Goals play important roles in people’s lives by focusing attention, mobilizing effort, and sustaining 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 towards goals important to them. We then explored how this satisfaction varied between groups. Finally, we looked at respondents' experiences associated with goal progress satisfaction. Many (94.0%) said “making a meaningful contribution to conservation” was an important goal for them, with over half being satisfied or very satisfied in this area (52.5%).
However, respondents were generally dissatisfied with progress to collective conservation goals, such as stopping species loss, echoing formal assessments. 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 are 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 around livelihood goals, particularly related to job security and adequate compensation. While 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 whilst making a living, including by prioritizing conservationists' well-being when allocating funding. This support could include avoiding exploitative practices, fostering supportive work environments, and celebrating positive outcomes.