Coming Together for Como

Como Friends marks a major fundraising milestone thanks to community support from people like you

Created by visionaries and volunteers more than a century ago, Como Park Zoo & Conservatory has always relied on community support to keep this public treasure growing. Since 2000, that’s also been the mission of Como Friends, the nonprofit fundraising partner behind major improvements like Como Harbor and Polar Bear Odyssey, and countless behind-the-scenes projects that help Como’s professionals do more for the animals and plants in their care. 

Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of people like you, Como Friends has just reached an important milestone, securing more than $50 million in private donations to preserve Como’s historic campus, improve visitor amenities, update animal habitats and gardens, and expand education programs—all while preserving the free admission that welcomes nearly 1.8 million visitors each year.

“When Como Friends started 23 years ago, it would have been hard to fathom that a little start-up organization could someday raise more than $50 million,” says Jackie Sticha, who has served as the nonprofit’s president since its founding. “But we had a big vision for what was possible at Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, and were able to engage some incredible community leaders who helped us to kick off the organization, and to grow our work year after year.”

“Como’s transformation over the last 20 years is really rooted in this great public/private partnership,” says Michelle Furrer, Como Park Zoo & Conservatory’s director and campus manager. “Having Como Friends with us at the table at the start of every project has been a real benefit when it comes to the design process and value engineering of our capital improvements. They can see where we’re going to have challenges, and it helps them to be a better advocate for us as they’re seeking additional funding from the community. There’s so much that Como Friends makes possible year to year, from small projects, to major repairs, to behind-the-scenes operational support. Como just wouldn’t be where it is today without their support.” 

Originally founded through the merger of several different fundraising and nonprofit groups, Como Friends has grown every year since its founding, expanding fundraising strategy and growing the retail operation at Garden Safari Gifts to keep pace with Como’s needs. From an initial contribution of $309,740 in 2000, Como Friends’ support has increased more than five-fold, with an average annual contribution of nearly $1.7 million each year—far more in years during capital campaigns the nonprofit has led. This commitment to Como’s daily operations has been critical to preserving the open-door policy at Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, one of the last major metro area zoos and botanical gardens that’s always free to visitors. 

“Through three critical capital campaigns, with strong communications and stewardship, and really fun events like Sunset Affair, we’ve been able to continuously expand the community of people who care about Como by showing them the impact of their gifts,” says Sticha. “While we’re proud of achieving our mission as a nonprofit, we’re also incredibly grateful to the members, sponsors, individuals, businesses, and corporate and foundation donors that have helped us succeed through their generosity, commitment and affection for this place. We want this community to understand that every size donation does make a difference at Como, and reaching this milestone is proof of the great things we can do when we come together.”

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