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July 22, 2022

Where Does $100 to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Go (2021)?

by Anne Paddock

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is considered by many to be the leading conservation organization in the world. Established nearly 60 years ago in 1960, the WWF is based in Washington, DC but operates all over the world (in more than 100 countries).

There are 25 voting members (directors) on the governing body (board of directors), 23 of whom are independent.  The Form 990 (2020) lists 27 board members (which appears to be due to timing differences), 18 (67%) of whom are male while 9 (33%) are female (note: the form 990 does not report gender identity. Conclusions were made based on name and google searches).

The most recent IRS Form 990 (2020) reports financial information about the organization for the year beginning July 1, 2020 and ending June 30, 2021 (hereafter referred to as 2021).  A 501 (c) (3), WWF reports the following information on revenue, expenses, grants, assets, liabilities, and the organization’s net fund balance.


In 2021, total revenue was $408 million (compared to $286 million in 2020, $250 million in 2019, and $257 million in 2018) from the following sources:

  • $350 million:  Contributions, Gifts, and Grants
  • $ 42 million:  Government Grants
  • $ 16 million:  Investment Income, Gains, and Royalties

The increase – $122 million – from 2020 to 2021 was attributable to higher contributions and specifically  contributions of $106 million in publicly traded securities.


In 2021, WWF reported spending $283 million – approximately $125 million less than they raised.

There are two ways to look at expenses: by broad general category (program expenses, grants, management, and fundraising) and by specific line item expense, with the latter providing more specific detail on expenses.

Expenses by Broad General Category

$283 million in expenses were spent in the following four (4) categories:

  • $135 million (or 33% of revenue):  Program Expenses
  • $ 83 million (or 20% of revenue):  Grants
  • $ 42 million (or 10% of revenue):  Fundraising
  • $ 24 million (or 6% of revenue):  Management Expenses

Using the above information, every $100 in revenue was spent as follows:

$100:  Revenue

-$ 33:  Program Expenses

-$ 20:  Grants

-$53:  Subtotal: Program Services and Grants

 $ 47:  Amount Remaining

-$ 10:  Fundraising

-$  6:  Management

-$ 16: Subtotal of Fundraising and Management

$  31:  Unspent Revenue:  To General Fund

As illustrated above, WWF spent $69 for every $100 in revenue received with the unspent revenue allocated to the general fund.  In other words, $53 out of every $100 was spent on programs and grants and $16 out of every $100 was spent ton fundraising and management leaving $31 out of every $100 allocated to savings.

At year-end, the WWF had $574 million in net assets (compared to $386 million at the beginning of the year) due to the large allocation of revenue to savings, and secondarily to unrealized gains on investments.

Expenses by Specific Line Item Category

$283 million in expenses were spent in the following line item categories:

  • $107  million (26% of revenue) :  Compensation-related Expenses
  • $ 83  million (20% of revenue):  Grants
  • $ 39   million (10% of revenue): Office-related Expenses
  • $ 26   million (6% of revenue):  Fees for Services (primarily other)
  • $ 13   million (3% of revenue):  Other Expenses (royalties, int, dep, and other)
  • $  9   million (2% of revenue):  Advertising and Promotion
  • $  5   million (1% of revenue):  Dues
  • $  1   million (less than 1% of revenue):  Travel and Conferences

It is important to note that of the $26 million in fees paid to outside providers, $21 million is not detailed. In addition, $1 million in other expenses are not detailed.

As illustrated above, the largest expense for WWF is compensation-related costs. 651 employees received $107 million in compensation, which equates to an average compensation of $164,000. However, only 286 employees received more than $100,000 in compensation with the most highly compensated reported to be Carter Roberts, the President and CEO who received $1,127,575 in compensation.

