Nashville Zoo, Inc.
3777 Nolensville Road
Nashville TN 37211
Mission Statement
Nashville Zoo’s mission is to inspire a culture of understanding and discovery of our natural world through conservation, innovation, and leadership.
CEO/Executive Director Mr. Rick Schwartz
Board Chair Julie W. Walker
Board Chair Company Affiliation The Bridge Lady
History & Background
Year of Incorporation 1989
Organization's type of tax exempt status 501-C3
Financial Summary
Graph: Expense Breakdown Graph - All Years
Projected Expenses $15,326,057.00
Projected Annual Revenue $16,853,410.00 (2018)
Mission Nashville Zoo’s mission is to inspire a culture of understanding and discovery of our natural world through conservation, innovation, and leadership.

Since welcoming its first visitors in 1991, Nashville Zoo has grown from a small, start-up operation in Cheatham County to its current status as an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited member facility with international conservation involvement.

An original land grant of 272.5 acres, passed down through five generations of family, ultimately became a farm known as Grassmere. Sisters Margaret and Elise Croft, last of the descendants, gifted the land to the Children's Museum of Nashville to be used as a nature center. Grassmere Wildlife Park opened on the site in 1990; one year later Nashville Zoo opened in Joelton, TN. The museum closed Grassmere in December 1994 due to financial difficulties, and the land became the property of the city of Nashville. The Mayor and Metro City Council believed the best plan to preserve Grassmere and meet the needs of the community, while honoring the will of the Croft sisters, was to turn over the management and development of the property to Nashville Zoo. City leaders also saw educational and tourism benefits in supporting the Zoo's relocation. Nashville Zoo assumed management of the city-owned property in December 1996 with a 40 year lease, and in 1997 Nashville Wildlife Park at Grassmere opened to the public. Thousands of volunteers joined together to build the 66,000 square foot Jungle Gym, the largest community-built playground in the country. The Croft sisters' ca. 1810 ancestral home, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, underwent a complete restoration in conjunction with Metro Nashville Parks and opened to the public in 1998 as a historic house museum. Nashville Wildlife Park at Grassmere officially became Nashville Zoo at Grassmere in 2001. And in 2004, the Zoo received accreditation from the AZA. 


Nashville Zoo is a world-class zoological park with a strong commitment to education, species conservation, and habitat protection. Major goals include providing an entertaining and educational experience, increasing the public's understanding and appreciation of the natural world, promoting public awareness of animals and conservation issues, and providing the highest code of ethics in the humane care and welfare of our animals.

In 2017, the Zoo welcomed more than 964,760 visitors, making it one of the most popular tourist attractions in Middle Tennessee. Our membership base has grown to over 36,510 households representing nearly 158,000 individuals.

The Zoo’s commitment to education cannot be overstated. The Zoo provides a unique opportunity to connect children and adults with animals from different parts of the world and educate them about native habitats and conservation.

In 2017, nearly 250,000 individuals participated in educational programs. The Education Department provides youth programs for children of all ages, from preschoolers to high school students interested in animal health careers. Summer camps and Scouting events give children even more opportunities to relate to the natural world. The Zoo further provides inclusive programming for children with special needs through our Autism Awareness Day and Zooper Heroes Camp.

Education efforts are not limited to children, as the Zoo's Animal Ambassadors and Wildlife on Wheels outreach programs enable the Zoo to share the natural world with the community. Nashville Zoo provides free monthly programs to Vanderbilt children's Hospital and partners with Nashville public libraries, Head Start centers, and senior centers on educational initiatives. In 2017 our Wildlife on Wheels program took ambassador animals into Nashville and the surrounding communities to bring our message of conservation and education to people of all ages. We conducted 336 programs and saw 28,138 people during these visits. 

The Grassmere Historic Home and Farm provides a unique educational opportunity for Zoo guests to learn about the history of Middle Tennessee through the five generations who lived on the property. In 2017, more than 44,000 children and adults took part in formal tours while all guests have the opportunity to stroll the grounds and experience the farm's place in Tennessee's and the Zoo's history.

