Online course: Re-thinking your Funding Model


Funding is a key concern for every think tank due to how it affects its sustainability, the people that are part of it, the type of research that is conducted, as well as the potential for having real policy influence. Even though there is an ample offer of capacity building activities that focus on how to do effective fundraising, little has been done in terms of systematizing diverse existing funding models, along with their implications and consequences on think tanks’ performance, relevance, identity and sustainability.

Many think tanks increasingly recognize that their current funding models can have consequences (especially in terms of their weaknesses) in their ability to continuously produce high quality research that is relevant and useful within their policy environments. There is also increasing interest from think tanks in understanding how to develop or strengthen domestic support for their work, often recognising that they rely too heavily on international cooperation or on conducting isolated projects under a consultancy model.

However, very few organisations and individuals in developing countries can allocate resources (time and funds, especially) to produce and/or discuss existing knowledge on these issues. Thus, this course systematizes what is known about the funding models that currently prevail in the South and analyses its implications and consequences so as to provide participating think tanks with better evidence to support key decisions regarding their identity, sustainability and relevance.


P&I has developed this course with the collaboration of:

  • Kristie Evenson. Research practitioner on development of policy research organizational capacities with a variety oKristie Evensonf donors.  As a researcher she is particularly interested in developing and using policy research to inform donor democratization and civil society strategies. She is based in Croatia and works in the Europe and Eurasia region as well as comparatively.  She holds a doctorate of Social Science Degree from the University of Bristol, UK and a Master’s Degree from SIPA, Columbia University.
  • transparifyTransparify. Provides the first-ever global rating of the financial transparency of major think tanks.

The course was developed with the support of the Think Tank Fund of the Open Society Institute.TTF


Curriculum of the online course Re-thinking your Funding Model

Module 1. Funding for think tanks

  • Who’s the client anyway.
  • What is a funding model.
  • What does success look like.
  • Different funding models: Core Funding, Contracts & Grants, Charging for outputs, Ideal Types, and A world of hybrids.
  • Thinking about the Implications: on Research, on Staff & Project Management, on Communications, and on Policy influence.
  • Funding environment: Is there money to be found.
  • Policy environment: Is there demand for research.

Module 2. Strategic Fundraising

  • What does it mean to be strategic.
  • Is funding a necessary evil or the god to be worshipped.
  • Mobilising resources.
  • The fundraising function: how do you organise it and why.
  • Centralized.
  • Decentralized.
  • What to expect from funders.
  • Hiring a professional.
  • The fundraising cycle.
  • Monitoring for opportunities.
  • Evaluating & Deciding.
  • Developing Proposals.
  • Follow-up & Reporting.
  • Yearly outlook: upturns and downturns.
  • Teamwork: who else is involved.
  • The management.
  • The trustees.
  • The communications unit.
  • Working with donors.
  • Thinking about incentives.

Module 3. Allocating funds

  • Main decisions.
  • Key Criteria.
  • Principles of Financial Management.
  • Budgeting and its importance.
  • Investing in the Institution.
  • Too much or too little.
  • Core Funding.
  • Overhead.
  • Cross-subsidizing.
  • Investing in Research and Policy Influence.
  • Investing in Human Resources.

Module 4. Developing new sources of funding

  • The growth imperative.
  • Moving away from the comfort zone.
  • The challenges of diversification.
  • An Entrepreneurial Approach.
  • Scale and High-impact.
  • A lean approach.
  • Government funding.
  • Why do governments outsource.
  • Models of government contracting.
  • Advantages and disadvantages.

Module 5. Local Philanthropy

  • The rise of local giving.
  • Why ‘local’, why now.
  • Who are the local philanthropists.
  • Corporate Social Responsibility.
  • How to approach business? Creating multiple entry-points.
  • Community Philanthropy.
  • Crowdfunding.

Module 6. Sustainability and Transparency

  • Think Tanks and Sustainability.
  • Considering Different Scenarios.
  • Becoming sustainable.
  • Think Tank Transparency and Excellence.
  • A culture of Transparency at the World Resources Institute.
  • CGD’s decision to walk the transparency walk.
  • Misconceptions about ‘Dark Money’.
  • The marketplace of ideas under threat.
  • Applying Transparency to your Own Context.
  • Thinking about think tank performance: anecdotes, awards, rankings, ratings.


  •  ‘I have shared the results of the exercises and the feedback received with others in my organisation, and we will discuss them [at] strategic planning. The modules have helped me become aware that we were generally on the right track, and that the ideas we had are indeed worth developing further. Also, the theoretical background helped me think about these in a “more tidy way”.’
  • The course as a whole is very much significant and really helps us to generate ideas to strengthen our current funding modal. The concept designed was very much practical and the clarity on the direction with possible challenges.’
  • ‘Materials were very informative and very well written.’
  • ‘The theoretical concepts were very useful, and in some cases served as eye-openers.’


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