The Friends Forward Fall 2008 told the story of Friends of Friends of Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, MN, which began planning a $6 million capital campaign for a new visitor center. “We know there will be ups and downs,” said Friends president Sue Hix at the time, “but we are convinced we can do this.” It is now 2012. There is no visitor center and no capital campaign, but Hix and the Friends of Sherburne remain persistent, optimistic and flexible.

The bottom fell out of the economy just as we were thinking about starting our capital campaign in late 2008. We had hoped that we might get American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding for our visitor center, but that did not materialize. Then a very negative cartoon appeared in a local paper, featuring “Foreclosed” and “For Sale” signs on houses and a refuge sign in the background, with one guy saying to another, “And I hear they are getting $6 million for a refuge visitor center.” That squashed the last hope for a capital campaign.

So instead, we directed our efforts to publicizing the refuge. With funding from a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant, we produced two new glossy brochures —one promoting the concept of a “Discovery Center Without Walls” and another, called “Nature’s Calendar at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge,” with month–by–month phenology notes about what a visitor can expect to see at the refuge.

We joined six chambers of commerce. We encouraged schools and community groups to use the refuge as an outdoor classroom and with the help of refuge staff, we offered free “outdoor classroom” workshops for teachers and volunteers. We also began dedicating part of our budget to pay for buses to bring students to the refuge. We participated in countless expos and fairs, even spending about $500 for a booth at the huge Midwest Mountaineering Spring Outdoor Adventure Expo in Minneapolis.We introduced the refuge as a birding/hiking/hunting/outdoor photography destination only an hour’s drive from the Twin Cities to about 850 people during the two–day event.

In mid–2010 we signed an agreement with the Initiative Foundation, a foundation serving 14 counties in central Minnesota, to establish endowment and fundraising accounts. For a very reasonable fee ($250 annual minimum), the Initiative Foundation (IF) maintains donation records and prepares gift acknowledgements for our Friends’ president to sign and mail. IF also prepares all the required reports and keeps our treasurer in the loop. The IF Investment Committee makes investment decisions for our fund, which is pooled with millions of dollars from other funds also managed by the IF Committee. This is an all–around good deal for an all–volunteer organization like ours.

Funds for the Future

With a somewhat changed economy in 2011–2012 we raised more than $20,000 in less than a year, the minimum required to draw annual grants from the proceeds from the endowment fund. Donors included a core group who pledged $10,000 and challenged the rest of the organization to finish the job. A letter campaign to about 50 long–time supporters plus promotion in our quarterly newsletter helped us reach our goal. Starting in 2012, we will be able to withdraw 5 percent of the fund balance annually for environmental education, refuge events and interpretive activities.

Additionally, we recently received a National Environmental Education Foundation Every Day Grant to help develop annual giving as part of our organizational culture and increase our overall fundraising capacity. With current economic conditions, it seems unlikely that we’ll get funding for our entire visitor center very soon, so we are refocusing our efforts (again!) on funding an outdoor classroom with utilities and restrooms. The refuge has applied for two grants for this facility and the Friends pledged a minimum of $10,000 as a match for one grant.

We organize our online giving through, which works with We have our own page where we highlight the value of different donation levels. heavily promoted a “Give to the Max Day” in 2011 and we raised $670 with very little work. This Web site is a huge benefit, and the processing rate is only about 3 percent. We also have a “widget” embedded on our Friends homepage for online donations through And it’s available 24/7 for purchasing or renewing memberships as well as making donations.

Sue Hix is president of the Friends of Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge.