President & CEO, Woodland Park Zoo
When Deborah Jensen took the helm of Woodland Park Zoo in 2002, her task was huge. She had to transition the beloved institution from being funded and run by the city to its being a more independent nonprofit. The chore was akin to a merger, she says, “like running a startup and a hundred-year-old organization at the same time.”
Jensen pulled many groups together behind a unified mission and assured the zoo’s future by growing community and corporate commitment. Annual attendance has risen more than 20 percent, to 1.26 million visitors, while total revenues have nearly doubled, from $22.5 million to $41.2 million. An eight-year, $83.5 million philanthropic campaign has helped the zoo revamp its exhibits to be more natural and engaging.
For Jensen, a botanist with a doctorate in energy and resources, it all serves her true goal as a scientist: engaging people in creating a sustainable future for both wildlife and people. She has driven expansion of the zoo’s educational programs, to which visitors can direct a few coins of their admission fee. “It’s really fun to listen to families decide where they want to make their investment,” she says.