provide premier programming to the Syracuse community.

This process, along with all Zoo Advisors’ projects, was “inclusive.” This means that all stakeholders got a seat at the table, including front-line education staff, development, marketing, and animal care staff, and leadership  from both sides of the public-private partnership. The inclusive approach ensures that all voices are heard, and that we are able to develop a complete view of the key issues.

Our approach to the work included two key analytical perspectives: the quantitative and the qualitative.

The quantitative perspective included a thorough analysis of education department financials to determine how individual programs were performing from a revenue standpoint. Were they covering their costs? Zoo and Society staff worked hard in the initial part of this phase to provide us with “true cost” data on each program, which included not only direct costs, but indirect costs such as animal care, marketing, and other overhead.

With an understanding of the financial implications, we conducted a survey of the stakeholders to apply a quantitative paradigm to something which is inherently difficult to quantify: mission impact. The outcome of the survey was a numerical “mission score” which was applied to each program module of the department.

With mission and margin now quantified, we placed the programs on a matrix, each lying somewhere on a gradient between high-mission/high-margin, and low-mission/low-margin.

The qualitative perspective allowed us to assess programs individually from a human standpoint. What was it like for the staff who had to run these programs? What were their ideas on how to apply methodology of high performing programs to the others? We also asked difficult questions about what programs the department might be better off without, whether the long term outlook could be improved by putting some of them to rest, and if there was another organization in the community who could execute the program more effectively.


By combining the quantitative with the qualitative, we were able to make some strategic recommendations, including:

  • The cessation of two programs that consumed valuable staff time and generated little in terms of mission impact or revenue
  • Strategies for growing the successes of high-performing programs, as well as applying their methodology to others
  • Tools and processes for focused decision making and program assessment in the future

The outcome of this project is a department that is empowered to capitalize on its strengths with clear goals and strategies for reaching them. Zoo Advisors feels privileged to have worked with the staff at Rosamond Gifford Zoo.

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