The Zoo is actively involved in research, habitat protection, breeding programs and education initiatives around the globe as well as in its own backyard. The Zoo has been instrumental in the conservation and propagation of clouded leopards, giant anteaters, Eastern hellbenders and Puerto Rican crested toads. In addition to conservation work here at home, Nashville Zoo is actively supporting in-situ conservation in a host of countries including Thailand, Malaysia, Borneo, Vietnam, Brazil, Bolivia, and Guyana. The Zoo contributes to programs supporting a number of species in the wild including gorillas, giant armadillos, tigers, tapirs, red pandas, rhinos, and elephants.


Nashville Zoo is just one of a handful of the 218 accredited zoos that do not receive ongoing operational support from their local municipality. Therefore, the Zoo relies on private and corporate donors along with our earned revenue to fund all aspects of the day-to-day operations, educational programming, conservation efforts, and special events.

Nashville Zoo is comprised of 188 acres, making it the ninth largest Zoo in the country by land mass. With only 84 of those acres currently developed, the Zoo has a unique opportunity for growth. We embarked on a $164 million comprehensive capital campaign in 2014 to develop the remainder of the property. The Zoo is seeking individuals, foundations, and corporate partners who will join the city of Nashville and several lead contributors to make the dream of a world-class zoo a reality. The plan calls for expanding animal exhibits and providing additional guest amenities, while continuing as a leading resource for education, conservation, and recreation in Middle Tennessee. 

Other ways to donate, support, or volunteer From becoming a member, to volunteering your time, to making a donation, to sponsoring an event or habitat, Nashville Zoo offers countless ways to give back and help you become an integral part of the Zoo.
Service Categories
Primary Organization Category Animal Related / Zoos & Aquariums
Secondary Organization Category Environment / Natural Resources Conservation & Protection
Areas of Service
Areas Served
TN - Davidson
KY - Todd
TN - Bedford
TN - Cannon
TN - Cheatham
TN - Dekalb
TN - Dickson
TN - Macon
TN - Marshall
TN - Maury
TN - Montgomery
TN - Robertson
TN - Rutherford
TN - Sumner
TN - Trousdale
TN - Williamson
TN - Wilson
KY - Christian
KY - Trigg
TN - Coffee
TN - Franklin
TN - Giles
TN - Hickman
TN - Houston
TN - Humphreys
TN - Jackson
TN - Lawrence
TN - Lewis
TN - Lincoln
TN - Moore
TN - Overton
TN - Perry
TN - Putnam
TN - Smith
TN - Stewart
TN - Warren
TN - Wayne
Nashville Zoo serves the residents of Middle Tennessee, Southern Kentucky and hundreds of thousands of tourists who travel to Nashville each year.  
Board Chair Statement

Nashville Zoo’s Board of Directors is responsible for overseeing the operation of the organization and assuring conformance with the law. Unlike the board of directors of a private industry, our Nashville Zoo Board of Directors is entrusted with the care of the organization and is accountable to the public, not the private interests of shareholders. Our board is an assertive and diverse body providing governance that assures our mission is fulfilled and the organization is held accountable to its main shareholders – Zoo members, our daily guests, City of Nashville leaders and the private donors who created and support the Zoo.

Our principal function is to set policies consistent with the mission of the Zoo, select managers who can carry out the mission, and monitor the performance of those entrusted with day-to-day management.

Our primary duties are to select the executive staff through an appropriate process, provide ongoing support and guidance for the Zoo’s president and review his performance, ensure effective organizational planning, and ensure adequate resources through direct and indirect fund-raising efforts. We also manage resources effectively, determine and monitor the Zoo’s programs and services, work to enhance Nashville Zoo’s public image, and assess our own performance.

CEO Statement

Since relocating to the Grassmere property in 1997, we have seen attendance increase by over 1000%. Facilities that were designed and built in the late 1990s can no longer efficiently accommodate our visitors. The Zoo has built a new entry road, dramatically improving vehicular movement in and out of the park. We have expanded our ticket booth, gift shop and visitor services to more efficiently handle existing crowds and anticipated attendance increases as major new exhibits come to fruition.

Additional infrastructure needs include increased parking, trams, expanded educational space, a new veterinary hospital, additional public restrooms and concession facilities and office expansions.  Infrastructure improvements on this scale will require government support both on the local and state levels so we can continue to create state-of-the-art new exhibitry and maintain our status as one of the most popular tourist attractions in Middle Tennessee.
The Zoo has an aggressive growth plan for capital projects. 2018 openings include bear and tiger exhibits. Expansion plans culminate in a project that will immerse visitors in the African continent. This exhibit will more than double the current number of animals and will feature gorillas, rhinoceros, lions, cheetahs, hippopotamus, and numerous species of primates, birds and reptiles. This project will catapult Nashville Zoo into one of the top ranked zoos in the country and easily attract in excess of a million visitors, thus creating a strong economic impact on our great city. Currently, more than a third of our Zoo’s guests come from areas outside Middle Tennessee, across the country and around the world.

Nashville Zoo strives to create a world-class zoological experience for visitors, while creating the best possible habitats for our animals. When designing animal exhibits, Rick Schwartz, Zoo president, considers the best interest of the animals and needs and wishes of visitors, donors, and staff.  Nashville Zoo has developed over 28 new animal habitats since moving to the Grassmere property, including Treetop Passage, Kangaroo Kickabout, the Giraffe Savannah, Bamboo Trail and Flamingo Lagoon. Andean bear and tiger exhibits are scheduled to open in 2018. Future plans involve the addition of a gorilla habitat and an Africa-themed exhibit with lions, hippos, rhinos, cheetah, giraffe, and numerous primate and bird species.  Nashville Zoo is internationally known for developing barrier-free exhibits that mimic an animal's natural habitat. The Zoo gives visitors a unique opportunity to learn about species from around the globe.

Budget $1,640,000
Category Animal-Related, General/Other
Population Served General/Unspecified, ,

Committed to inspiring connections with nature, the Education Department realizes that people learn in different ways and leverages this knowledge with diverse programming. In 2017, the Zoo's Education Programs reached nearly 250,000 children and adults. Starting as early as 18 months and carrying into adulthood, the department provides a progression where audiences can "grow up" with the zoo. Programs for individual age groups such as Zoo Tots, ZooTeens, camps and scouting adventures are offered in fun, informative and engaging ways. School programs, aligned with State Standards, feature live animals and activities and are presented at the Zoo or schools. Outreach programs also travel to libraries, hospitals, and nursing homes. Opportunities extend to high school and college students through internships, and adults are engaged through the volunteer and docent programs. 

Category Education, General/Other
Population Served General/Unspecified, ,

Nashville Zoo is actively involved in research, habitat protection, breeding programs and education initiatives around the globe. As a founding member of the Clouded Leopard Consortium, Nashville Zoo has been instrumental in the conservation and propagation of clouded leopards. The Zoo is the leader in innovative anteater care and has literally written the book on husbandry guidelines for this species.
Using groundbreaking biotechnology, Nashville Zoo was the first organization in the world to breed Eastern hellbenders. Nashville Zoo is also successfully breeding thousands of Puerto Rican crested toads and releasing them into protected areas of their native land.
Nashville Zoo actively supports in-situ conservation in a host of countries including Thailand, Malaysia, Borneo, Vietnam, Brazil, Bolivia and Guyana. The Zoo contributes to programs supporting a number of species in the wild including gorillas, giant armadillos, tigers, tapirs, red pandas, rhinos and elephants.

