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Chicago Zoological Society: Embeddable & Trackable Giving Forms

Chicago Zoological Society | iDonate

For the Brookfield Zoo, properly feeding and caring for a zoo full of animals costs $41,000 per DAY.

The CZS decided to be very clear about their need for donations and honest about the cost with their members and donors. They relied on iDonate to quickly build effective giving forms and unique campaigns to successfully track the success of their appeal.

The first 6 months of 2020 brought unprecedented change. By the end of March, the world was consumed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The resulting shutdowns across the country meant public areas like museums, parks, and zoos were closed to the public.

While the circumstances were far from ideal, the Chicago Zoological Society, still managed to thrive. Despite all the obstacles, the Chicago Zoological Society saw their digital giving increase to more than 10x the giving they saw in the first 6 months of 2019. Their number of gifts also exploded, growing 20x over the same time period of 2019.

Many museums and parks quickly furloughed staff and reduced operating cost to soften the blow of lost revenue. The Brookfield Zoo, operated by the Chicago Zoological Society, simply couldn’t take that approach. Unlike a museum, the exhibits in the zoo are living, and therefore still need to be fed and cared for. The Chicago Zoological Society (CZS) took an aggressive approach to fundraising despite the difficult economic situation that much of the country was in.

The first six months of 2020

Compared to the first six months of 2019

  • +10x digital giving increase
  • +20x number of gifts
  • +22x number of new donors


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Thriving in a Shrinking Economy

Properly feeding and caring for a zoo full of animals takes a significant amount of money. For the Brookfield Zoo, the cost is $41,000 per DAY. That number includes the food and veterinary care, as well as the salaries of the staff involved in that care. Normally, that cost is covered by ticket sales, zoo memberships, corporate sponsorships and individual donations.

With the zoo shut down, revenue from ticket sales was gone and zoo memberships were certainly less attractive to the public. That meant donations had to increase significantly.

The CZS decided to be very clear about their need for donations and honest about the cost with their members and donors. Their spring annual fund appeal was scheduled to go out shortly after the zoo had to be shut down because of the coronavirus. The original language of the appeal was scrapped as the CZS decided to be very clear with their audience about the financial needs. Emails and letters went out making it clear the huge cost of providing proper food and care for the animals at the zoo and asking their donors and members to help.

The appeal was met with massive response from the entire audience. Not only did members and donors respond but the appeal generated many first time gifts as well. In the first 6 months of 2020, the CZS acquired 22x the number of new donors they acquired in the same time period of 2019. The audience understood the clear need and were given an easy way to respond.

Fundraising Infrastructure Made it Possible

For the CZS to pivot and change the message of their Annual Fund appeal they had to have the right infrastructure in place. They relied on iDonate to quickly build effective giving forms and unique campaigns to successfully track the success of their appeal. Landing pages and giving forms were updated in minutes to reflect the new campaigns and designations. The ease of these changes made it possible to get the appeals out in a timely manner and contributed to the success of the overall campaign.

Re-Opening Event

After months of being closed the Brookfield Zoo was ready to open to the public on July 1. Before opening to the general public, the Chicago Zoological Society created an event for their largest donors.

The donors were invited to visit the zoo the morning of July 1, before the zoo opened to the public that afternoon. However, to maintain social distancing requirements and to adhere to the additional safety standards that had been put in place, they couldn’t have all of their major donors arrive at the same time. They needed a way to ensure that everyone could arrive safely, quickly get into the zoo but maintain a safe distance from others.

iDonate Event Management

The CZS set-up the event through the iDonate Events module and created several different tickets. The different tickets allowed a donor to reserve a free visit to the zoo at a particular time. The number of tickets for each time slot was limited so the zoo could ensure that the crowds were spread out on arrival time at the entrance of the zoo.

Nearly 500 major donors accepted the invitation and reserved a time through the iDonate event page. The process allowed donors to arrive safely and visit the zoo without ever feeling crowded or at risk.

The ease of use for creating the event page and the easy process for donors to reserve tickets created a smooth process for a very successful opening day.

Looking Forward

The CZS will continue to utilize iDonate for donation forms and event management. They look forward to continued fundraising success and are confident that they have the tools they need in place to continue to see growth in revenue.

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