July 6, 2022

Gaining Impact, Resources, and Awareness for Conservation

Community Conversation Takeaways

Dinosaur statues at a park

By Kathy Wagner

Last week’s Community Conversations webinar featured six outstanding panelists who shared ideas and resources for increasing financial support and gaining greater public awareness of conservation, discussing recommendations for some “tried and true” methods, some tweaks to those methods, and some interesting new concepts.

Go Big and Bold

  • Karen urged us to “be bold and think big.” The Indianapolis Zoo developed the Indianapolis Prize with several concepts in mind—how can others adapt a similar model/use these ideas?
  • Make conservationists heroes as familiar as sports heroes.
  • Engage celebrities to raise the Zoo’s profile in new ways; reaching those not currently thinking about conservation.
  • Be a “place-maker” that would benefit the City economically.
  • Albuquerque BioPark emphasizes engagement with community science programs, starting simply by introducing people to iNaturalist (https://www.inaturalist.org/) so they can identify nature at home, then recruiting them as volunteers for the New Mexico Butterfly Monitoring Program which the BioPark runs, and then moving individuals up to their rare plant monitoring program—always reminding them that they’re part of the conservation story.
  • Lynn Mento noted that climate change and biodiversity are “two sides of the same coin” and that this thinking can open doors to major sources of climate change funding—and that we should “go big” as we seek to tap into the billions of dollars available for climate science.
  • “Just ‘doing the good work’ might not be enough if we don’t let people know about it.” said Dr. Judy Mann. [Zoos, aquariums, and conservation organizations] usually dedicate the great majority of  funding to the project work itself and nearly none at all on promoting the work or publicizing the project itself, which could lead to even greater support.


  • Many zoos and aquariums have partnerships with children’s hospitals, and Lynn noted that not only are these relationships beneficial to the children but documenting and promoting our work with great photos can raise awareness of our organizations and the work we do.
  • Julie and Bill suggest we look in surprising or unusual places for contributions—garden centers, corporations with significant corporate responsibility programs, or foundations in different but related areas, and also check out the websites of other conservation organizations to see who’s funding them.
  • Bill noted that we need to bridge the gap between zoos and aquariums and the broader conservation community; the current work by several zoos and aquariums in species assessments with IUCN is a step in the right direction.
  • The “Reverse the Red” campaign is a great example and opportunity for collaboration and cohesive messaging as Julie commented.

Message and Story

  • Conservation Nation engaged a storytelling consultant to help them craft compelling stories—thanks, Lynn! (https://castleandspark.com/)
  • Clay recommends telling your entire story start to finish and leveraging partnerships so others can tell your story.
  • Judy acknowledged that fundraising for conservation often competes with “people needs” in human services and education.  She reminded us that conservation is about people and nature and making this connection when we seek funds may open doors and help funders understand the connection.
  • We need to change public opinion and build awareness of our work in conservation. As Karen said, “no doomsday or guilt” messages; invest in media relations and marketing to tell our great stories and get people to vote.
  • Climate change/adaptation and our organizations’ role and messaging in this arena was top of mind for our panel. Paying attention to its impacts also addresses social and environmental justice as well as basic conservation—those who are hit hardest are often those who have the fewest resources, as Judy from South Africa noted.

Ideas for Giving and Getting

  • Indianapolis creates a catalog of conservation opportunities much like the Heifer International holiday gift guide.
  • “Round-up for conservation” on payments continues to be a significant and easy way for gift shop customers to give and engage; consider involving retail partners/staff in decisions on projects to support.
  • “Quarters for conservation” is another familiar example of ways to engage guests and receive support, usually or often tied with entry process.
  • Conservation carousels are fun for visitors; ticket sales can benefit conservation programs.

We thank panelists Karen Burns, EVP and Executive Director Indianapolis Prize, Indianapolis Zoo; Judy Mann-Lang, PhD Executive-Strategic Projects, Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation; Lynn Mento, CEO, Conservation Nation; Clay Meredith, IUCN Red List Species Survival Officer, Plants, New Mexico BioPark Society; Julie Rugg, Executive Director, New Mexico BioPark Society; and Bill Street, Senior VP and Director of the Global Species Survival Center, Indianapolis Zoo.

The idea for this webinar arose from Zoo Advisors’ work with Fundación Temaikèn. As our conversations on this topic continued, we realized that increasing awareness and resources for conservation would be of interest beyond our current project with Temaikèn, so we developed the webinar to broaden the conversation, generating ideas that would benefit not only Temaikèn, but many of our colleagues. We thank Darío Lareu, Connie Ledesma, Paula Gonzales Ciccia, and Cristian Gillet who represented Fundación Temaikèn in this discussion.

If you weren’t able to attend this webinar, click here to watch the recording.

Our next Community Conversation will be held on July 14 at 12:00PM EDT and will focus on Current Economic Conditions and What Zoos Should Do About Them. We invite you to register here

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