Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation (R3) of hunters, anglers, and recreational target shooters is a priority for agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and others within the industry (hereafter, “stakeholders”) with a vested interest in natural resources conservation and the relevancy of the surrounding activities. Over the past ten years, states have experimented with the most efficient process to increase and diversify participation in and societal support for these activities. This period of trial and error revealed that entities operating within their own organizational silos are typically met with limited success, but through partnerships entities could increase the overall capacity and progress of state-level R3 efforts. This document aims to provide general guidance for developing statewide R3 collaborations and offers case studies from several states.
It is important to recognize that R3 processes are still emerging, and that this document will not capture every possible strategy or important component of a collaboration. This material was compiled by the National R3 Implementation Workgroup after reviewing four states’ R3 collaborations, (Arizona, California, Georgia, and Iowa) in detail and best practices developed by the R3 community over the past ten years.
Building and Maintaining a Statewide R3 Collaboration
Statewide R3 collaborations have taken on many forms in recent years (see case studies), but the majority share some common themes in how they were developed and currently function. Successful collaborations result from engaging the key state-stakeholders in the conversation and R3. Common themes that have been observed across states with R3 collaborations include hosting statewide meetings, dedicating staff, developing a state-level strategy, partnership-based marketing/branding, and events with shared resources.
Statewide R3 Meetings
When forming a statewide R3 collaboration, many states initiated their efforts with meetings, inviting stakeholders that are likely to support the collaboration. Usually the first meeting serves to educate everyone on R3, build consensus on direction and goals, and begin to form the partnerships that will lay the foundation for collaboration. Initially, the state wildlife agency Director and additional VIPs are beneficial to draw the level of interest and enthusiasm necessary for a powerful launch. While their attendance is not mandatory to successful sustainability, they effectively demonstrate the seriousness of the situation and call to action. Once dedicated parties are gathered and agree to pursue R3 on a statewide level, they must agree on that goal being a constant in addition to the goals and missions of their individual brands.
Many states have found it useful to bring in outside partners with R3 expertise (Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports, Wildlife Management Institute, Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, etc.) to help facilitate early meetings, provide clarity surrounding R3, and review the research that validates social trends, emerging patterns, and current best practices. These meetings are content heavy and usually require at least a full day to cover the extensive complex issues. Strategic use of working lunches and breaks can improve progress. Clear expectations should be identified through majority consensus, and all the content and discussions should be captured for later review. Task management needs to be formal but realistic, some issues will be very complex and can take years to resolve.
After the initial gatherings and development of a collaboration, these meetings often occur on an annual, bi-annual, or even quarterly basis, depending on the stakeholders involved. Because of the complexities involved, follow up meetings serve to:
Expand the stakeholder base and increase partnerships among stakeholders (remain in a recruitment phase).
Disseminate current terminology, information, goals, direction, and successes (maintain these presentations for public affairs opportunities).
Encourage implementation of best practices developed by the collaboration (strive for consistency and scalability in elements of R3 efforts).
Allow time for workgroups/committees to meet in person.
One of the emerging practices that continues to prove effective in R3 efforts is the allocation of dedicated staff. Historically, R3 has been another duty assigned to hunter education coordinators, wildlife managers, and/or taken on by volunteers. Under the direction of the National Hunting and Shooting Sports Action Plan, many states have dedicated staff time to R3. While these efforts vary by state/organization, there are two common themes: 1) incorporating R3 duties into existing roles; and 2) creating R3-specific positions.
R3 Incorporated Into Existing Roles
While more states begin concertedly thinking of R3 as a function of business, as opposed to just another program, stakeholders are working toward ensuring all employees understand their role in R3. Many stakeholders have committed a portion of their full-time employees’ time to the mission of R3, incorporating it into their job descriptions (along with their original duties). These professionals are held accountable to dedicate time and resources to the research, coordination, and on-the-ground implementation necessary to form and maintain a statewide R3 collaboration. Positions that have seen an emphasis on R3, span the spectrum, from the regional supervisor/biologist to the CEO/director level, and are not limited to a specific type of stakeholder. Collaborations allow all stakeholders to assemble and decide where and at what level their employees (where applicable) can plug in, with the most benefit received when it is included as part of their scope of work.
