WWF Australia claims to be "the largest conservation organisation in Australia, with more than 80,000 financial supporters". WWF Australia is part of the World Wide Fund for Nature/World Wildlife Fund or WWF family.
Although WWF Australia operates as a separate legal entity, WWF Internatonal sets its policy direction and coordinates the activities of the various national WWF offices.
WWF claims to be "global, independent, multicultural and non party political". It seeks dialogue and avoids unnecessary confrontation and strives to "to build partnerships with other organisations, governments, business and local communities to enhance WWF's effectiveness".
WWF Australia engages in both program delivery and public advocacy/policy work and it is often dependent on government grants for its program delivery work.
After the conservative Howard Government was elected in 1996 grants to other major environmental groups that were critical of the government were cut but those for WWF rapidly increased (see graph below). It received over $15 million between 1996 to 2003 in government grants.
Much of this increase in funding came after 1999 when WWF supported the governments Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) while other environmental groups opposed it. Although the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), The Wilderness Society (TWS) and Greenpeace described the legislation as 'environmentally irresponsible', WWF described it as "the biggest win for the Australian environment in 25 years" and boasted of as the "successsful culmination of years of advocacy" by WWF in a large advertisement in the Weekend Australian newspaper (pictured).
Following the passing of the act members of groups supporting it, including WWF were appointed to government advisory committees and awarded a contract to disseminate infomation about it. Similarly WWF supported Heritage Bills in 2003 that were opposed by ACF and TWS as being inadequate and afterwards WWF experts were appointed to the Australian Heritage Council.
During the tenure of the Howard Government, WWF Australia's comments were "almost uniformly favourable, and often highly complimentary", to the government, even at times when other environmental groups were highly critical of the government, which was often. In addition WWF Australia gave the government "several awards for its environmental achievements".
In turn, the Howard government frequently cited the WWF in support of its policies and as endorsement for its environmental credentials. Between 1996 and 2004 more than 64 press releases from enviornment ministers mentioned WWF in either a neutral or positive way.
A study by The Australia Institute concluded:
The weight of available evidence, although much of it circumstantial, suggests that there are strong grounds for questioning whether WWF Australia can legitimately continue to describe itself as independent. The loss of independence is of considerable importance as it undermines WWF Australia's role in public debates about Government policy and raises questions about whether it has misled its supporters and the general public... In addition, [the Howard government] appears to have used public funding in its attempt to influence the actions of an NGO.
Today WWF gets very little of its funding from governent. In 2013 WWF Australia had more than 90,000 individual donors and also received funds from a number of foundations, bequests and grants. Its total income was $27 million and it had assets of over $7.5 million. It spent almost $11 million on fundraising which included "a focussed acquisition campaign which attracted over 40,000 new financial supporters during the year" indicating a high turnover in supporters.