Seal of Dane County County of Dane
County Executive's Office

County Seeks Creation of New Zoo Trust Fund to Protect Dollars Raised for Zoo

March 25, 2019
Ariana Vruwink 608-267-8823
County Executive

Existing Agreement Between Zoo, Society Calls for Trust Fund to Support Zoo Operations into the Future, Society Financial Obligations


With transition of who coordinates fundraising operations underway at Dane County’s Henry Vilas Zoo, Dane County is seeking creation of a trust fund so there's a clear understanding of how dollars raised to this point for the zoo are allocated moving forward. The provision for the trust is included in the existing agreement in place between the county zoo and the Society and will help provide financial support for the zoo into the future. The county also supports the Society's use of dollars from this fund to financially support those who have worked for the Society. The county has communicated its support for these financial packages for permanent employees of the Zoological Society to Zoo Society Board leadership.


Under terms of the expiring fundraising agreement, dollars raised by the Society for the zoo must be allocated into a new zoo trust.  Once placed in trust, those funds can only be spent to support zoo operations and the outstanding financial obligations of the Society. Decisions on how those dollars are appropriated from the trust will be made jointly between the Society and Dane County. Dane County supports the Society providing financial assistance to its workers so paychecks don’t stop for Society employees on March 31st. The terms of those severance packages will be negotiated between the Society and its employees.


The Henry Vilas Zoo will announce this week the hiring of a national consultant to assist in the transition period. The consultant, who has worked in the zoo and aquarium field for over forty years, will advise the zoo during this period and facilitate a request for proposal (RFP) process to secure a potential fundraising partner. The consultant will also work to bring in a team of outside experts to advise the zoo on national best practices for the most effective partnerships between zoos and groups that support them. The next time the county will review a proposal from the Society will be after this consultant’s work is complete and a report has been issued. This will be done as part of a public, competitive, RFP process. Given some of the issues uncovered in the past several weeks, it’s important a structure be put in place to ensure the best cooperative relationship possible between the zoo and any future support organization.


The county is seeking the Society's assistance with operational issues important to a seamless transition that protects the zoo as an institution, its animals and visitors.  They include:


1. Access to a contact list for all zoo volunteers. The Society maintains this list and to this point hasn't shared it with zoo staff. It's critical that all zoo volunteers know they're welcome and their help is integral to the success of the entire zoo family! How volunteers are coordinated at Henry Vilas Zoo was an issue identified by the AZA. AZA accreditation standards call for volunteer coordination to be done by the zoo staff.


2. Allowing zoo staff to access the zoo's website and social media accounts. These are critical means of sharing information on zoo attractions with the public!  With the weather getting nice and more families looking to come to the zoo, zoo staff need the ability to provide important updates on animal attractions to zoo guests.


Dane County and representatives of the Society met for nearly seven hours this past week and discussed continuing a dialogue moving forward on establishment of a trust fund and a potential longer-term fundraising relationship. This conversation will continue and be informed by the input the zoo receives on national best practices for the most effective way to structure a relationship between a zoo and its financial support organization.


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