National Wildlife Refuge System

Revitalized Mentoring Program

Friends Forward February 2014

Communication issues, between staff and Friends or within a Friends group, are a common sign that an organization might need a mentor.
Credit: Sarah Lemmons, Best in Show for Friends of Coastal Refuges Photo Contest

The new Friends Partnership Mentoring Program envisions 30 mentoring events a year, with each of the nation’s approximately 220 Friends partnerships involved in a mentoring session about every seven years. Increased funding and greater participation at the local level will achieve this dramatic increase in mentoring.  

Under the new plan, mentoring will focus on:

  • Core management of the Friends organization (obtaining 501c3 status, developing bylaws and a board, fiscal operations, meeting effectiveness);

  • Defining roles, responsibilities and scope of the partnership between a Friends organization and refuge staff;

  • Dealing with board and staff change; and

  • Revitalizing a partnership in decline or in danger of collapse.

Tim Armstrong, president of the Friends of the San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuges in Colorado, says it was tremendously rewarding to be on a mentoring team that worked with seven Friends groups over the past several years.  “We really empowered people to pursue their interest and passion for refuges.”

Strengthening Friends Partnerships
The new program will strengthen Friends partnerships by building relationships and sound business practices between Friends organizations and National Wildlife Refuge System staff.  Those were key benefits when the Friends of the Savannah Coastal Wildlife Refuges in Georgia and South Carolina met with a mentoring team in 2010 – soon after a new visitor center opened and the Friends needed help with direction, meeting goals and mutual responsibilities. “People need to be clear on lines of responsibility,” explained Friends president Rick Shields, “such as who speaks for the Friends group and who speaks for the refuge.”

Communication issues, between staff and Friends or within a Friends group, are a common sign that an organization might need a mentor, says Armstrong, as is a gradual loss of enthusiasm or excitement within the group. “There is real value when an objective person helps groups identify the core issues and offers some ideas to do things differently.”

Under the new plan, there will be a standardized, online mentoring application. Mentor pairs will include one Service staff person and one Friends member. Fifteen pairs of mentors will receive training and commit to a three-year term, including two mentor visits annually for the first two years and then coaching new mentors during the third year. In addition to traditional mentor site visits, there will be more peer-to-peer coaching between Friends groups; annual orientation sessions for Friends and staff; and expanded use of such online tools as, online training through webinars and webcasts and the Friends National Wildlife Refuges Facebook group. A packet of mentoring tools to help maintain Friends partnerships will be available soon.


Friends may need help with direction, identifying goals or understanding mutual responsibilities.
Credit: Todd Harness/USFWS (Friends Conference 2009)
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Last updated: February 13, 2014