An essential foundation of any science is a standard lexicon. Any given conservation project can be described in terms of the biodiversity targets, direct threats, contributing factors at the project site, and the conservation actions that the project team is employing to change the situation. These common elements can be linked in a causal chain, which represents a theory of change about how the conservation actions are intended to bring about desired project outcomes. If project teams want to describe and share their work and learn from one another, they need a standard and precise lexicon to specifically describe each node along this chain. To date, there have been several independent efforts to develop standard classifications for the direct threats that affect biodiversity and the conservation actions required to counteract these threats. Recognizing that it is far more effective to have only one accepted global scheme, we merged these separate efforts into unified classifications of threats and actions, which we present here. Each classification is a hierarchical listing of terms and associated definitions. The classifications are comprehensive and exclusive at the upper levels of the hierarchy, expandable at the lower levels, and simple, consistent, and scalable at all levels. We tested these classifications by applying them post hoc to 1191 threatened bird species and 737 conservation projects. Almost all threats and actions could be assigned to the new classification systems, save for some cases lacking detailed information. Furthermore, the new classification systems provided an improved way of analyzing and comparing information across projects when compared with earlier systems. We believe that widespread adoption of these classifications will help practitioners more systematically identify threats and appropriate actions, managers to more efficiently set priorities and allocate resources, and most important, facilitate cross-project learning and the development of a systematic science of conservation.