NGO discretionary funding data methodology

The estimate of NGO discretionary funds used in the “Our Shared Seas” analysis represents an initial estimate of the amount of funds raised by NGOs through funds outside of project-related grants to support marine conservation work. This funding stream include individual donations, memberships, bequests, government grants, and other sources of income.

To estimate these funding sources, 15 NGOs were identified through CEA’s foundation funding database to determine top recipients of ocean-related funds. Of these, 11 organizations were included in the analysis based on the availability of information regarding organizational funding from annual reports, IRS Form 990 tax documents, or direct outreach to NGOs by CEA staff. The organizations included in this analysis were: Conservation International, Environmental Defense Fund, Island Conservation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana, Ocean Conservancy, Pew Charitable Trusts, Rare, The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society, and World Wildlife Fund.

To protect the anonymity of the organizations, statistics are reported here on an aggregate basis. For each organization, total revenue and total expenses were determined through publicly-available information such as annual reports or IRS Form 990 tax documents from 2015. This year was chosen due to complete data availability across both tax documentation and the funding database managed by CEA.

For each organization, two figures were derived: 1) the percentage of overall grantmaking allocated to marine-related activities, and 2) the percentage of marine-related activities funded through foundation grants. To determine the percentage of overall grantmaking going to marine-related activities, publicly-available information from annual reports or tax documents were used where possible. In cases where this data was not available, CEA reached out directly to the NGOs to obtain this funding proportion. This proportion was then applied to the overall expense budget to determine the annual expenses of the organization supporting marine-related activities. To determine the amount of annual foundation contributions supporting marine-related activities, CEA’s database of philanthropic marine funding was used. All other sources of funding (non-foundation) were assumed to make up the difference in funding between marine-related program expenses and the amount of program-related grants provided by CEA’s database.

This subtraction method was employed due to a lack of availability regarding the relative contribution of non-foundation grants such as individual contributions, membership dues, bequests, grants, and other sources of revenue. NGOs follow different systems for reporting these categories in their annual reports and tax documents; thus, data were too scarce for CEA to make conclusive observations about each of them. Although the estimates presented here are admittedly coarse, the overarching objective was to provide an initial approximation of this commonly overlooked revenue stream. Additional research could be completed by anonymously collecting each organization’s complete balance sheets and running more comprehensive statistics.