Hand in Hand–It’s Our Future
Supporting and Promoting AZAD to your Organization
Kaye Lynne Carpenter and Mary Jo Crawford
Docents and Zoo Pride Volunteers, Zoological Society of Milwaukee County
More and more zoos and aquariums are recognizing the importance of volunteers. Even the scientists in the field realize we are the ones who will carry their message to the public. (of course we could have told them that years ago). AZA has begun a campaign to support and promote the importance of volunteering. But why AZAD?
We noticed something about our AZAD volunteers’ influence on other volunteers when they came back from conferences. They bubbled with enthusiasm. They talked of papers they had attended, speakers they had heard, trips they had taken, experiences shared with other people with similar interests, and the cities they visited. They demonstrated the pride of belonging and validation for their work. Even the most seasoned volunteers seemed rejuvenated and rededicated.
How, we wondered, could we garner this enthusiasm and spread it further out into our membership? How could we get more people involved? How do we support AZAD and do our part to make sure the organization stays a vital place for docents to exchange ideas and hone their skills, further preparing them for educating and spreading conservation messages to our zoo visitors?
We learned last year in Memphis that the host for the 2013 conference had withdrawn its bid and no one had come forward to bid on future conferences. We approached our Volunteer Coordinator with the idea of Milwaukee County Zoo being the host location. This is something we have wanted to do for a long time but due to political changes and budgets it was never an option. This time people in the right places seemed to be receptive to the idea. The moon was suddenly aligned with Venus!!! Our Volunteer Service Coordinator suggested that the first thing to do was to try to increase our AZAD membership and see if there was an interest in promoting AZAD.
Planning started for the AZAD recruitment. The best place to start was with our current AZAD members. We gave them a survey and then gathered them all for a meeting. After brainstorming, we came up with an idea for a “mini conference”. We chose a date in January during our “quiet” time of the year. The question was, what do we need? We planned to include a gift bag, raffle (with proceeds going to Polar Bear International), food, an AZAD information table and display and a panel talking about our conference experiences. We expected about 75 people to come.
We put together our gift bags with the help of Visit Milwaukee. They gave us plastic bags filled with brochures and coupons from local establishments, we received donations from our zoo gift shop (pen and pad) and we threw in a granola bar and some candy.
We advertised our upcoming presentation in our volunteer newsletter, ZOOming In, for two/three months prior to the date. We asked our volunteers to call our Zoo Pride office to register to attend so we would have enough goodies to go around.
As the date approached, we realized we were getting a great number of people calling and saying they were going to attend and we would need more handouts then we originally anticipated. We had over 100 people sign up to attend. We knew that some people who signed up would not come, but there are always those who don’t sign up and do come. We managed to scramble around to get 100 gift bags. We made up two different colored name tags: one for people who are already AZAD members, who acted as hosts, and another for non-members. At our meeting we had the hosts greet
our guests as they came in, giving them their bag, agenda and directions.
We set up tables for raffles, for hospitality (we had to have food—something that always attracts our volunteers), for memorabilia, and a table for registering new AZAD members.
The hospitality person had received donations of homemade cookies, cupcakes, muffins and fruit breads from other volunteers she recruited, and our zoo provided coffee in big urns. The memorabilia table contained bags, tee shirts, pins, patches, pictures, samples of itinerary books and other materials we had obtained at previous AZAD conferences. Our raffle table had some very nice items donated by other volunteers. We had two people at the table selling raffle tickets. We made $237 from this raffle for Polar Bear International. We had two people at the membership table to take new memberships and sell AZAD pins.
We chose a six-member panel, who all wore tee shirts or other clothing they purchased at conferences. One person acted as moderator while the others spoke on different topics pertaining to membership in AZAD.
We called the meeting to order and our introduction speaker thanked everyone for coming and introduced each of the panel members and started the program. The first speaker gave the definition of AZAD (directly from the website), told how many zoos and aquariums were members, and how many individuals from those organizations were members. They also explained how many of our current volunteers were AZAD members. We have always had a high number of attendees at every conference.
The second speaker was our Memphis delegate who spoke about delegate responsibilities. The third speaker explained about pre- and post-trips, where we go and what we do, etc. The fourth speaker explained about conference hotels. The fifth speaker talked about various papers that were presented. The sixth speaker was a younger volunteer who presented a Power Point on the AZAD website, Facebook and Twitter and how to negotiate through them. She entitled her section “AZAD for Dummies”.
After each panel member had talked we asked for questions and answered many. We received positive comments from our audience. We closed by drawing for the raffle prizes and directing people to have more goodies (we had a lot of bakery left over).
We had 38 new AZAD membership applications at the meeting with others applying after the meeting date. We also sold 36 AZAD pins. We sent all the membership applications in together and the pin orders in together. Today we have about 100 AZAD members.
Our “mini conference” turned out to be a great social event for our volunteers. It demonstrated that we had many people who could and would take active leadership roles in a national conference. The Milwaukee County Zoo and Zoological Society of Milwaukee County agreed and encouraged us to present our bid at the delegates’ meeting in Los Angeles. The Zoological Society will host the 2014 conference at the Milwaukee County Zoo. We hope to see all of you there.
AZAD has brought an added dimension of enthusiasm to our volunteer organization. We hope you find our experience helpful in recruiting at your organization. We are here today to challenge other zoos and aquariums to increase their AZAD membership. This organization depends directly on each one of us actively supporting its mission.
We all should be working hand in hand to secure the future of AZAD.