In addition to some positions receiving partial emphasis on R3, we have seen the emergence of R3-specific positions (e.g., R3 Coordinator) at the state level as recommended in the National Hunting and Shooting Sports Action Plan. These positions have taken many forms, can be housed inside or outside of the state natural resources agency, and are often partnership-based, funded, and/or directed. While R3 specific, these professionals must be able to work cross functionally both within the agencies and with non-governmental organizations to increase their effectiveness. When properly equipped, and partnered with state agency staff and resources, these positions can serve as R3 facilitators, increasing the scale, creativity, capacity, responsiveness, and effectiveness of R3 collaborations.
All states that have successfully developed an R3 collaboration involving the majority of stakeholders within their state have a strategy in place. Some states have decided to formalize this strategy by developing a written plan to serve as the guiding document for their collaboration. State-level R3 plans typically build off of the information presented in the National Hunting and Shooting Sports Action Plandefining the barriers or threats that may be preventing participation in any given activity in the state and present strategies and action items needed to address those threats. This information is often developed via a consensus approach to ensure buy in from all stakeholders in the collaboration. The common process includes:
R3-specific position drafting the bulk of the content after reviewing pertinent national and state-specific information and trends.
Steering committee and/or task force reviewing and providing direction.
Feedback solicited from all stakeholders in the collaboration via the statewide meeting or a committee structure.
Form the necessary infrastructure and support mechanisms to spread implementation across all stakeholders and finalize the document.
As a government entity, state natural resources agencies serve their public constituency. While they provide significant continuity and stable resources, they are not always best poised to be the “leader” of a successful R3 collaboration. The R3-specific positions are often the only people in a collaborative group composed mostly of volunteers, whose official full-time job is indeed R3 and much of their time and scope is limited. Given the above information, many states have found it beneficial to create a task force or steering committee to guide the collaboration ensuring a well-rounded consensus approach on direction and goals. Steering committees and task forces may serve different functions depending on the state (see case studies), but they are generally in positions of influence over programming. It is important that there is a line of communication between the steering committee and/or task force to higher state agency leadership so that programming follows cross-divisional policies and goals.
A successful steering committee will have motivated members from a balanced mix of stakeholders. As a state’s collaboration grows in numbers of stakeholders involved, it is not essential that all organizations have a member on the steering committee. Steering committees need to go through effective team building and visionary exercises. They will need to be able to have difficult conversations and come to positive outcomes despite conflicting methodologies and priorities. The stakeholders will rarely agree on all things related to an activity, but they need to reach common ground concerning R3 practices. Steering committees require more frequent meetings than the state collaboration. Agendas for the statewide R3 meetings, referenced above, should be developed, approved of, and presented by the steering committee.
All collaborations will have differences. It is essential that the steering committee provides direction in the collaboration. Some issues may not be ideal for early foundational work. Contested issues can be documented and monitored over time in an effort to build consensus. Provided that all efforts have R3 success in mind, the collaboration will move forward.
Marketing and Branding
Many state natural resources agencies have developed marketing or public affairs departments and R3 collaboration members must maintain an active relationship with those departments. This enables the agency to educate stakeholders on measurable R3 efforts and marketing, facilitate event recruitment for all stakeholders, increase opportunities for new partnerships, and involve the collaboration in messaging to target markets on behalf of the agency. These relationships will be key in assisting the stakeholders in reaching new target audiences.
The concept of a multi-organizational collaboration contributing to one mission is difficult to convey and can also be difficult to understand for the end user. One way to overcome this challenge is to have the stakeholders come together under one brand and/or on a virtual landing page on a central stakeholder’s website, often the state natural resources agency’s. This provides acknowledgement to all stakeholders and a location to house shared resources.
