The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation recognizes the important role refuge Friends organizations play in building critical community support for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System. NFWF provides competitive seed grants ($1,500 – $5,000) for creative and innovative proposals in three categories.

Many Friends groups were initiated with the help of a start–up grant through NFWF. Funds provide formative and/or initial operational support for such things as membership drives, tuition for non–profit training programs, brochure and newsletter development, logo design, office equipment, or consultant fees for planning a mission and strategic plan.

Once initiated, Friends organizations must sustain themselves. To address this need, NFWF offers capacity–building grants to existing refuge Friends organizations. Capacity–building refers to projects that enhance the abilities of Friends organizations while allowing them to achieve measurable and sustainable results. Projects may include outreach, business plan development or other strategic planning, and membership or board/leadership development. The grant could pay for training, development of exhibits or nature/book store start–up.

The third and final category of Friends grants are project specific. Examples include conservation education programs for local schools, communities, and private landowners; habitat restoration projects; building an observation tower; providing interpretive materials and programs; creating watchable wildlife programs.

Funding for the grants is provided through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Since 1998, the Friends grant program has provided 372 awards totaling over $1.6 million. While matching contributions are not required, over $990,000 has been contributed toward these projects, significantly leveraging the limited investment of federal seed funding.

There are typically two application rounds each year, with deadlines in early April and early September. Members of the review team meet to rank proposals, and final decisions are announced in mid–June and mid–November. Projects typically last 12 to 18 months.

NFWF coordinates other grant programs open to all nonprofit organizations; search under “Grant Programs” at

Teal Edelen is manager, Central Partnership Office, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.