National Wildlife Refuge Friends organizations play an important role in building critical community support for the National Wildlife Refuge System. 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 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 Group 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 challenges, gaining and building community recognition and support, and building long-term relationships.
Funding priorities for this program include:
- Start-up Grants – Providing funds to help refuge Friends organizations with initial and/or formative operational support
- Capacity Building Grants – Providing funds to strengthen the capacity of existing refuge Friends organizations to enable them to be more effective
- Project-Specific Grants – Providing funds to non-profit organizations seeking support for a specific project that will benefit the local refuge.
Since 1998, the National Wildlife Refuge Friends Group Grant Program has provided 372 awards totaling over $1.6 million in federal funds. While matching contributions are not required of these grantees, over $990,000 has been contributed towards these projects, which significantly leverage the limited investment of federal seed funding.