Starting a Friends Group

Resources/Toolkits/Starting a Friends Group
"All journeys begin with the first step."
Ed Bristow, Friends of Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge
  • Talk with the refuge manager and staff about creating a Friends organization
  • Identify a core group of community leaders who recognize the need for a Friends group and are willing to take on a leadership role
  • Build relationships with refuge staff – get to know the Refuge System and understand how work gets done
    • Gain the personal support of the refuge manager
    • Establish clear rules of open and regular communication
  • Create a vision and mission for the Friends organization
    • What is the purpose of your group?
    • How can you translate mission and purpose into action?
    • A mission statement should be simple, clear and capable of inspiring people to action
    • Write bylaws
  • Decide how you want your Friends organization to operate.
    • Do you want a voting membership?
    • Do you want to raise funds?
    • What type of activities will the group support or initiate?
    • What do you expect of board members?
    • Do you need formal committees?
  • Discuss achievable goals that will assist the refuge.
    • Goals are general statements about what you want to accomplish
    • Objectives are specific statements about how you plan to do it
    • Be bold in your vision, but realistic with your action steps
    • Revisit plans regularly. Be ready to adapt or change them
    • Offer ideas but also ask refuge staff, "How can we help you?"
  • Recruit additional board members with a variety of skills, interests and contacts
  • Decide if you want to create a non-profit 501c3 organization that can receive tax-deductible contributions
    • File articles of incorporation
    • File for an IRS determination of federal tax exempt status
    • Determine local and state requirements for your activities.
    • Establish a bookkeeping system
  • Seek out training to develop abilities, skills and knowledge
  • Consider creating a logo, brochure, letterhead, newsletter
Seven male and female members of the Neosho Friends Group standing in front of a stone cottage
Neosho Friends Group
Credit: USFWS


IRS 501c3 documents

Taking Flight

Building Your Nest Egg

Soaring to New Heights


Friends of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge (VA) decided to form a 501c4 organization. Their mission is focused on land acquisition: lobbying is a main activity, thus they have no formal agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service, but excellent people-to-people communications.

Minnesota Valley Friends Group logo - colored sketch of a duck in a pondFriends of Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (MN) is a 501c3 organization. Their mission is to conserve and protect the natural and cultural resources of the Minnesota River Valley. Their activities are a mix of supporting the refuge, educating the public, fundraising to support these activities and helping to inform congressional leaders about the Valley's resources and needs. They have formal agreements with the Fish and Wildlife Service on a project-by-project basis.

Seney logo - Oval with two flying geese inside Seney Natural History Association (MI) has 501c3 status. Operating a sales outlet is their main activity. They have a cooperating association sales agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service. Proceeds from the sales outlet go directly to support refuge educational and interpretive activities.

From Taking Flight: An Introduction to Building Friends Organizations