The Conserving the Future Community Partnerships implementation team’s survey results confirmed what many in the Refuge System already felt: Refuge Friends are essential partners in conserving America’s natural resources.


Among the findings from the nearly 100 responses to the survey:


  • 89 percent of refuge managers thought a Friends organization was either critical or could help in achieving refuge goals and objectives.

  • 99 percent used volunteers, while 57 percent had at least one community partnership.

  • 61 percent rated individual and group volunteers as having a broad spectrum of activity in support of refuge programs and as being very effective.

When asked to identify the top challenges facing Friends organizations, respondents most often selected: two few active board members; board members facing burnout; too few active and engaged members; difficulty finding new board members; and a small total number of members.


The overwhelming challenge for refuges is the time it takes to manage Friends, volunteers and community partnerships. Refuge managers reported that they lack enough staff to take advantage of the opportunities offered by these groups and individuals. At the same time, lack of staff or time to train and supervise volunteers is the biggest challenge for those who have volunteer programs.


Volunteers and the Web

The Community Partnerships team is working to tackle at least one of those issues by developing a Web application that would help refuges better manage volunteer programs.


All agencies of the Department of the Interior use a single Web site to recruit new volunteers, but it is limited in being able to help manage volunteers. So, refuges have created their own procedures for selecting and training volunteers, including tracking their donated hours.


Instead, the team is seeking to develop an online system that would both improve the volunteer experience—making sure, for example, that volunteer hours are properly recorded—and cut refuges’ management workload.


At the same time, the team is seeking to improve the current U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Web page for volunteers—www.fws.gov/volunteers/—to make it far more user friendly.


“Volunteers, Friends and partners are the most valuable allies of the Refuge System,” said Kristen Gilbert, youth, partnerships and grants coordinator for the Alaska region and a member of the Community Partnerships team. “They are active and motivated people whose work is vital to fulfilling our mission.


“Each year we rely on about 40,000 volunteers,” she continued. “If we didn’t have the work of volunteers, we would need nearly 800 more full–time employees to do mission critical work. That’s reason enough to make sure we are serving our volunteers and Friends as well as we can.”


For more information about Conserving the Future, go to: http://americaswildlife.org/.