Evaluations of conservation performance and efficiency are still in their infancy. They will require understanding more about where conservation funds are actually spent, and how conservation sectors are structured. We present an overview of the work of conservation nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in sub-Saharan Africa from 2004 to 2006, based on an extensive survey and consultation exercise. We show that the distribution of funds within the sector is highly unequal, concentrated in a few organizations. Expenditure within the continent is uneven, highest in the south and lowest in the west. Only a small proportion of protected areas receive some form of support. At a country level, expenditure is well matched with species richness and threat, but the causes of those correlations are not clear. These results identify what we need to know about what conservation organizations actually do and thus advance the task of evaluating conservation effectiveness.