Marine programs, particularly those related to marine conservation, utilize a suite of tools to offset the negative consequences of human activities on marine environments. However, among others, limited funding can represent a challenge for these programs in terms of achieving their desired outcomes. Using systems and organizational theory, this study expands scholarship on funding for marine programs by incorporating a social science approach to understanding funding challenges. Systems theory, specifically the Narrative Policy Framework (NPF), was further refined through exploratory interviews to develop a theory specific to funding organizations. Our theory proposes that organizational characteristics (e.g. allocation process), focusing events (e.g. natural disasters), and attribution of character roles (e.g. a villain) influence funding outcomes. These relationships were investigated through descriptive statistics and pairwise correlation tests applied to survey results. Results are synthesized into 5 applied recommendations that marine programs may utilize to potentially bolster their funding proposals. Notable findings suggest that higher funding amounts were allocated to projects that highlight the proposed work’s ease of success and ability to create lasting impacts. Additionally, funders that valued equity were more likely to fund projects that directly interact with human communities.