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Exploring the Potential

A recent study funded by the Community Foundation to explore the feasibility and economic impact of a formal partnership between the Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum of Natural History and the Butterfly House & Aquarium is officially complete, and the results are encouraging.

“The operational analysis — looking at whether it’s feasible in a community of our size to support such an operation — as well as the economic impact analysis were both positive, which is good to see,” said Zoo CEO Becky Dewitz.

Now, an exploration committee and leaders from both organizations will review the data to determine what happens next.

“It’s all critical information for us as we continue the exploration of this potential formal relationship. It’s really putting the science behind it. We want to make sure it’s in the best interest of both organizations, as well as the community, and that it’s fiscally solvent,” Dewitz said.

Great Plains Zoo

Similar Missions, Similar Focus

Becky Dewitz
Becky Dewitz

Given the similarities of the two organizations, a partnership could make good sense, Dewitz said.

“The Butterfly House & Aquarium and the Zoo have been partnering since 2020 on programmatic type functions. We support each other through outreach and marketing around education and wildlife understanding. And we conduct conservation field work together as well,” she said. “Having worked together and having similar missions, we asked ourselves: ‘Can we be better together? Can we do more for our community? Can we enhance our community by working together more formally?’”

“We’re both destinations for families to make memorable moments, and to help grow their understanding of wildlife. And from there, we try to grow their respect and appreciation for the natural world – and therefore, conservation of the natural world. And, if we can do that better together, and really make those lasting memorable moments – that will help improve the quality of life for so many,” she said.

Butterfly House & Aquarium

Audrey Otto, chief executive officer for the Butterfly House & Aquarium, agreed.

Audrey Otto
Audrey Otto

"The synergy between our two organizations that brought us together, through projects like the conservation of the Dakota Skipper, is becoming even more apparent as we collaborate in new ways. The possibilities are endless when we think about broadening the reach of our common mission of environmental education and conservation in our rapidly growing community,” Otto said.

Andy Patterson, president of the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation, called the potential partnership a “win-win” for Sioux Falls and the region.

“The Foundation and our donors have a long history of supporting the great work of both the Butterfly House & Aquarium and the Great Plains Zoo — two organizations who do so much to enrich and enhance the vitality of our community,” Patterson said. “So when we heard the idea for a possible partnership, we knew we wanted to help bring the idea to light by supporting this study. We’re excited to see how joining together might allow these two nonprofits to make an even greater impact.”

Helping Ideas Come to Life

Dewitz said support from the Community Foundation has been key to helping the partnership idea move forward.

“The Zoo and the Butterfly House & Aquarium are both nonprofits that operate within the black, however, there’s not a lot of margin in either of our operations for unforeseen expenses. So the Foundation’s grant in support of the exploratory study was extremely helpful,” she said. “Especially because the results of the study will carry so much weight with regard to how we move forward.”

The study was conducted by Zoo Advisors, a planning and consulting firm that helps zoos, aquariums, and conservation organizations advance their missions, increase impact and grow sustainably.

“The operational analysis and economic impact analysis are essential components of our due diligence,” Otto said. “Thanks to the Foundation’s grant, we were able to hire an industry-specific firm to help us understand the feasibility and sustainability of the potential partnership, providing valuable information for our boards to consider in the exploration process.”

“I think overall, the Foundation’s support for new ideas and opportunities, and its support of other nonprofits, as well as community members — that’s part of what makes Sioux Falls so great. It’s what keeps us vibrant. It’s truly a catalyst for great things in our community,” Dewitz said.

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