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2004 — 2006 Strategic Operating Plan
Updated/Revised May 2009


  1. To always maintain the Museum's financial stability, including assuring proper funding for new exhibits and programs and the growth of our endowment for operations and management.


    1. Evaluation/measurables for all projects

      Current status. Ongoing. A comprehensive project management process has been implemented, with strong focus on human resources, timelines, contractor's prior record, and finite resource issues. Projects are driven by ad hoc, interdepartmental working groups, and have comprehensive budgets and timelines. A standardized project-tracking format is being developed.

    2. Complete Capital Campaign

      Current status. Complete. The Campaign concluded in 2006 and exceeded all financial goals. The original fundraising goal was $18MM, and the campaign concluded at $21MM with over $40MM in stated planned gifts.

    3. Implement a Members-only gate

      Current status. The membership program continues to experience high member retention, and realize revenues in excess of $1MM annually. (This represents over 1/6th of the Museum's operating budget) Already in place are new and improved membership cards (which allow the user to "swipe" for entrance to the Museum) and plans are in place for a "members only" admission window and entrance turnstyles that will accommodate barcoded membership cards.

  2. To understand and interpret the Sonoran Desert Region through research, teaching, naturalistic exhibitry, community outreach, publications, and marketing.


    1. Create an education-research-conservation "center" (aka the "Research Institute") with appropriate organizational and budgetary structure.

      Current status. Complete. Currently all education and science staff are nested within the Museum's "Center for Sonoran Desert Studies".

    2. Create a comprehensive interpretive plan/policy for the Museum.

      Current status. The staff Program Managers Committee began working on an interpretive policy for the Museum in January 2005 and will fully implement the strategies by 2006. The goal is to develop a policy that will provide consistency among our educational and interpretive messages, that is compatible with the Museum's mission and goals, and that meets AZA guidelines.

    3. Expand our field conservation work.

      Current status. Completed with modifications - two major new conservation projects were initiated in 2004 and are ongoing.

      THE ALAMOS TDF (Tropical Deciduous Forest) PROJECT: The "Sierra de Alamos-Río Cuchujaqui Nature Reserve" [working name] has been initiated through land purchases totaling 7,400 acres. Funders have been identified for construction of two research stations (one primitive, the other less primitive) and we are preparing station management proposals at this time. The same funders have expressed an interest in expanding the size of the reserve through additional land purchases, and we have an agent in the town of Alamos who is looking for additional opportunities in this regard. A partnership with the Mexican environmental NGO Pronatura Noroeste has been established, and funding has been secured to GIS map the "Nature Reserve" and to develop vegetation maps. Additional funding is being sought from NFWF (National Fish & Wildlife Foundation) and the Wallace Research Foundation, for travel expenses, developing a web site, and hosting a TDF conference at the Desert Museum.

      THE "INVADERS OF THE SONORAN DESERT" PROJECT: With funding from National Geographic Foundation and the Vulcan Foundation (brokered through Sea Studios Foundation), we have developed a citizen-scientist invasive species rapid detection and reporting program. Our first cohort of citizen scientists were trained in April 2005, and in May 2005 we hosted a two-day workshop to train other AZA institutions (our consortium partners) to take the project to their own sites: Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Garden, Woodland Park Zoo, New England Aquarium, North Carolina Museum of Natural Science, Missouri Botanical Garden. Several grant proposals have been submitted to secure additional funding to sustain the project..

    4. Off-site educational programming

      Current status. In spring 2005 we secured funding from the Wallace Research Foundation and the Cacioppo Foundation to expand our flagship Education program, The Desert Ark. In addition we launched a unique new summer program called "Laurel Clark Earth Camp." Earth Camp is a partnership with the University of Arizona's School of Life Sciences. It uses the concept of "powers of ten" to take students from a plot of Sonoran Desert soil to the stars, and back again. This is a highly enriched program with a $700 tuition (for the 2-week ‘camp'). We have secured scholarships for many of the students. NASA recently awarded three years of funding for Earth Camp beginning fiscal year 2010-2011.

    5. Expand live animal demonstrations

      Current status. The enormous success of our on-grounds live animal interpretation programs (Raptor Free Flight, Live and on the Loose, etc.) encourages us to expand in ways that directly (or indirectly) capture new revenues. Two expanding areas are "behind the scenes tours" and "raptor encounters," both of which have pricing separate from general admission. Expansion of the IAC (Interpretive Animal Collection) department allowed for continued growth in live animal interpretive programming, culminating in the development of "Running Wild", a 30-minute live animal program designed to engage children and families. The newly constructed Warden Oasis Theater and Baldwin Education Building have provided new venues for animal interpretations.

    6. Complete current projects

      Current status. Attached is a list of current on-grounds projects (planned or underway), with DRAFT dates of initiation and completion.

    7. Develop plans for refurbishing, renovating, or removing some older exhibits, especially the bird circulars

      Current status.

      • The bird circulars were removed in December, 2008. Future plans include development of small aviaries to assimilate these animals in different locations around the Museum grounds.
      • As of 2010 a new black bear inhabits the refurbished exhibit and our former occupants are in retirement on our grounds.
    8. Develop one or more "quick projects" for new exhibits

      Current status. A new agave exhibit has been built. This exhibit utilizes a large existing (formerly off-exhibit) agave collection, and required minimal grounds work to install. A "labyrinth garden" has been built, which was developed where the bird circulars formerly stood. This garden is a quiet zone allowing visitors to experience an ancient garden formation still utilized by native peoples in our region.

