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Forming a Friends for Parks Group

In South Carolina, any group of interested citizens can form a non-profit Friends support organization with the state park management. An individual park should have only one official Friends organization. All organizations must have an open membership policy regardless of race, sex, color, national origin, age or handicap.
 
General members can come from a variety of backgrounds, professions and interests. In fact the best organizations are those with wide diversity. Keep in mind the resources of the park when recruiting members. People with environmental, cultural and historical interests, and administrative, operational or fund-raiser skills are useful in Friends groups.
 
Park managers are essential components in setting up a Friends organization. Interested people should make sure the manager has an approved, up-to-date business plan for the park, and should ask for a copy. The group must also seek advice from the park manager on the park’s specific needs and seek to provide assistance that meets these needs. Some types of assistance can include:

General Volunteerism:

  • Staffing visitor centers
  • Compiling resource lists or inventories
  • Office work
  • Assisting in archaeological work
  • Staffing special events
  • Maintenance work or projects, trail clean ups

Special Park Needs:

  • Writing for publications or authoring official guidebooks
  • Sponsoring special events
  • Resource inventories
  • Collections analysis
  • Conducting research
  • Other professional support (i.e., marine biologists, archaeologists, landscapers)

Funding and Donations:

  • Secure special grants
  • Purchase equipment
  • Fund the construction of a facility
  • Collect or purchase artifacts
  • Fund the expenses for research
  • Fund restorations

Step 1:

A small five to ten member steering committee should be formed to help organize the Friends group, establish its mission, goals and objectives and set its charter. Working with the Park Manager, the committee can review the business plan and needs list to determine if a Friends group is feasible. They can also identify and select board members.
 
A board of directors should be made up of no less than three and no more than 13 people. Park managers and key staff are not prohibited from serving as ex-officio members of this board. To avoid conflict of interest, however, they cannot function as voting board members.

Step 2:

The steering committee and board should submit an application for Friends status for approval by the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism and the park manager. The application should include the purpose of the organization as well as information about the make up of the proposed group. The State Park Service will review the application. The Park Service Director, or his designee, will send a letter of intent to the board.

Step 3:

The board should draft a charter as the basis of the organization. A nonprofit Corporation Articles of Incorporation must be submitted to the Secretary of State of South Carolina.
 
To qualify as a 501(c)(3) organization under the rules of the Internal Revenue Service code, certain statements must be made to demonstrate the charitable status of the organization.
 
Organizations seeking exemption from tax under section 501(c)(3) must file IRS form 1023. In addition to the application form, a copy of the charter and by laws must be included. IRS form 8718 and form 872-C must also be completed. Friends groups will be liable for all applicable filing fees.
 
Friends groups should also apply for a federal employer identification number by filing form SS-4. Many federally funded grant programs require this number.

Step 4:

After the letter of intent has been signed and the charter filed with the Secretary of State, a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) will be executed between the park manager and the Friends organization. The MOA outlines the administrative framework for the group to work with the park. It also requires the Friends group to have an annual audit conducted by a CPA to insure that funds have been used appropriately.
 
The samples listed above contain the minimum standards by which all Friends groups should establish themselves. While new information and goals can be added, the minimum standards cannot be altered without the approval of the State Park Service.