Enhancing the engagement of U.S. private foundations with conservation science

Erika Zavaleta, Daniel C. Miller, Nick Salafsky, Erica Fleishman, Michael Webster, Barry Gold, David Hulse, Mary Rowen, Gary Tabor, Jack Vanderryn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Funding for conservation is limited, and its investment for maximum conservation gain can likely be enhanced through the application of relevant science. Many donor institutions support and use science to pursue conservation goals, but their activities remain relatively unfamiliar to the conservation-science community. We examined the priorities and practices of U.S.-based private foundations that support biodiversity conservation. We surveyed 50 donor members of the Consultative Group on Biological Diversity (CGBD) to address three questions: (1) What support do CGBD members provide for conservation science? (2) How do CGBD members use conservation science in their grant making and strategic thinking? (3) How do CGBD members obtain information about conservation science? The 38 donor institutions that responded to the survey made $340 million in grants for conservation in 2005, including $62 million for conservation science. Individual foundations varied substantially in the proportion of conservation funds allocated to science. Foundations also varied in the ways and degree to which they used conservation science to guide their grant making. Respondents found it "somewhat difficult" to stay informed about conservation science relevant to their work, reporting that they accessed conservation science information mainly through their grantees. Many funders reported concerns about the strategic utility of funding conservation science to achieve conservation gains. To increase investment by private foundations in conservation science, funders, researchers, and conservation practitioners need to jointly identify when and how new scientific knowledge will lower barriers to conservation gains. We envision an evolving relationship between funders and conservation scientists that emphasizes primary research and synthesis motivated by (1) applicability, (2) human-ecosystem interactions, (3) active engagement among scientists and decision makers, and (4) broader communication of relevant scientific information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1477-1484
Number of pages8
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Conservation donor
  • Conservation finance
  • Conservation funding
  • Conservation investment
  • Conservation science
  • Philanthropy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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