Using the above information, $100 in revenue was spent as follows:

$100:  Revenue

-$ 26:  Compensation-related Expenses

-$ 10:  Office-related Expenses

-$  6:  Fees for Services

-$  1:  Travel and Conferences

-$  3:  Other Expenses

-$  1:  Dues

-$  2:  Advertising and Promotion

-$ 49: Subtotal Expenses

  $ 51:  Amount Remaining

-$ 20:  Grants

 $  31:  Unspent Revenue:  To General Fund

As illustrated above, WWF spent $49 out of every $100 on staff, office, fees for services, travel and conferences, other expenses, dues, and advertising and promotion. $20 out of every $100 was spent on grants; leaving $31 out of every $100 unspent and allocated to savings.


WWF is both a recipient of grants from the government and a grantor of grants, primarily to overseas organizations. In 2021, WWF was awarded $42 million in government grants and provided $83 million in grants, $7 million to domestic organizations and individuals, and $76 million to overseas organizations.

With 29 offices (and 556 employees) in regional offices overseas (primarily in South America and South Asia), WWF’s focus is clearly overseas (316 grants greater than $5,000 and totaling $76 million were to organizations overseas) with conservation grants concentrated in the eight (8) regions:

  • $11 million:  Sub Sahara Africa
  • $19 million:  South America
  • $14 million:  East Asia and the Pacific
  • $12 million:  Europe
  • $15  million:  South Asia
  • $ 1  million:  North America
  • $ 2  million:  Central America
  • $ 2  million:  Russia

Grants to domestic organizations totaled $7 million (48 grants were greater than $5,000 to other non-profits) with the following organizations the recipients of the ten largest grants for conservation:

  • $888,999:  Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Services, of Boothbay ME
  • $650,000:  Center for Heirs Property Preservation, of Charleston, SC
  • $400,833:  Aquarium of the Pacific, of Long Beach, CA
  • $399,999:  Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, of Woods Hole, MA
  • $348,695:  Rosebud Economic Development Corp, of Mission, SD
  • $345,000:  World Resources Institute, of Washington, DC
  • $343,793:  Non-Profit Enterprise and Self-Sustainabillity, of Cerrito, CA
  • $275,000:  University of New Hampshire, of Durham, NC (?)
  • $264,276:  Global Water Challenge, of Arlington, VA
  • $234,867:  Duke University, Nicholas School of the Environment, of Durham, NC


Assets totaled $699  million at year-end with concentrations in five areas:

  • $285 million:  Securities
  • $ 98   million:  Accounts Receivable
  • $ 77  million:  Land, Buildings, and Equipment
  • $178 million:  Cash
  • $  43   million:  Grants Receivable


Liabilities totaled $125 million at year-end with the largest three liabilities:

  • $44  million:  Secured Notes Payable
  • $26  million:  Grants Payable
  • $29  million:  Accounts Payable


At year-end, WWF had $574 million in net fund assets, an increase of $188 million from the previous year ($386 million) which is primarily due to spending less than they received ($125 million) and unrealized gains on investments ($63 million).

Of the $574 million in net fund assets, $222 million was unrestricted while $352 million was restricted.


The WWF – a tax-exempt, non-profit based in Washington, DC is one of the leading conservation organizations in the world.  They organization has historically raised $250-$300 million annually (including about $50 million from the government) but revenue increased to $408 million in 2021, primarily due to an increase in contributions.  Historically, WWF spent about 70% of revenue on compensation and organization expenses and about 25% on grants, primarily overseas or about 20% on fundraising and general expenses, 50% of programs, and about 25% on grants.

So, in previous years, a $100 contribution was generally spent on:

  • $20:  Fundraising and General Expenses
  • $50:  Programs
  • $25:  Grants
  • $ 5:  Allocated to General Assets (think savings)

But, in 2021 with the big increase in revenue, WWF did not increase expenses proportionately resulting in a $188 million increase in net assets.  So, a $100 contribution was spent on:

  • $16:  Fundraising and General Expenses
  • $33:   Programs
  • $20:  Grants
  • $31:  Allocated to General Assets (think savings)

2021 may be an anomaly since most non-profits do not increase revenue by 40% (or $122 million) in a single year.

To read the IRS Form 990 (2020 for the year ending June 30, 2021), click here.

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