Friends of the National Wildlife Refuges of Rhode Island raises $3,000 with a small wine tasting at the Westerly Yacht Club every June. Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges celebrates National Wildlife Refuge Week with a Wild Things Festival, bringing in 4,500 people and more than $5,500 in a single day. Friends of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge , MD, nets nearly $40,000 each year from a Wild Goose Chase bicycle ride.

Carefully planned special events can raise money even as they attract potential volunteers and Friends members, build relationships with the local business community and engage and educate visitors. A few tips:

  • Agree on the event’s primary purpose from the outset: Are you planning to fund all or most of your activities for the year from the proceeds of a single event or is the event intended to fund one project, exhibit or other refuge need?

  • Make sure the amount of money you are likely to raise is commensurate with the amount of effort required to stage the event.

  • Does your Friends group have the capacity to pull off the event—organizers, volunteers, in–kind contributions?
  • Tailor your marketing to your target audience: families who could visit repeatedly, diverse members of the community who could make the refuge a part of their lives, or donors who support your cause.

  • Identify an event chair who is excited about doing the job.

Wild Things Festival

Planning for the October Wild Things Festival, the principal annual fundraiser for the Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges, begins in January. That includes development of a detailed timeline of tasks for each month. Two–thirds of the profit from the festival, which charges no admission, comes from sale of food and beverages; the remainder comes from sponsors. Sponsor levels are $500, $750, $1,000 and $5,000 in addition to in–kind donations. Each sponsor’s logo is included in 10,000 fliers distributed to households as an insert in the local paper. A $5,000 sponsor receives a designated tent with refreshments, private visitor center and canoe tours and lunch for 30 provided by the Friends at some future date.

Most of the sponsors are Friends members. Many support other refuge events. Five Guys Burgers and Fries was among several sponsors of the food booth but all the profit from food sales went to the Friends. Home Depot donated 500 bird house kits and volunteers to oversee construction by families and children.

The 14th Wild Things Festival in 2011 included 37 conservation–related guest exhibitors (all donated their time), a tent filled with hands–on activities for kids, canoe and pontoon boat tours, hayride shuttles, a Youth Wildlife Art Show, a casting pond and a fire crew demonstration that lets kids spray targets with the fire hose. The Friends group pays musicians; refuge staff arrange for tents and contacted many of the exhibitors.

Wine Tasting

Friends of the National Wildlife Refuges of Rhode Island charges $25 for a Micro Brew and Wine Tasting event, which attracts about 130 people who also participate in a silent auction. A 50–50 raffle charges $5 per ticket, with half of the proceeds going to the winning ticket and half to the Friends.

A local liquor store arranges vendors for the wine tasting at no cost to the Friends. A local food store provides fancy hors d’oeuvres at cost. And there is cachet in the location, says event organizer Ed Morschauser—the Westerly Yacht Club donates the space but operates a cash bar during the event. The one possible change this year? “We are considering liability insurance for the first time because people are drinking,” says Morschauser.

Bike Riding

The annual Wild Goose Chase, a bicycle weekend for women, attracted 775 bikers in 2011 and raised more than $40,000 for the Friends of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, MD. Virtually all the money is raised from the $60 registration fee, although this year for the first time, registrants will have the option of making a specific donation to the Friends. Started as a one–day event five years ago by Georgena Terry of Terry Precision Cycling in New York, the event now includes kayak rentals, a ranger–led tour of the refuge’s Wildlife Drive and test–rides on Terry bicycles.

Terry herself is an active member of the Friends of Montezuma Refuge, NY, but became a passionate supporter of Blackwater Refuge during family visits to Maryland. “Picture this,” says the event Web site, “flat roads, no–to–low traffic and pristine salt marshes offering protection for migratory waterfowl on the Chesapeake Bay.”

The bike route is carefully mapped to avoid disturbing waterfowl; parking and other activities are set up in a neighboring high school parking lot. Proceeds have been used for boardwalks, spotting scopes and wetland enhancement. The 2012 Wild Goose Chase (October 13–14; register at will fund new exhibits in the renovated visitor center.

Terry’s advice for Friends considering such an event:

  • The organizers themselves should be avid cyclists.

  • Develop community support, plenty of volunteers and synergy between Friends and refuge staff.

  • Start small and build it up!