The Refuge Association mobilizes hundreds of volunteer refuge friends groups and thousands of private citizens across the country to tackle the challenges facing our national wildlife refuges. Through training workshops, communications networks and partnerships, and advocacy, we generate support for wildlife refuges and vital wildlife habitats at the local and national levels. National refuge friends conferences and workshops have attracted nearly 4,000 people from across the country.
What is a Refuge Friends Group?
Refuge friends groups are independent, nonprofit organizations run by citizens that support the purposes and objectives of national wildlife refuges. Many groups are well established and provide extensive assistance to their refuges; others are just beginning, but all provide support to their local national wildlife refuge.
Refuge volunteers and refuge “Friends” provide a 20 percent boost to the National Wildlife Refuge System workforce – the equivalent of 618 full time employees and valued at $32 million per year.
History of the Friends Initiative
In 1994, the Board of Directors of the National Wildlife Refuge Association made an important decision. They agreed that citizen support groups (“Friends”) were critical to the protection and perpetuation of the National Wildlife Refuge System. For this reason, the Board added Friends group development and training to their strategic plan.
At that time, no formal programs existed to support Friends groups. Many established refuge Friends groups were struggling with issues such as board organization, developing strong partnerships with refuge management, effective advocacy, and fundraising. Newly forming organizations were also struggling with basic issues such as how to write by-laws and apply for non-profit status.
For this reason, the Refuge Association launched the Friends Initiative in October 1996 with grant funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the George Gund Foundation, Plum Creek Foundation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Refuge Association and Friends
Today more than 230 Friends organizations work in support of wildlife refuges across the nation, with 36,000 volunteers contributing 1.4 million hours a year to the Refuge System. With Refuge System funding declining, the need to recruit and train additional volunteers is more pressing than ever!
The Refuge Association’s Friends Program provides these extraordinary groups with the tools, training and resources to make an even greater difference for wildlife refuges and conservation. Our program also provides invaluable networking opportunities, allowing Friends to connect across the country and share advice and information.
Refuge Friends Connect is a website devoted to the refuge friends community. The website helps Friend groups find inspiration, motivate others, and have the knowledge and skills to meet the challenges they face as they support wildlife conservation, their community, the local refuge, and the Refuge System.
Friends Conferences and Workshops:
The National Wildlife Refuge Association and the National Wildlife Refuge System have hosted dozens of national conferences and regional workshops that provide Friends group members and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff with skills-building resources, capacity-building training and networking opportunities.
The first National Refuge Friends Conference, held in 2002, represented a milestone in the refuge Friends movement and an important moment for our country’s national wildlife refuges. The conference marked the first time in the history of refuge Friends groups that so many volunteers gathered in a national forum to build their capacity to support the Refuge System.
Subsequent conferences and workshops have provided invaluable training to refuge Friends groups on topics as diverse as board development, fundraising, volunteer recruitment, communications and marketing, reaching diverse communities and environmental education. Paired with the team spirit generated from gathering Friends representatives from all over the country, the results have been extraordinary.
- 2009 Friends Unite
- 2008 Friends for the Future
- 2005 Friends in Action
- 2003 Centennial Refuge Friends Conference
- 2002 National Friends Conference
To see more about events our Friends groups participate in, visit http://refugefriendsconnect.org/ and see the calendars page.