Category Animal-Related, General/Other
Population Served General/Unspecified, ,
Description In cooperation with sponsoring partners, Nashville Zoo is able to offer a number of unique events to the Middle Tennessee community. Events such as Eggstravaganzoo and Boo at the Zoo offer a safe and entertaining venue for families to celebrate the holidays together.  The Zoo also offers special events for select members of our community including Military Appreciation Day and Autism Awareness Day. Adult-only events include Brew at the Zoo; Red, White and Zoo; and Sunset Safari. Community groups can utilize the Zoo for birthday parties, weddings, corporate outings and family reunions.   
Category Animal-Related, General/Other
Population Served General/Unspecified, ,
Board Chair
Board Chair Julie W. Walker
Company Affiliation The Bridge Lady
Term Jan 2016 to Dec 2018
Board Members
Cynthia Arnholt Community VolunteerVoting
Kelley Beaman Community VolunteerVoting
Samantha Boyd Pine Haven Family OfficeVoting
Drew Crawford Dunham InvestmentsVoting
Lauren Curry Sherrard, Roe, Voight & Harbison, PLCVoting
Anne Davis Southern Environmental Law CenterVoting
Laurie Eskind Community VolunteerVoting
William Fitzgibbon Silvermark PartnersVoting
Lily Followill Community VolunteerVoting
Jennifer Frist Community VolunteerVoting
Edward Goodrich Community VolunteerVoting
J. R. Greene Psychiatric Medical CareVoting
Barbara Hagood Community VolunteerVoting
Carl Haley Jr.Grand AvenueVoting
Chris Holmes FirstBankVoting
John Howard River Investments & Hannah ConstructorsVoting
Kent Kirby UBSVoting
John Lueken CapWealth AdvisorsVoting
David Manning AmsurgVoting
Alex Marks Royal Investments, LLCVoting
Robin Ingram Patton Community VolunteerVoting
Sheryl Rogers Harding AcademyVoting
Tara Scarlett Scarlett Family FoundationVoting
Brian Smallwood Smallwood Nickle Architects pllcVoting
Butch Spyridon Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp.Voting
Barbara Turner Community VolunteerVoting
McArthur VanOsdale MyNEXUSVoting
Julie W. Walker The Bridge LadyVoting
James Webb Freeman Webb Inc.Voting
Kimberly Williams-Paisley ActressVoting
Board Demographics - Ethnicity
African American/Black 0
Asian American/Pacific Islander 0
Caucasian 30
Hispanic/Latino 0
Native American/American Indian 0
Other 0
Board Demographics - Gender
Male 15
Female 15
Unspecified 0
Board Term Lengths 3
Board Term Limits 2
Board Meeting Attendance % 66%
Does the organization have written Board Selection Criteria? No
Does the organization have a written Conflict of Interest Policy? Yes
Percentage of Board Members making Monetary Contributions 97%
Percentage of Board Members making In-Kind Contributions 10%
Does the Board include Client Representation? Yes
Number of Full Board Meetings Annually 4
Youth Board Members
Additional Boards: Youth Board Members
Standing Committees
Board Governance
Development / Fund Raising
Risk Management Provisions
Accident & Injury Coverage
Automobile Insurance
Directors & Officers Policy
General Property Coverage
General Property Coverage & Professional Liability
Inland Marine & Mobile Equipment
Special Event Liability
Workers Compensation & Employers' Liability
Umbrella or Excess Insurance
Builders Risk
Employment Practices Liability
Fiduciary Liability
Internet Liability Insurance
Workplace Violence
Additional Board Members
George Armistead Answers by Armistead, LLC
Lee Beaman Beaman Automotive Group
Kathryn Carell Brown Community Volunteer
Renee Chevalier First Tennessee
Neely Coble IIINeely Coble Company, Inc.
Kelly Crockett Crook Community Volunteer
Missy Eason Community Volunteer
Rodes Hart Community Volunteer
Jim Hunt Mayor, City of Belle Meade
Sarah Ingram Community Volunteer
Tom Loventhal The Loventhal Group
Frank McGrew Raymond James & Associates, Inc.
Richard McRae Community Volunteer
Larry Papel Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP
Anne Parsons Community Volunteer
Charles Sonnenberg Frugal MacDoogal
Renata Soto Conexion Americas
Abby Trotter Hall Strategies
Executive Director/CEO
Executive Director Mr. Rick Schwartz
Term Start Nov 1989

Rick Schwartz has been heavily involved in the world of conservation for almost thirty years. He is known internationally for his expertise in big cats and for his personal devotion to the preservation of the highly endangered clouded leopard. In 1989, Mr. Schwartz lent his expertise to a group of Nashvillians intent on creating a local zoo. Since then he has been the director and primary architect of Nashville Zoo, building facilities, designing the exhibits and working extensively with other zoos throughout the country to develop the Zoo's outstanding collection of species. He is a leader in conservation both in Tennessee and around the world. Mr. Schwartz’s relationships with animal experts around the globe have allowed Nashville Zoo to successfully import some of the rarest species in the world, creating new genetic pools for the United States captive population. 

