On Think Tanks has been interested in the subject of funding of think tanks right from the start as it is linked to issues such as independence and autonomy, business models, governance and management, research agendas, etc. But more recently, this interest has focused on domestic funding for think tanks as there are clear indications that this is the only (or, the most likely to be) sustainable and reasonable source of funding for them.
This Reading List provides an initial review of resources that address this issue. Some are On Think Tanks’ posts and others from third parties.
They offer an overview on the subject and an introduction to a topic that On Think Tanks will continue to develop in the future. This guide can be read alongside On Think Tanks’ Funding Theme.
The trouble with foreign funding: why is domestic funding necessary?
Think tanks generate and disseminate information in order to influence public policy. A think tank’s capacity of influence, therefore, should be a key aspect for funders take into account while looking for whom to support. Domestic funders know who is influential and who isn’t because they are part of the same political scene that the think tanks they fund are part of. But what is the case with foreign funders? This post suggest that it’s not uncommon for foreign funders to be unaware of the level of influence their beneficiaries have, resulting in funding going to think tanks that are unknown to policy makers and journalists.
This article from the Aditi Bulletin addresses a growing concern in the think tank community regarding the heavy reliance on foreign funding which, it states, needs to be replaced with support from domestic sources. Aditi conducted a small survey across the globe in developing countries on this matter.
This New York Times article raises alert on how foreign governments would be using funding as a way to pass their own agenda on US policy through Washington DC based think tanks. The article received a lot of coverage. It shed light on how governments can use funding as a way to influence think tanks and, through them, foreign policy.
Following the aforementioned piece by the New York Times, this post argues that this practice is an everyday affair for think tanks in the developing world. It then goes on to provide an overview of some of the mechanisms through which foreign funders fund think tanks in developing countries, how this challenges their credibility and independence, and suggests that, in order to move forward, a balance of foreign versus domestic funding will have to change.
Till Bruckner reviews and presents highlights of a bestselling book in Germany written by journalist Udo Ulfkotte, which discusses the political consequences of having “transatlantic think tanks”, funded with US public funds, in Germany. This book takes further the discussion sparkled by the New York Times article which questioned the credibility and independence of several Washington based think tanks for receiving foreign funding on conditions to pressure US Government in a certain way.
In order to answer the question of how can public policy be brought to the community / public level in view of promoting a true democratic system, this post cites the debate on Indian think tanks contribution to democracy, as well as reviewing the meaning of their sources funding. It states that the more open the debate on public policy, the more involved the public or community will be in the process.
Based on a study by Kelly Bay, Cecilia Perla and Richard Snyder, this post reviews the funding situation of think tanks in Peru. The study states that in Peru, social science research depends very much on foreign funding, although this does not necessarily mean a loss of independence in the themes research must be undertaken. Although mostly foreign, institutions that provide funding for research in Peru can be quite dissimilar, which helps to maintain the autonomy of researchers.
This post examines how some think tanks around the world have seen their funding being cut as a result of the global economic crisis. However it does state that the situation can’t necessarily be transposed to all think tanks, as there are still sources, such as the Think Tank Initiative, which still ensure secure funding.
Where does the money come from?
Funding for research in general can come from a range of different sources. Here we cite a few examples by country of sources for research, which think tanks can apply for.
Most countries in the developed world have government agencies that award research funds domestically and to foreign organisations and individuals. A country’s public budget for research in science, health and technology can be a crucial element in its development. Here are a few examples of government institutions or agencies that offer domestic funding for different types of research, as well as resources that analyse each country’s situation on domestic funding.
This paper discusses Canadian’s think tanks sources of funding by comparing them to US think tanks. It states that, while Canadian think tanks tend to rely on government funding, US think tanks receive little or no government money, and mainly rely on corporate and individual donations. Among the effects of such arrangements for Canadian think are risks of relying on public funds, like cuts in government spending (which are an important concern). Also, a tight funding environment can limit the kind of activities a think tank can engage in.
This article reviews the finding of an article by Martín Lardone y Marcos Roggero on the role of the State in funding research for public policy in Latin America. It highlights the article’s conceptualisation of programmatic and non-programmatic funding. The first one refers to stable, structural and systemic financing. The second one, to unstable, unstructured financing that usually consists of occasional consultancy contracts, where personal relationships, social networks and previous experience working with the government are fundamental. Programmatic funding would tend to have a bias toward hard sciences. This would make it unfavourable for think tanks, which have to turn towards no programmatic funding.