    9. Develop New Web/IT projects

      Current status. The Museum is experiencing high visitor activity to our site (having increased from 800,000 to 1MM "unique" hits per year). Our current goals include improving the site for children (e.g.: link to AZA Kids Page, the creation of exhibit cam programs). A new, comprehensive Support section is in design and is expected to launch October 2010. The site continues to serve as a major resource for information on the Sonoran Desert, travel planning, member and donor contributions and general marketing initiatives/announcements.

    10. Develop local marketing position statement

      Current status. The Marketing Council is considering various position statements, having already tested at least one statement in a local campaign; "close to home....far from ordinary". A selection of statements has been developed for use in various campaigns. In addition, we have seen an increase in corporate sponsorships and underwriting which have greatly benefited activities such as our annual Gala event.

  3. To foster a deep appreciation for, and a conservation ethic about, the environment and indigenous life of the Sonoran Desert Region.


    1. Continue to utilize traveling exhibits where possible (e.g., natural history art exhibits in Ironwood Gallery)

      Current status. Our art exhibitions (in the Ironwood Gallery) are now booked ~2 years in advance, and attracting some of the finest traveling exhibitions in the country.

    2. Senior Outreach

      Current status. We are increasing our outreach efforts to organizations such as Elderhostel, local retirement and assisted-living facilities, and maximizing visitor experiences (on grounds) for older adults. In addition, through the support of the Bert W. Martin Foundation, our popular "Desert Ark" program visits senior care facilities throughout southern Arizona.

    3. Enhance science/natural history representation on Board

      Current status. Candidates are currently under review.

    4. Board succession planning

      Current status. The Executive Office and the Board of Trustees are committed to assuring that a succession plan is always in place for Trustee's, Board officers, and the Museum's management staff to assure that institutional knowledge and wisdom is not lost. In July 2010 the Board announced the appointment of Craig S. Ivanyi as Executive Director and Robert J. Edison as Executive Philanthropy Director.

  4. To follow the highest professional standards of care for the animal, plant, mineral, ethnological, and art collections that the Desert Museum maintains in the public trust.


    1. Create an Exhibits, Collections and Facilities Council.

      Current status — this council was created and operated for a number of years. Due to much of this council being redundant with portions of other councils, the ECF council was recently eliminated, with the important functions moved into other board councils. One new council which addresses contemporary issues concerning animal care is the Animal Welfare Committee comprised of veterinarians, curatorial staff, and biologists.

    2. Develop plans for Animal Retirement Center

      Current status. The Board of Trustees and Capital Campaign Committee have included plans which estimate costs to be $500,000. The first phase of this plan (black bear retirement) has been completed and other parts of the plan will be implemented in coming years as funding becomes available.

  5. Because we are a bi-national ("Arizona-Sonora") institution, to assure bilingualism wherever appropriate.


    1. Improve our visitor orientation space

      Current status. Visitor orientation materials for the Museum are being moved from the old "Visitor's Ramada" to the main entry patio. A series of new patio signs (bilingual) are being created and will be installed this summer (2005). A grant proposal has been submitted for a new "Greater Sonoran Desert Region" topo- (or topo-like) map for the entry patio. The old "Visitor's Ramada" will be used, for the time being, for live animal interpretations and some more in-depth graphics on the Sonoran Desert. Plans are being developed to merge our two existing "daily events" calendars on the patio. A new version of the regional map depicting the Sonoran Desert region will be designed Fall 2009-10.

    2. Initiate bilingual signage

      Current status. Following recommendations from the 2004 Board/Senior Staff retreat, we began to implement bilingual signage on an on-going basis as new areas are developed.

    3. Enhance representation from Sonora/Mexico on Board

      Current status. Dr. Francisco Molina Freaner was recruited and added to the Board of Trustees and assists in the identification of future trustee candidates from northern Mexico.

  6. To integrate the theme of water conservation into all aspects of our ethos, exhibits, programs, and grounds.


    1. Discuss concept of a "Desert Waters" exhibit

      Current status. A large new "water exhibit" (e.g., Lower Colorado River/Colorado Delta/Sea of Cortez) is strongly needed and remains a significant "missing piece" in the Museum's interpretive landscape. However, such an exhibit would be a major new undertaking (planning, fundraising, construction) and must await completion of most of the currently underway/planned projects. In the meantime, smaller interpretive pieces can be developed, and several options are being discussed (e.g., Arizona's Waters — Rivers to the Sea, Altar Valley interpretation from front patio overlook that would include interpretation of CAP recharge ponds in viewshed, design and construction of a "watershed" model that could be used either on the grounds or in educational programming). This project is projected to be completed by summer 2011.

  7. To assure that our architectural construction and landscaping is harmonious and fitting to life in the Sonoran Desert.


    1. Review issues of visitor accessibility/comfort on the grounds

      Current status. A new ad hoc committee has been formed (staff & trustees) to assess handicapped visitor accessibility. Completed — partial implementation with additional front gate/entrance patio enhancements underway.

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“During our first visit to the Desert Museum in 1994 we agreed it was the best full spectrum natural history experience we'd ever had - and right here in our own backyard!
We've supported the Museum annually since then and encourage friends and business associates to do the same.”
--Jerry Weinert
& Marni Dittmar