As a leading expert in zoo design, development and maintenance, Mr. Schwartz’s utilization of current resources and creativity are an asset to the organization. He devises solutions and utilizes his talents to conceptualize, create and execute the building of exhibits at a fraction of the cost without sacrificing innovation and best-of-class practices. His knowledge of animal care and husbandry, landscape and horticulture, building materials and contracting has kept the Zoo from incurring the expense of hiring outside contractors and consultants. Mr. Schwartz's exhibit designs have been featured on Animal Planet's Ultimate Zoo series, and zoo professionals from around the world come to Nashville to consult on his innovative designs. Prior to his work with Nashville Zoo, Mr. Schwartz owned an exhibit planning and design firm along with numerous ventures working with domestic and exotic animals, including an endangered species breeding facility well known for its unparalleled success in breeding clouded leopards and other endangered animals.
Full Time Staff 161
Part Time Staff 59
Volunteers 1951
Contractors 0
Retention Rate 63%
Plans & Policies
Does the organization have a documented Fundraising Plan? Yes
Does the organization have an approved Strategic Plan? Yes
Number of years Strategic Plan Considers 3
When was Strategic Plan adopted? June 2015
In case of a change in leadership, is a Management Succession plan in place? No
Does the organization have a Policies and Procedures Plan? Yes
Does the organization have a Nondiscrimination Policy? Yes
Center for Nonprofit Management Excellence Network2007
Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce2002
Williamson County Chamber of Commerce2009
External Assessments and Accreditations
External Assessments and Accreditations
Association of Zoos and Aquariums- Accreditation2014
Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency2013
Charity Navigator2003
House Joint ResolutionState of Tennessee2004
Special Recognition AwardMetro Nashville Board of Education2004
Innovation in Action Award WinnerCenter for Nonprofit Management2006
Excellence in Communications FinalistCenter for Nonprofit Management2006
Board Member of the Year FinalistCenter for Nonprofit Management2006
Telly AwardTelly Awards2008
Area Beautification AwardNashville Area Chamber of Commerce Southern Area Business Council1999
Addy AwardAmerican Advertising Federation, Nashville2008
Brand Champion AwardNashville Convention & Visitors Bureau2007
Public Works Award - African Elephant HabitatTennessee Concrete Association2006
CEO of the Year Award FinalistCenter for NonProfit Management - Salute to Excellence2012
Leadership Award FinalistCenter for NonProfit Management -Salute to Excellence2012
Most Admired CEO - Rick SchwartzNashville Business Journal2014
Commissioner's Award - Grassmere Historic Home & FarmMetro Historic Commission2015
Certificate of Merit - Grassmere Historic Home & FarmTennessee Historic Commission2015
Perfect 100% for Financial Health and Accountability and TransparencyCharity Navigator2016
International Conservation AwardAZA2016
Excellence in Construction Specialized Construction AwardGreater TN Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors2016
Senior Staff
Title Chief Development Officer
Experience/Biography Suzanne Iler is an accomplished Development professional with over 20 years of leadership experience in nonprofit organizations.  Proven track record of exceeding organization fundraising goals and building long term relationships with individuals, foundations and corporate partnerships.  Skilled in all aspects of non profit development including annual, capital and planned giving initiatives.
Title Chief Operating Officer
Experience/Biography Andy Tillman has over 25 years' experience in business operations for theme parks and zoological institutions.  His skills include budget and P&L development, large-scale employee and facility management, and extensive guest/customer service management.
Title Chief Financial Officer
CEO Comments

