Zoobilee: A Special, Special Event

Imagine your site at night, bright with twinkling lights and 700 adults enjoying a popular local band, primeval beverages, dozens of restaurant cuisines and your new exhibit. Welcome to Zoobilee, a one-night event benefiting Tallahassee Museum’s educational programs.

You’re reading Your Profitable Non-Profit, a column for nonprofit leaders like you, which explores remarkable ideas that leading nonprofit organizations use to increase their income. Each column shares a successful funding idea, plus ways to adapt it for your use. In this column, you will learn more about an extra-special special-event that attracts new audiences.

The Opportunity

The Tallahassee Museum specializes in North Florida’s history, nature, and wildlife. From amazing native animals and rare historic buildings to beautiful natural scenery to exciting public educational programs, there’s something for everyone. One evening per year, that something is Zoobilee, an event that results in five figures of income. Zoobilee is held from 7 to 10, after hours on a fall non-football weekend after the summer heat breaks. In 2011, Zoobilee tripled its income from the previous year; most of the increase came from reduced expenses.

Four keys to Zoobilee’s 20-year success include:

1. More Than Money. Special events are time consuming. Besides money, Zoobilee reaches new audiences and creates relationships; over time it has become a must-attend event for Tallahassee’s adult community—even though the Museum itself is still mostly considered a children’s venue. Besides funding, the Tallahassee Museum enhances its brand and reaches new audiences.

2. Location. Instead of onsite, the predecessor event to Zoobilee was held at the local armory. Zoobilee invites visitors to come to the Museum and see it is not just for kids.

3. Fresh. Although Zoobilee is an annual event, the theme changes yearly and the Museum tweaks event production for effectiveness and efficiency.

4. Pricing. Zoobilee tickets are all inclusive price ($40 in advance, $45 at the door). The price is reasonable for adults seeking a night out, but also costly enough to discourage college crowds in this college filled community.

Your Profitable Nonprofit Opportunity: How You Can Use Zoobilee’s Four Keys

1. Triple Bottom Line or More. It’s a truth universally acknowledged, that it’s easier to call 5 or even 50 potential donors to ask for funding, than create an annual special event. Special events take hours and hours of staff work, even with great volunteers. Therefore, your special events, like Zoobilee, should be about more than for money. Copy the Tallahassee Museum’s concept of making special events do more. They use Zoobilee to build their brand and find supporters. With intentional planning, your nonprofit can insure that its events lead to more by using them as a step in the process to greater community involvement, rather than just a stand-alone activity.

2. Bloom Where You Are Planted. Not only does it save hall rental, holding events onsite introduces guests to your facility, helps them to know you better and saves you time, since you avoid multiple commutes to offsite locations.  Re-look at your site and consider if you can hold your special event there.

3. Be Fresh. Keeping special events fresh remains a universal challenge. Over the years, the Tallahassee Museum developed several formulas to refresh Zoobilee. Which of these can you use?

  • Sponsors. Music is a key component of Zoobilee. Many attendees attend for the right band, but over the years the Museum struggled to find a band to please all tastes. They solved the challenge and increased their income, by asking a bar familiar with local bands to sponsor (and pick) the band. This provided new income, less band advice, great sponsor publicity, and the audience with hotter bands. What sponsorship opportunities can you develop to help you take a monkey off your back?
  • Themes: Changing themes each year has kept Zoobilee fresh and fun. The Tallahassee Museum uses themes that track current culture and that offer a potential for dress-up like, Biker’s Ball, Pirates in Paradise, Zombie Zoobilee and this year, Prehistoric Zoobilee (coordinated with the new Jim Gary’s Twentieth Century Dinosaurs exhibit).

4. Serve New. Zoobilee serves the 20 to 30-something plus crowd. If you, like the Tallahassee Museum, are mostly a kids-kind-of-place, consider a special event to reach a new age group. While it may stretch your staff and resources, it will enhance your brand and may guarantee your future. If you serve adults, what would a children’s event look like? If you serve teens, what event might you offer for toddlers?

Every day, good nonprofit organizations find ways to improve their funding streams. One way to improve your income is to make your special events produce great outcomes, like the Tallahassee Museum. Even if this type of special event fails to fit your needs, consider new ways to strengthen your funding stream so you too can become a profitable non-profit.

Our next column is about helping the community to experience what it would be like without your organization. Can’t wait? Read about the seven sources of nonprofit income to stimulate your thinking.