In a world of ‘fake news’, why think tank transparency matters

5 December 2017

[Note: This blog was commissioned by Transparify to coincide with the launch of their Canada Report. It is re-published here with their permission.] 

Transparify—an initiative that provides a global rating of the financial transparency of major think tanks and policy-relevant non-profit organizations—has just released its latest assessment.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) has earned the maximum rating of five stars for the third year in a row, meaning we are deemed “highly transparent” about our funding sources, and that IISD lists all its donors and clearly identifies funding amounts and sources of funding for particular projects.

For IISD, this news could not come at a better time. Like other non-profit organizations, we are feeling the effects of the current, strained funding climate—with fewer potential sources of funding in our sphere of work (namely sustainable development) and much more intense competition for it.

Think tanks play an important role in shaping public policy and public opinion in many countries. The research and evidence generated by organizations like IISD is unbiased, independent-minded and rigorous. Our goal is to provide knowledge that can impact decisions that affect us all. However, if some think tanks are less transparent than others about their motives and funding sources, a shadow of doubt is cast over the entire sector.

As Transparify notes on its website:

…there are concerns that some policy advice provided by some think tanks may be driven more by the vested interests of their funders than by truly independent research and analysis.

Given this backdrop, a five-star transparency rating matters more than ever—indeed our financial sustainability rests on it. Transparent donor recognition, along with overall financial reporting, can be a crucial criterion for a funder to consider when determining which non-profit to fund. It can really set an organization apart.

Existing and potential funders need to have quick and easy access to financial reporting, to see who else is funding our work, where their money is going, and what it is being spent on. Moreover, funders need to see how their support for our work leads to impact. They want to be able to attribute changes for the better to the dollars they have contributed.

Openly listing all who choose to fund our work is, for us, a source of great pride. These organizations and individuals have selected us over other organizations and have placed their faith in us to use their funds wisely and responsibly. We are grateful for this and afford our funders due respect and recognition, whether in an annual report, or an easily accessible listing on our website.

It is gratifying to receive this positive news as the calendar year draws to a close. We thank everyone who supported our work this year, as well as all our staff, and look forward to another five-star year in 2018.