Fiscal Year
Fiscal Year Start Jan 01 2018
Fiscal Year End Dec 31 2018
Projected Revenue $16,853,410.00
Projected Expenses $15,326,057.00
Endowment Spending Policy Income Only
Endowment Spending Percentage (if selected) 0%
Detailed Financials
Revenue and ExpensesHelpFinancial data for prior years is entered by foundation staff based on the documents submitted by nonprofit organizations.Foundation staff members enter this information to assure consistency in the presentation of financial data across all organizations.
Fiscal Year201620152014
Total Revenue$23,189,401$34,309,151$22,386,320
Total Expenses$14,140,736$12,748,329$12,222,672
Revenue Less Expenses$9,048,665$21,560,822$10,163,648
Revenue SourcesHelpThe financial analysis involves a comparison of the IRS Form 990 and the audit report (when available) and revenue sources may not sum to total based on reconciliation differences. Revenue from foundations and corporations may include individual contributions when not itemized separately.
Fiscal Year201620152014
Foundation and
Corporation Contributions
Government Contributions$4,864,267$7,897,087$881,922
Individual Contributions$4,630,875$13,961,864$9,250,662
Investment Income, Net of Losses$405,970$538,075$939,445
Membership Dues$3,237,896$2,754,419$2,916,217
Special Events$980,071$721,202$639,684
Revenue In-Kind$81,495$1,250,776$14,615
Expense Allocation
Fiscal Year201620152014
Program Expense$12,132,477$11,108,266$10,838,955
Administration Expense$1,401,889$1,085,551$901,772
Fundraising Expense$606,370$554,512$481,945
Payments to Affiliates--$0$0
Total Revenue/Total Expenses1.642.691.83
Program Expense/Total Expenses86%87%89%
Fundraising Expense/Contributed Revenue6%2%4%
Assets and Liabilities
Fiscal Year201620152014
Total Assets$81,674,245$71,747,551$49,443,678
Current Assets$28,191,491$28,762,546$14,558,687
Long-Term Liabilities$0$0$0
Current Liabilities$2,373,252$2,275,106$797,740
Total Net Assets$79,300,993$69,472,445$48,645,938
Short Term Solvency
Fiscal Year201620152014
Current Ratio: Current Assets/Current Liabilities11.8812.6418.25
Long Term Solvency
Fiscal Year201620152014
Long-Term Liabilities/Total Assets0%0%0%
Top Funding Sources
Fiscal Year201620152014
Top Funding Source & Dollar AmountProgram Revenue $5,610,242Contributions, Gifts and Grants $13,961,864Contributions, Gifts, and Grants $9,250,662
Second Highest Funding Source & Dollar AmountGovernment Grants $4,864,267Government Grants $7,897,087Earned Revenue $5,358,457
Third Highest Funding Source & Dollar AmountContributions, Gifts and Grants $4,630,875Program Revenue $4,878,168Membership Dues $2,916,217
IRS Letter of Exemption
Capital Campaign
Is the organization currently conducting a Capital Campaign for an endowment or the purchase of a major asset? Yes
Campaign Purpose Nashville Zoo has experienced tremendous growth since moving to Grassmere in 1997. To continue to be a top Nashville tourist attraction, as well as a leading resource for education and conservation, we need to expand our capabilities, developing a wonderful experience for 1 million+ visitors each year, expanding exhibits and creating world-class habitats for many new species, and providing quality care for our valued animal collection through a new veterinary hospital.
Capital Campaign Goal $164,000,000.00
Campaign Start and End Dates June 2014 to June 2023
Capital Campaign Raised-to-Date Amount $73,359,731.00 as of Feb 2018
Capital Campaign Anticipated in Next 5 Years? No
State Charitable Solicitations Permit
TN Charitable Solicitations Registration Yes - Expires June 2018 Financial Comments
Financials taken from the 990 and the audit.
Foundation and Corporate contributions may be listed in the Individuals sum.
Financial documents completed by Frasier Dean & Howard.
Comments provided by Kathryn Bennett 2/27/18.
Nonprofit Nashville Zoo, Inc.
Address 3777 Nolensville Road
Nashville, TN 37211
Primary Phone (615) 833-1534
Contact Email
CEO/Executive Director Mr. Rick Schwartz
Board Chair Julie W. Walker
Board Chair Company Affiliation The Bridge Lady
Year of Incorporation 1989

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