The article in reference can be found here (in Spanish). It also identifies different financing schemes that exist in the region, and diagnoses their strengths and weaknesses.
This paper follows the announcement of the Indonesian Government to create a presidential think tank within their National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas). The first part covers Bappenas’ achievements to date, presenting the organisation as the central point for government policy. The second part discusses what is meant by a “government think tank” and critically reviews different models that exist across different countries. It also lists the special characteristics government think tanks have. This includes a primary audience of government policy makers for their work; funding and leadership usually resting in the hands of the state; and, often, human resources (staff) full of government employees and subject to rules of government bureaucracy.
This article explores the embedded risks of a think tank opting to open a consultancy firm (a for-profit arm) to work privately with government funds, focusing on a scandal involving the Hayek Foundation in the Western Balkans. As a source of funding, consultancy contracts are different from grants because they produce analysis that is a ‘private good’ in the hands of the client who paid for it instead of producing publicly available policy products. In order to be able to gain government consultancy contracts and not compromise the nature of the organization, some think tanks and research centres opt to open a consultancy firm (a for-profit arm) under the same name, sometimes operated by the staff that is also active in the public domain.
- United States
The NIH is the US’ medical research agency. It offers grants for research, career development, research training and fellowships, programs or projects, and others, in topics related to human health and disease.
The NSF funds research and education in most fields of science and engineering, as well as social sciences. It does this through grants and cooperative agreements to colleges, universities, school systems, businesses, informal science organizations and other research organizations throughout the United States. The Foundation accounts for about one-fourth of federal support to academic institutions for basic research.
EPA is a federal agency from the US government that was created for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment. It offers funding opportunities for research in health and environmental topics.
CIHR is Canada’s federal funding agency for health research. It offers funding to Canadian institutions (or affiliates) in four themes of health research: biomedical, clinical, health systems services, and social, cultural, environmental and population health.
NSERC offers support to university students in their advanced studies, promotes and supports discovery research, and fosters innovation by encouraging Canadian companies to participate and invest in postsecondary research projects. It offers undergraduate, postgraduate and postdoctoral programs.
The SSHRC is Canada’s federal research-funding agency that funds postsecondary-based research and training in humanities and social sciences. SSHRC funding opportunities are available through three programs: Talent, Insight and Connection.
- United Kingdom
The NIHR is funded through the UK Government Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. It offers funding for research, as well as for training and career development.
Research councils are responsible for investing public money in research in the UK. RCUK enables the seven Councils to work together more effectively to enhance the overall impact and effectiveness of their research, training, and innovation. The seven Councils are Arts and Humanities (AHRC), Biotechnology and Biological Sciences (BBSRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences (EPSRC), Economic and Social Research (ESRC), Medical Research (MRC), Natural Environment (NERC), and Science and Technology Facilities (STFC). The seven UK Research Councils receive funding from the Government’s Science Budget.
Dstl ensures that innovative science and technology contribute to the defence and security of the UK. It is sponsored by the Ministry of Defense, which manages its Science & Technology research program through Dstl. This program places a range of different types of contracts for research and other activities.
DFID is the United Kingdom government department responsible for administering overseas aid. It provides grants to UK-based non-profit organisations and UK-based small and diaspora, as well as foreign organisations, local government and companies working international development.
This report by the Europe China Research and Advice Network (ECRAN) on Chinese think tanks lists the country’s top international relations and foreign policy think tanks, including (in some cases) their main sources of funding, which are mainly State institutions in which these think tanks exist as part of the bureaucracy.
This paper by the China Leadership Monitor from 2009 analyses Chinese think tanks, their organisational characteristics and their role in the Chinese political and social sphere. On page 11, there can be found a section on their sources of funding, suggesting that, although their main source is government funds, Chinese private funds also exists, as well as the possibility of foreign donors, as China has opens up to the global market.
This interview by Clara Richards to Sandra Polonia Rios addresses specifically the topic of funding of Brazilian think tanks. Polonia states that, although there are government funds available, they are minimal compared to international funds available to Brazilian think tanks.
The Institute for Applied Economic Research (Ipea) is a federal public foundation linked to the Secretariat of Strategic Affairs of the Presidency of the Republic (SAE/PR) that provides technical and institutional support to government actions and Brazilian development programs.
