National Wildlife Refuge System

Taking a Look at Your Friends

Friends Forward April 2014

This chipmunk is making sure a new trail at Little Pend Oreille Refuge, WA, is ready for spring visitors while the Friends of Little Pend Oreille gear up for 75th anniversary activities.
Credit: Friends of Little Pend Oreille

Is your Friends organization brand new? Going strong and growing? Or fading and losing its way? Understanding and managing the life cycles of a nonprofit organization was a key topic in the new “Reinvigorating Your Friends Partnership” webinar held in February. Other sessions included outreach, strategic planning, communications and motivating volunteers. 

“Understanding life cycles is extremely relevant to our Friends right now,” says national Friends coordinator Joanna Webb. “Many have been established for a long time and aren’t aware that periods of growth and decline are part of a normal process that can be managed.”

If your Friends group is unproductive, there are steps you can take.   A life cycle pattern tailored for Friends organizations (click here) includes seven stages – originating idea, start-up, growth, maturity, decline, turnaround, terminal.

Debbie Pike, park ranger at Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge, NM, used a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis to help a struggling Friends group discover their potential and prepare to support the new Rio Mora Refuge where Pike is hiking.
Credit: Friends of Las Vegas Refuge

Using the Life Cycle Road Map
Cheryl Hart, president of Friends of Tualatin River Refuge in Oregon, finds the life cycle outline an excellent road map. “Find the closest phase that matches your group. Use the goals and challenges as a plan to work toward the next phase.” Hart cautions that Friends should not expect a lock-step march through the cycles. “You may fall back or jump a stage.”

Hart says Friends of Tualatin River was in a state of decline about six years ago. “I didn’t know if we would survive.” The demands of a new visitor center and a decision to expand environmental education and habitat restoration projects helped turn the group around. A new refuge manager and new board members have brought new ideas and vision.  

“We are in the mature stage again,” says Hart. “We have developed goals and objectives with individual board members responsible for each goal. Now we need more resources to continue expanding.”

We’re Not Alone
Ted Winston, president of the Friends of Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, and Dan Price, president of the Friends of Little Pend Oreille in Washington, were both pleased to learn that other groups had been in the same life cycle stage as their organizations and had overcome challenges.

“We have a problem recruiting new board members and some of our members thought that was unique to us,” said Price. Although Price feared his group might be in danger of decline, he says this year’s 75th anniversary and a new auto tour should “help us loop back into the growth stage.”  One key to reinvigorating the Friends of Little Pend Oreille was developing a partnership with the local Rotary Club, which has a focus on bike safety.  A special event is planned this summer for a family bike ride on the new auto route with Rotary promoting bike safety and providing some helmets.

Staff and Friends at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin also see themselves at a crossroads, says visitor services manager Katie Goodwin. “There is no shortfall of passion or dedication, but the working board is maxed out on time and commitment.”   As a result of the Reinvigorating Friends webinar, Friends and staff scheduled a retreat to step away from day-to-day needs to focus on the future. “Everyone agrees on our current state and is willing to talk about the options for moving forward.”

The Friends of Las Vegas Refuge felt stretched after the refuge became a complex with the addition of Rio Mora and Maxwell National Wildlife Refuges.  Refuge park ranger Debbie Pike said the Friends used a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis to help a “struggling group of people discover their potential as a reinvigorated Friends group” – and then discovered that this type of analysis was taught during the webinar. “That further equipped our Friends to put the pieces together to make a model Friends group for the Refuge System.”


Along with celebrating the refuge's 75th anniversary, Friends of Necedah Refuge, WI, scheduled a retreat to talk about options for moving forward.
Credit: Katie Goodwin

Last updated: April 16, 2014