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, data from a total of 20 NGOs were included in the analysis. The research team used data from the top 10 NGO recipients of ocean-related funds, which were identified through the Our Shared Seas foundation funding database. Second, 10 additional NGOs were included based on a quasi random sample for a broader spread of organizational budget size. Data was aggregated based on the availability of information regarding organizational funding from annual reports, IRS Form 990 tax documents, and the OSS funding database.

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 2019. 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. We assume the proportion of funding from non-foundation sources to NGOs to be consistent year to year and have applied the same proportion to 2019, the most recent year available for complete philanthropic and ODA funding, to arrive at our estimate of total funding in the marine space from these three funding sources.

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.