The material shared on this page is intended to help friends groups and individuals start, manage and grow a friends group. The information is provided as a courtesy and is not a substitute for legal counsel. The Friends Network does not guarantee the accuracy of the material nor does it accept responsibility for incorrect information (we are volunteers after all). However, friends groups have used the information successfully.
Starting a Friends Group
If you are thinking about starting a friends group or have any questions regarding friends groups, download the information provided in the Volunteer in Parks Program Guide, and contact:
- Massachusetts Forest and Park Friends Network facilitator team
- Your park staff
- Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Volunteers in Parks Program, Lisa Barstow, 617-626-1250
- One of many reputable external organizations that provide guidance on starting friends groups, the National Wildlife Refuge System is a great example.
Formalizing a friends group by signing a Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with DCR can alleviate some liability and risk management issues, facilitate positive communication, and signals a commitment from both parties to work together on programming and projects. Start the process of creating an MOU by contacting the supervisor of the DCR property you’d like to befriend.
Growing a Friends Group
Mission statements, organization structure, communications, fundraising, all that you should consider to guide the growth of your group.
- Strengthening Friends Groups, presented at Friends Network gathering, November 2017
Becoming a Non-Profit 501(c)(3)
Although incorporating carries reporting and operational responsibilities that may be onerous for small friends groups, the benefits to becoming a not for profit (NFP) include:
- Allowing donors a tax deduction which could very well assist in fund raising efforts
- New grants and other funding sources that require applicants have non-profit status
- Increasing the legitimacy and sustainability of your group
These resources provide guidance on the process:
- Initial Filings for Massachusetts Nonprofit Organizations
- Forming a Non-profit Corporation in Massachusetts
- Commonwealth of Massachusetts Articles of Incorporation
- IRS Life Cycle of a Public Charity
- DCR Home Page
- DCR Programs and Events Calendar
- Planning and Resource Protection
- Land Use and Management
- Historic Landscape Preservation Initiative
- The Massachusetts Park Watch Program
- Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) Natural Communities Fact Sheets
- DFW Programs and Events Calendar
- Terra Firma 4 – New Models of Stewardship: Public/Private Partnerships guides historic landscape advocates through the basic issues involved with establishing partnership efforts between municipal and private entities
Examples of Documentation
- Friends of Myles Standish State Forest Bylaws, Inc.
- Friends of Myles Standish Articles of Incorporation
- Friends of Myles Standish Membership Form
- National Park Service: Creating Possibilities through Partnerships
- Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition
All friends groups should require liability waivers for any organized activity with volunteers or guests, like hikes, volunteer work events, etc. If an event is cosponsored, a joint waiver can be used to simplify the process for participants. When participants are conditioned to sign release forms, there is seldom a problem.
The release should include:
- Language that the participant is in appropriate physical condition to do the activity safely
- A “property owner” disclaimer, which based on the park and event could be DCR and/or the town
- Advice on appropriate clothing and shoes, sunscreen, insect repellant, and water
- Requirement for minors to have parent/legal guardian permission to participate
Advice on the use of release forms:
- Build a standard, multiple uses form that can be posted online
- Let people know in advance communications that a liability release will be required in order to participate. This is particularly for events with youth groups, organizers will need access to the form in advance in order to get parental permission
- Include a registration period of 15-30 minutes before the start of every event and communicate it accordingly
- Collecting contact information has the added benefit of helping you build a constituent database
Requiring that all participants sign in and out is a best practice, providing helpful information in the event of an emergency