National Wildlife Refuge Friends organizations play an important role in building critical community support for their local National Wildlife Refuges. The National Wildlife Refuge System’s existence is credited to citizens eager to protect America's natural resources, and Refuge Friends groups continue this legacy.
There are now more than 200 Friends groups supporting National Wildlife Refuges, with about 10 new organizations created each year. Friends organizations are crucial to the collective mission of the Refuge System and, along with other volunteers, accomplish approximately 20 percent of all work on National Wildlife Refuges, which is the equivalent of 648 full-time employees.
The National Wildlife Refuge Friends Grant Program funds projects that assist organizations in being effective co-stewards of important natural resources within the National Wildlife Refuge System. The program's goals are to assist refuge Friends organizations in developing projects, expanding and increasing their capacity and skills, meeting local refuge conservation challenges and gaining and building community recognition.
Funding priorities for this program include:
- Nonprofit Capacity Building Grants – providing funds to assist starting refuge Friends organizations with formative and/or initial operational support. Funds are also provided to existing refuge Friends organizations for activities that improve and enhance an organization’s ability to achieve its mission and sustain itself over time.
- On-the-Ground Project Grants – providing funds to refuge Friends organizations seeking support for projects initiated and managed by the Friends in support of the refuge.
- Peer-to-Peer Coaching – providing funds to refuge Friends organizations who propose to coordinate and execute a Friends peer-to-peer coaching for a minimum of four other U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Friends organizations.
Since 1998, the National Wildlife Refuge Friends Grant Program has provided over 440 awards totaling more than $1.8 million in federal funds. While matching contributions are not required of these grantees, over $1.5 million has been contributed towards these projects, which significantly leverages the limited investment of federal funding.