Independence, MO – I look forward to this weekend every year.
Not because it follows Memorial Day. Or because the kids are by now fully ensconced in summer.
It’s an event the first Friday each June that I anxiously anticipate: Jazzoo.
Jazzoo is the Kansas City Zoo’s annual outdoor extravaganza. It features food from dozens of local restaurants, live music and an opportunity to socialize with friends in the zoo’s beautiful outdoor setting.
If you’re a fan of the Kansas City Zoo, Jazzoo also provides an annual peek at the institution’s progress. The zoo’s growth and improvement in recent years is remarkable and offers a reliable recipe for nonprofit organizations seeking to maximize their resources and become the best at what they do.
The most essential ingredient to nonprofit organizational success is effective volunteer leadership. The zoo has it in spades.
Under a strong board of directors and campaign team led in recent years by Kevin Pistilli, Carol Hallquist and Gayle Kriegel, the zoo has effectively positioned itself as an essential metropolitan Kansas City nonprofit organization and increasingly won the attention and respect of civic leaders. It’s been a gradual process that’s required patience, persistence and an unswerving commitment to the institution’s potential to improve our community.
An effective nonprofit organization also relies on the skill and vision of an effective staff leader. The zoo is ideally served by Executive Director/CEO Randy Wisthoff.
Wisthoff spent more than 26 years at the Omaha Zoo before assuming the top post in Kansas City seven years ago. He’s steadily nurtured the Kansas City Zoo to its current point as a rising star on the national zoological stage.
Despite the city of Kansas City’s reduction in zoo support, Wisthoff has stabilized the Kansas City Zoo’s budget through streamlined operations and increased attendance. He’s smartly added new attractions every year to draw new and return visitors. And he’s increased fundraising activities and stimulated significant philanthropic growth.
Since 2006, the zoo has raised nearly $37 million in public and private support. New dollars have built or renovated its Discovery Barn, Promenade, H&R Block Carousel Cafe, Peek-A-Boo Tree, Endangered Species Carousel, Front Entry Plaza, Deramus Education Pavilion, Tropics Building, African Viewing Decks and Snakes Exhibit. The additions and expansions have totally transformed the zoo’s front entrance and better connected its attractions.
Even more exciting are the significant additions in the wings. This summer, the Kansas City Zoo will open its long-awaited Polar Bear Exhibit. In 2011, it will add a Sky Safari between its African Marketplace and Chimpanzee Classroom. A world-class penguin exhibit is also on the next few years’ horizon.
None of this would be possible without a committed, capable staff team, a third essential ingredient to nonprofit organizational success. The zoo’s directors are passionate about what they do and consistently go above and beyond.
By the time you read this, it will be too late to attend this year’s Jazzoo. But don’t wait until next June to visit the Kansas City Zoo; make a summer zoo outing a priority. With something there for everybody, you’re sure to have a great time.