In-person R3 events have been a main focus of many R3 collaborations in years past in an effort to provide in-the-field training to introduce new participants to the outdoors and move them along the spectrum of the Outdoor Recreation Adoption Model (ORAM). Learn-to-hunt/fish/target shoot events contribute to creating an artificial surrogate for what was once a natural pathway, moving participants from nontraditional backgrounds along the ORAM to continued participation in outdoor activities.
Choosing a target audience unfamiliar with the activity is crucial when developing a partnership based R3 event. National and state-level analysis have revealed that R3 events have generally targeted or resulted in audiences already familiar with the activity (e.g. hunting R3 event participants are usually children and spouses of those that already hunt, target shoot or fish). When focusing on the recruitment portion of the ORAM, it is important to select a demographic that the event can staff to support appropriately. It is also important to ensure there is opportunity for success and resources for continued next steps for participants to engage in the activity learned.
When we are reaching out to new target audiences such as women, Hispanic, African American, Asian American, etc. it is extremely important for agencies and organizations to have retention mechanisms in place before trying to recruit these new users. We have seen through research with women for example that they are one of the fastest growing segments, but they are also one of the first segments to lapse out. Studies detail Hispanics as the most loyal customer base of all demographics but they require a higher degree of engagement to secure that loyalty. Having pathways and communication channels pre-established before reaching out to these audiences that will lead them to continued participation will be essential for success. Working to establish partnerships with non-traditional organizations that the target audience may be affiliated with and/or already familiar with can lead to long-term retention of participant as well.
Age is also an important factor to consider, as there are advantages and disadvantages to choosing certain age groups based on the activity selected. For example, with an R3 recreational target shooting event, youth are a viable audience because of the presence of youth shooting sports teams and clubs where there is a high likelihood that child will be able to continue participation after the event without a substantial time investment or knowledge requirement for the parent. Hunting requires a different level of skills development and avenues are not in place for youth to participate without a parent’s involvement. Family events could also offer another option to help youth maintain their participation into hunting. Adults may be a more efficient audience considering they have decision-making authority, financial resources, transportation, and may currently or one day have children of their own.
Different stakeholder organizations will have different target audience priorities. This is actually preferred. Stakeholders should be encouraged to self-select their contributions based on their organization’s mission, culture, and strengths. As the collaboration matures, the collective will provide a wide variety of offerings inviting to the greatest possible diversity of participants. During the developmental stages of the collaboration, it will be more important that the stakeholders pursue efforts that most align with their traditional efforts. As data becomes available and gaps in opportunities are identified, the collaboration can set priorities to best address these vacancies.
It is not realistic to present an all-encompassing event that provides equal knowledge for all game and fish species, and types of shooting sports. Many stakeholder organizations specialize in specific activities. Events that narrow the focus provide more in-depth learning and hands on skill building opportunities. Events intending to engage new audiences should focus on subsets of the activity that have limited barriers of entry and are easy for participants to replicate on their own after the event. For example, in Arizona there already existed a strong demand for a limited number of big game tags. There is also increasing research that novice hunters beginning with small game hunting displayed greater affinity for hunting and were less likely to lapse. As a result, the R3 collaboration increased the event focus to small game which provided greater opportunity and increased customer satisfaction and success therefore furthering the collective R3 efforts in the state.
Mentors are the backbone of many R3 events, and their role continues past the end date of the event. Mentors are typically volunteers that provide support (mentally, physically, and emotionally) to help event participants build confidence in the activity during and after the event. An advantage to partnership-based events is that a variety of volunteers are available from the partnering stakeholder bases. Choose mentors relevant to the activity and equip them with resources to help them provide the necessary guidance and social support. Remember that all volunteers are not good mentors.