This media aid by the Open Source Center presents an overview of German think tanks, stating that it’s most common for them to rely on State government funding, as a way to maintain independence from corporate interests. In page 4 there can be found a section on Party Think Tanks, or political foundations, which actively promote democracy nationally and internationally. It states that, although they are linked to political parties, they are not instruments of the party leaderships or extensions of the parties’ internal research departments. A fact sheet can be found on each political foundation.
The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) offers funding for research in hard sciences as well as in social sciences. It plans to provide 380 million euros between 2013 and 2017 for project and institutional funding in humanities, cultural and social sciences.
- South Africa
The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) supports research in public health in South Africa. Through its Division of Grants and Scholarships Administration (GSAD) it awards grants for research, as well as scholarships.
The National Research Foundation acts as an intermediary agency between the Government of South Africa and South Africa’s research institutions. It supports research and innovation, encourages an interest in science and technology and facilitates high-end research.
The Human Sciences Research Council conducts large-scale, policy-relevant, social-scientific research for public sector users, non-governmental organisations and international development agencies.
The Agricultural Research Council is the principal agricultural research institution in South Africa. It works in conducting research, driving research and development, driving technology development and the transferring (dissemination) of information.
This article by Politics & Ideas comments on a paper by Professor Okechukwu Ibeanu of the South African Institute of International Affairs. It describes how, during the military regime (which ended in 1999), relationship between local think tanks and foreign donors became distant, as the foreign funded started to be seen as interventionist, with an agenda of its own different to the country’s needs. In response, think tanks turned to government funding. The article discusses how this can affect a think tank’s independence.
Private funders are individual or institutional philanthropists or other donors that offer finance through grants for research, development programs or advocacy.
“Unless national and even local governments, businesses, and philanthropists take on the responsibility of funding research and think tanks in their own countries and communities, initiatives like the TTI will never see the end to their work.”
What is the potential role the private sector can play within the research-policy landscape? This first part of an article that explores what are the opportunities and challenges for research organizations when working with funding from the private sector. Part 2 offers guidelines and recommendations on organizing a fund raising event to seek for private donations.
Following the increasing concerns about foreign funders seeking to compromise the recipient think tank’s independence, allegedly using them as means to channel their interests abroad –which would turn think tanks into lobbyists-, private philanthropic domestic funders in India have stepped into the arena to offer their economic support for local think tanks and research centres. This article covers this process, as well as exploring key issues in this matter, such as think tank transparency.
The Mexican Centre for Philanthropy (Cemefi, in Spanish) is a civil society organization dedicated to promoting philanthropy and corporate responsibility. Here, it lists five types of private founding sources based that exist in Mexico. It distinguishes communitarian foundations, entrepreneurial foundations, family foundations, independent foundations and operative foundations. It also includes an open field for “others”, which includes financial intermediates.
The crowdfunding industry involves the raising of money for a project or venture by appeals on the internet. This article discusses how the scientific community can take advantage of this system.
This blog post takes notice of the lack of philanthropist in developed countries who are willing to give money to local think tanks, who arguably prefer to donate to foreign organisations. It states that so is the case in India, as well as commenting on the lack of private philanthropists in Peru.
The Gatsby Foundation was set up by David Sainsbury for his charitable objectives. It offers support for research in public policy, education, plant science, neuroscience, as well as development projects in Africa and arts in general. Its grant-making in public policy focuses on two organisations: the Institute for Government and the Centre for Cities.
Part of the earnings of UK’s national lottery goes to 12 independent organisations, each with specialist knowledge of their sectors, which includes creative arts, sports, as well as organisations that offer grants for development projects, such as the Big Lottery Fund and the Heritage Lottery fund. It is semi-publicly owned.
The Welcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health by awarding grants for research and programs in science, humanities and social sciences, and public engagement, to a list of registered administering organisations.
The Leverhulme Trust provides grants and scholarships to individuals for research and education across academic disciplines in the arts, humanities, sciences and social sciences.
The Hewlett Foundation is a philanthropic organisation that provides funding through grants to organisations working in the areas education, environment, global development and population, performing arts, and philanthropy.
The Open Society Foundation is a network of foundations, partners, and projects founded in 1979 by Goerge Soros. It awards different types of grants, scholarships, and fellowships to individuals or organisations in the issues of education, governance & accountability, health, media & information, and rights & justice. Its donors include international organizations, national government agencies and private institutions.
The Gates Foundation offers grants for programs on US and global development, global health, communication, global policy, advocacy and counselling, and special projects. Its three main trustees are Bill and Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffet.
