National Park Friends Group 101

While there are nearly 400 units of the National Park System, there are only about 150 groups today that view themselves as friends groups working to benefit the parks. Interested in creating a friends group, or need help getting your organization out of the blocks? The National Park Foundation is there to help.

Dan Puskar, director of partnerships and government relations at the Foundation, says there is a significant array of materials and help the Foundation can offer you. Among the on-line resources the Foundation offers are templates to help your group create a development plan, or a marketing communications plan, he says.

The Foundation also hosts webinars on topics ranging from membership programs to working with Social Media and even “making the ‘perfect ask’ in fundraising,” he says.

Through the Park Partners Project, the Foundation each year works directly with a small number of friends groups on all the facets of operating a successful organization. Among the groups the Foundation is working with this year are Friends of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks: The Bates Wison Legacy Fund, the Shenandoah National Park Trust, Voyageurs National Park Association, and Friends of Minute Man National Historical Park.

“We’re really trying to help groups increase their own capacity, so that they can achieve their mission better,” says Mr. Puskar. “And if their mission is increasing philanthropic resources, providing promotional support, in some ways being the face of the park within their community, that’s helping the National Park Foundation achieve its mission of increasing resources for the parks.”

In short, the Foundation stands ready to help you:

• Organize a 501(c)3 non-profit organization

• Craft a management structure

• Develop membership materials

• Coach you on fund-raising

• Connect you with your peers, both established and starting out.

“If there are real grassroots efforts out there that are trying to form a friends group, we would welcome them calling the Foundation,” says Mr. Puskar. “But I also would say if you’re interested in starting a friends group you should be talking to your park superintendent. You should be talking to the folks that you know at that park.

“One of the things we know for sure is that the best and strongest friends groups are not only those that know great things about nonprofit best practices and management, but they also have strong relationships, work hand-in-hand with their parks, from the superintendent on down, to be able to set priorities and to be able to work together on donor recognition and stewardship. You can’t do it unless you’re working hand-in-hand."