Hosting all R3 events under a central online registration system (regardless of which stakeholder hosts the event) is a top priority for most state R3 collaborations. The state natural resources agencies are well positioned to dedicate resources to the development and management of an online event management system. Additionally, state agency staff can assist in listing the events in hunting and angling regulations and on social media platforms. Optimally, surveying all registrants and tracking them via a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform is ideal. This can be challenging to get all stakeholders to agree to, but the benefits are clear:
Eases use for potential participants and volunteers with a year-round calendar of all R3 events and greater likelihood of participating in more than one event.
Promotes all stakeholders’ events equally and likely ensures the opportunities are seen by a larger audience.
Maintains a master list of R3 events while highlighting gaps and provides stakeholders the opportunity to fill in, increasing relevance.
Further encourages partnership-based events easing the logistical burden of event hosting for stakeholders.
Allows for facilitation in tracking of license and equipment purchasing behavior providing insights into the outcomes of events.
Allows for incorporation of electronic surveys to ensure all events use standardized survey questions and data is stored in one place to cross-compare events (while still made available to event hosts).
Stakeholders will and should continue to recruit and pursue their missions independently. They may have different individual R3 priorities but being part of the collective ensures their efforts are highly visible on the landscape and all efforts are able to be tracked. This dedication of resources is often rewarded and builds collective community success.
Evaluation is not something simply done at the end of an event as an afterthought. It must be incorporated into the event from the beginning. Integral to all R3 events should be a set of measurable objectives and outcomes that guide design of an evaluation system to document the event’s effect and identify areas for improvement. The information gathered from evaluation allows stakeholders to conduct data-driven R3 events aimed at outcomes (the number of people that continue to participate in the activity after attending events) rather than outputs (the number of people who attend events). Having all stakeholders that host events in a state using standardized evaluation questions allows for in-depth analysis of event effectiveness across the state and provides data that can be used to improve all events. States that have successfully implemented evaluation at a large scale have made standardized evaluation templates (pre and post, and sometimes later follow-up) available to all stakeholders and encouraged their use. Many states are beginning to incorporate these evaluations in their central event registration system, further easing the evaluation process.
All R3 events should take the above sections into consideration and incorporate their direction where applicable, but past that, R3 events can vary widely in how they are implemented. There are several detailed guides available for specific event types, but below are several best practices for implementation that are generally agreed upon for events hosted under a state R3 collaboration:
Clear direction – ensure direction is clearly communicated to participants (and mentors or volunteers, if applicable) including, but not limited to, event requirements, registration, materials to bring, and physical location.
Safety – regardless of the topic (hunting, fishing, or target shooting), safe handling of equipment should be a common theme that is formally introduced in the beginning of an event and consistently woven into the messaging throughout.
Curriculum – cover all aspects of the activity including how it has benefited natural resources conservation historically and present day. Other recommended topics, where applicable, include species biology and strategy, equipment selection, ethics, and activities after the harvest (removing from the field, cleaning, and cooking).
Focus on common ground – focus on the reasons why all participants and mentors are there and topics relevant to the activity that have high approval among the general public (e.g. food and wildlife management for a hunting event). For most groups avoid generally divisive topics like politics and religion, and topics relevant to the activity that do not have high approval among the general public (e.g., emphasizing trophy animals for a hunting event).
Acknowledgements – all materials and media related to the event should acknowledge all stakeholders and this should be reiterated during and after the event.
Next steps – clear next steps need to be present for the participants and mentors.
Ensuring stakeholders have determined retention practices and have them in place before recruitment happens, ensuring the pathway to participation and next steps is available to the participants.
Because all states are different in the details of R3 collaborations, the authors of this document felt it prudent to provide case studies for four states as appendices to provide visual representation of the different strategies that have proven successful for the respective states. All case studies provide a summary of the collaboration, structure, communication flow, and lessons learned.
The Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports is supported by the Multistate Conservation Grant Program as awarded by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (F22AP00350, F21AP00800, F20AP00182 and F20AP12194)