What is a Friends organization?
  • A private, nonprofit organization created to support the mission of a particular refuge or set of refuges, typically formed and managed by local citizens
  • Friends groups are usually established as 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations

What do Friends groups do?

No two Friends organizations are exactly alike. Each organization works to support the mission and purpose of its particular refuge. Friends activities include:
  • Community Relations/Outreach – offering opportunities for the public to learn about the National Wildlife Refuge System and refuges in their local area; assist refuge staff with trail guides and information kiosks
  • Fundraising – many Friends operate book stores or gift shops in the community and seek other ways to raise money
  • Education and interpretation for children, schools and the general public to instill a conservation ethic in the community
  • Publicity – communicating with the media and perhaps publishing a newsletter
  • Refuge planning – assisting as needed with the Comprehensive Conservation Planning process required of all refuges
  • Citizen science – assisting refuge staff in research and wildlife surveys and conservation projects
  • Special events – organizing festivals, celebrations, tours and programs to highlight the refuge
  • Sounding board – providing citizen feedback to Service personnel
  • Volunteering – for the great variety of projects and tasks on every refuge's "to do" list
  • Speaking for the refuge and the Refuge System to legislators and the public

Success Stories:

Whooping Cranes Billboard
Credit: Joe Duff
Friends of Chassahowitzka National
Wildlife Refuge support Florida's
whooping crane migration

Noxubee Friends Advertise Refuge on
Free Billboard

Why are Friends organizations important?
  • They connect refuges to the people and communities around them
  • They promote stewardship of natural resources by contributing time, money, materials and expertise
  • They educate the local community, encourage participation in refuge programs and build long-term support for the refuge mission
  • They help refuge staff accomplish vital conservation and biological monitoring tasks

Who can be a member?
  • Anyone and everyone who has a desire to protect the nation's natural heritage
  • Birders, students, teachers, carpenters, bankers, nurses, professors, retirees, hunters, anglers – all are represented in Friends organizations

How do I get involved?
  • Find a nearby refuge or one whose mission interests you (link to Directory)?
  • Call or visit the refuge to see for yourself what's happening
  • Volunteer for refuge projects
  • Attend a Friends meeting, visit a Friends Web site or read a newsletter
  • Consider starting a Friends organization (there are plenty of people in the National Wildlife Refuge System ready to help you)

Do I have to be a member of a Friends group to volunteer at a refuge?
  • No. Volunteers are always welcome.
  • Many people become members of a Friends group after they have volunteered on a refuge. Friends organizations enable members to work with other citizens and refuge professionals to achieve common goals. They also provide lots of opportunities to meet people who share your interest in protecting natural resources.

Beverly Heinze-Lacey
Beverly Heinze-Lacey has been involved with the Friends movement from its outset. She recalled the first meeting more than a decade ago where some 50 people launched the Friends Initiative and wrote Building Your Nest Egg: An Introduction to Raising Funds for National Wildlife Refuge Support Groups. Beverly belongs to the Friends of Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts. She especially enjoys the national conferences when Friends groups realize they are part of a much larger system.

Norma Wiley
Norma Wiley became involved with the Friends of Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana when her son participated in an environmental education program at the refuge. One thing led to another and pretty soon, Norma was president of the Friends group. Norma took her first plane ride ever to attend a national Friends conference. She brought back ideas to raise money, build community support and find new members.

Nearly two dozen Friends members posing for a group photo
Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuge
Credit: USFWS