May 29, 2018

Case study

Towards innovative fundraising strategies for think tanks

[This post is the introduction of the resource “Towards innovative fundraising strategies for think tanks” by Chukwuka Onyekwena and Drusilla DavidDownload the resource.]

Fundraising remains a challenge for most organisations, and the need to explore innovative ways to remain sustainable and competitive is imperative. In this digital age, organisations are continuously exploring new approaches to fundraising to remain relevant in an increasingly dynamic landscape. Non-profits are no exemption from this pressure, as they continue to face multiple sustainability challenges. As non profits engaged in the production and dissemination of ideas to inform policies, think tanks are currently facing serious existential challenges which require innovative solutions.+ The challenges faced by think tanks come from both the demand-side and the supply-side of the market for ideas.

On the demand-side, policymakers- the ultimate users or audiences of the outputs of think tanks- are demanding less of the typical evidence-based research outputs that policy research centres are used to producing, and moving towards informal, shorter, and more interactive outputs. In Africa, the appetite for evidence among policymakers remains low and mainly influenced by ideological and political concerns. On the supply-side, think tanks are lagging behind in adopting innovative communications techniques that capture the interest of policymakers. In addition, scarcity of flexible funding and increased pressure to meet the requirements of donors and clients have created doubts on the objectivity of the outputs of think tanks. The donor behaviour since the global economic crisis of 2008 has narrowed spaces for funding, prompting increased competition among think tanks for available resources, sometimes at the expense of independence and objectivity.

In view of the foregoing, think tanks are in need of innovative approaches to fundraising. Given that donors are the predominant funders of knowledge creation space, the optimal approach for think tanks would be to align their value proposition and operational strategies to the interests of potential donors, without compromising objectivity. How can think tanks reposition themselves and structure their operations to sustain the interest of their major funders while limiting intellectual interference? In our document, Towards innovative fundraising strategies for think tanks, we highlight a unique fundraising strategy developed by the fundraising team of Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa (CSEA).

The need for a new fundraising strategy was prompted by the organisation: as a beneficiary of the 10-year Think Thank Initiative grant, which ends in 2019, the Centre has to reflect on its fundraising experience and creatively design a fundraising approach that can ensure its financial sustainability beyond 2019. While the Centre places emphasis on the production of high quality research and on building sustainable relationship with other policy stakeholders, a well-defined resource mobilisation and fundraising strategy is required to provide guidance towards approaching targeted and potential funders.

Download and read the full article.


This document is a part of the new OTT Best Practices Series. If you would like to submit a piece on best practices for research and policy institutes, please get in touch.

About the authors:

Chukwuka Onyekwena:  Executive Director at the Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa

Drusilla David:  Communications/Institutional Advancement Officer at the Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa

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