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Investing in Monarch Conservation: Understanding Private Funding Dynamics

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Non-profit environmental organizations (NGOs) rely heavily on external donors to fulfill their mandates. However, forecasting donations for long-term planning is an elusive task at best. The non-compulsory nature of donation requires NGOs to understand how donors' attention and funding allocations change over time as conservation scenarios change and incorporate these insights into their budgeting plans. We hypothesize that an NGO can hinder its capacity to reach its conservation goals by neglecting its donor-NGO-natural system (DNNS), which is reactive to the socio-ecological context. To test our hypothesis, we compared the ecological outcomes derived from a budgeting strategy assuming donors have a fixed willingness to pay throughout the program (open-loop) against the reality that donor preferences change over time (closed-loop) based on the evolving ecological context, partly driven by the program's actions. Our analysis was performed using two different willingness to pay (WTP) behavioural models, one representing donors informed about the success of the program supported (GPI), and another without such information (GPI), evidencing how the underlying assumptions about the target donors can radically change the organization's fundraising strategy. Next, we used our closed-loop approach to estimate NGO's optimal yearly donation requests to achieve a conservation target. Finally, we tested the consequences of presuming an incorrect WTP behavioural model while estimating optimal yearly donation requests by applying the optimization results from the previous step into a model parameterized with a different behavioural model. Our model was created by coupling a discrete choice experiment (DCE) and a systems dynamics model, developing a coupled social-ecological model of the eastern Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), a charismatic long-distant migrant butterfly that has dwindled in numbers across North America mainly due to the increases in GMO agriculture. Our results showed a significant difference in donations received and ecological outcome forecasted by an open-loop model and the actual numbers obtained by the more real-life, closed-loop model, highlighting the importance of accounting for human behaviour during the planning phase of a long-term conservation strategy. Next, when we used our closed-loop to estimate optimal donation requests, the conservation objectives and funds raised were consistently and efficiently achieved, regardless of the underlying behavioural WTP model. We also designed novel visual tools from the behaviour WTP model exploration to bridge the gap between science insights obtained from DCEs and decision-making. However, when we used closed-loop optimal donation requests obtained from one WTP behaviour model into a simulation parameterized with different WTP behavioural models, considerable ecological and financial targets deviations arose. These deviations highlight the importance of acknowledging the dynamic nature of donor's behaviour and the need to thoroughly characterize such behaviour. Finally, we introduce a novel forecasting tool that conservation managers will have at their disposal to improve the accuracy of their budget forecasting and, ultimately, increase the program's success rate.
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