Google Research Awards are one-year awards structured as unrestricted gifts to universities to support the work of world-class full-time faculty members at top universities around the world. Awards are given to research on a list of topics that can vary yearly. Faculty members can apply for up to 150,000 USD in eligible expenses, but actual award amounts are frequently less than the full amount requested. Most awards are funded at the amount needed to support basic expenses for one graduate student for one year.
CIES is a consortium of 48 Peruvian organisations dedicated to research and teaching in social and economic sciences. It channels funding from the IDRC through an annual research contest. It can be seen as an intermediate model, where international cooperation funds are managed by a national institution.
The Bustamante de la Fuente Foundation gives support for judiciary, historic and socioeconomic studies through grants awarded nationally. Among the project it supports, one can find the CIES-IDRC Research Contest, the cataloguing y classification of Arequipa’s Archbishop Archives, and the artistic inventory of Colca, among others.
The Social Justice Initiative is a resource mobilising and advocacy in South Africa. It seeks to raise and distribute funds to support social justice organisations. It currently supports four projects in South Africa: Equal Education, ProBono.org, Right2Know and Corruption Watch.
What are the funding models available for think tanks?
This blog post distinguishes between two types of funders for think tanks. First, those who offer funding without clauses, providing the beneficiary absolute freedom to use it as it feel necessary. Second, those who offer funding conditioned to changes the beneficiary must achieve. The middle section of the post is dedicated to different funding alternatives each groups of funders have at their disposal. Among the first group, it distinguishes between organisational grants, initiative grants, project/consultancy contracts and international funding via domestically governed research funds.
All think tanks have funding at the top of their priorities list. Its importance is determined by their funding environments and their individual prospects, and they face different challenges depending on their business models and their countries’ policy context. Regarding funding, the post presents three broad types of funding environments: aid dependent, newly middle-income or post-conflict, and more mature middle-income.
This post suggests a new model for funding and supporting new think tanks in developing countries: the think tank hub. Inspired by research on think nets and the work of The Hub Westminster, the post reflects on the idea of developing an incubator of think tanks that supports their development. It will allow individuals and teams come together and take advantage of ‘central services’ that can now be provided digitally to focus on developing the research agenda and the think tank’s main arguments.
This post by Politics & Ideas discusses the importance of an appropriate funding model for a think tank’s success. It breaks down the definition of a successful funding model into five key components: reliability, diversification, acceptable conditions, independence and transparency.
Not every funding model works for every think tank. This post by Politics & Ideas discusses the implications different funding models can have on a think tank’s staff & project management, its research agenda, and independence. Funding models discussed are mainly core funding and project-centred funding models (i.e. grants and contracts, short or long term).
On core funding
Core funding addresses an organisation’s fixed costs. These are not connected to the level of activity the organisation is undertaking (therefore, are fixed) and are fundamental to the organisation’s survival. They include management, research & development, and support services.
“If I could describe core funding for think tanks with a single word, I would choose “breathing”.
This document by Structured Dialogue offers insight into operating grants awarded by the European Commission to a limited number of European Civil Society Organisations for core funding. It gives a definition of what core funding and operating grants are, and explains the legal framework of these grants. It also has a lists of key issues to consider when using operational grants, their strengths and weaknesses, and their feasibility.
This document by BOND International Development offers a definition of core funding and presents characteristics and explains its importance. It also presents five core funding, giving advantages and disadvantages for each.
Gjergji Vurmo offers guidelines on how to apply to TTF core funding. It recommends taking into account what giving core funding means for the donor, in this case, the Open Society Think Tank Fund. The grant seeker must know who the donor is and what its objectives are as an organization. This post is part of a series on core funding. Other posts are Core vs. project funding for think tanks and Life after core funding.
Life without core funding? NGOs and think tanks have great difficulty in generating reserves they can rely upon and use as a floor bed for risk taking. This post explores different innovative ways in which this problem can be addressed, such as the creation of shared reserves funds and emergency bridging funds. The post offers guidelines on how both could be set up and managed in order to be sustainable.
Is there a role for foreign funders?
This blog post explores what foreign think tank funders can do to help think tanks rebalance their funding sources in order to gain more resources from domestic sources. It presents the case that foreign funding is unreliable and that it offers think tanks little control or influence over it. Decisions on the amount of resources allocated, and premises on how they are distributed are discussed and decided abroad, and respond more to global discussions than to national social problems. Also, foreign funding is likely to diminish as countries develop.