National Wildlife Refuge System

Friend or Volunteer – Which Hat Are You Wearing?

Friends of Holla Bend
There is no distinction between Friends and Service volunteers when they are staffing a refuge special event, like the Bow Jam at Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge, AR.
Credit: Friends of Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge

Distinctions between Friends and volunteers are thoroughly spelled out in the new Friends policy, intended to protect Friends, volunteers and refuge staff members from incurring unacceptable liability risks or conflicts of interest. 

Is this the business of a nonprofit organization or the refuge? This question marks the distinction between the work of a Friend and a volunteer.  Individual Friends are the same as Service volunteers when they lead environmental education programs on the refuge, conduct refuge community outreach activities, or staff refuge special events: these are the official business of the refuge, supervised by a refuge staff member and covered under a completed and signed Volunteer Service Agreement. 

Volunteer Service Agreements offer only individual Service volunteers tort liability and injury protection while doing official Service business. They donot offer liability protection for any type of nonprofit organization such as a Friends organization. Volunteer agreements must be reviewed annually and should accurately reflect the scope of work a volunteer has agreed to perform.

Friends Only Tasks
Service volunteers are required to follow the same policies and ethics rules as Service employees. Both must must avoid tasks that are part of running a nonprofit Friends organization, such as:

  1. Managing the Friends Web site or social media sites
  2. Managing a Friends nature store or handling its cash register transactions
  3. Writing grant proposals for the Friends organization
  4. Actively recruiting Friends members
  5. Fundraising or soliciting donations for the Friends organization
  6. Selling tickets or accepting donations to a Friends event
  7. Operating or organizing games of chance (bingo, lotteries, raffles)
  8. Lobbying local, state or national elected officials
  9. Writing Friends bylaws or completing IRS paperwork
  10. Serving as a Friends board member or conducting board meetings

Friends Policy Implementation
All of these are Friends Only activities.
Credit: Joanna Webb/USFWS

Friends engaged in these very legitimate and necessary activities may not represent themselves as Service volunteers while doing the work listed above or count these hours toward their refuge’s volunteer total. These hours may only be tallied by Friends as other community service hours – perhaps making the member eligible for awards, service pins, store discounts or other incentives offered directly by the Friends organization or other community groups.

Project leaders and refuge managers may include Friends members’ work contributions in their annual volunteer totals only when the Friends are performing official Service volunteer activities like staffing a visitor center information desk, implementing grant projects, helping to clear invasive plants or plant native ones, or attending a conference or training approved by the Project leader.

More Friends policy information is available here, including a partnership agreement template, FAQ and PowerPoint presentation on policy implementation. Questions? Write to national Friends coordinator   



Last updated: June 13, 2014