Balancing making a difference with making a living in the conservation sector

Estimated associations between conservationist satisfaction with goal progress and explanatory variables among 2336 survey respondents (points, mean of the posterior distribution on the log-odds scale; bars, 95% credibility intervals; cross-cutting, encompassing terrestrial and marine biomes). Dispositional optimism, years in conservation, and work hours are scaled and centered. Thresholds, goal name, and response categories corresponding to missing data are not shown

Pienkowski, T., Keane, A., Castelló y Tickell, S., Hazenbosch, M., Arlidge, W. N. S., Baranyi, G., Brittain, S., de Lange, E., Khanyari, M., Papworth, S., & Milner-Gulland, E. J. (2022). Balancing making a difference with making a living in the conservation sector. Conservation Biology. 36, e13846.


Goals play important roles in people’s lives because they focus attention, mobilize effort, and sustain motivation. Understanding conservationists’ satisfaction with goal progress may provide insights into real-world environmental trends and flag risks to their well-being and motivation. We asked 2694 conservationists working globally how satisfied they were with progress toward goals important to them. We then explored how this satisfaction varied among groups, including demographic and occupational. Finally, we looked at respondents’ experiences associated with goal-progress satisfaction. Many (94.0%) indicated that making a meaningful contribution to conservation was an important goal for them, and over half were satisfied or very satisfied in this area (52.5%). However, respondents were generally dissatisfied with progress on collective conservation goals (e.g., stopping species loss). Some groups were more likely to report dissatisfaction than others. For instance, those in conservation for longer tended to be less satisfied with collective goal progress (log odds –0.21, 95% credibility interval [CI] –0.32 to –0.10), but practitioners reported greater satisfaction (log odds 0.38, 95% CI 0.15–0.60). Likewise, those who were more optimistic in life (log odds 0.24, 95% CI 0.17–0.32), male (log odds 0.25, 95% CI 0.10–0.41), and working in conservation practice (log odds 0.25, 95% CI 0.08–0.43) reported greater satisfaction with individual goal progress. Free-text responses suggested widespread dissatisfaction with livelihood goals, particularly related to job security and adequate compensation. Although contributing to conservation appeared to be a source of satisfaction, slow goal progress in other areas––particularly around making a living––looked to be a source of distress and demotivation. Employers, funders, professional societies, and others should consider ways to help those in the sector make a difference while making a satisfactory living by, for example, prioritizing conservationists′ well-being when allocating funding. This support could include avoiding exploitative practices, fostering supportive work environments, and celebrating positive outcomes.

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