What do we rate?

Transparify rates the extent to which policy-relevant nonprofits (such as think tanks, advocacy groups and non-profit media platforms) disclose who funds them, with how much and for what purposes, publicly on their websites. This includes information contained in annual reports, provided that those reports are available on an organization’s website.

What do we not rate?

Transparify does not rate think tanks’ transparency about their expenditures, only about their income. Transparify also does not rate the transparency of the funding sources themselves.

Transparify also does not rate information that is not directly available from an organization’s own website. For example, we do not take disclosure forms submitted to regulatory or tax authorities into account unless those documents are directly linked to from the organization’s own website. Online treasure hunts can be fun, but don't qualify as transparency.

What do our rating results mean?

Organizations that receive the maximum 5 stars are highly transparent about where they get their money from. They receive the Transparify Award, and may henceforth use the award logo in their public communications to highlight their excellent funding transparency.

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Organizations that receive 4 stars are broadly transparent about their funding sources. Transparify considers a 4-star rating to be a positive result. Organizations that receive 2-3 stars are not transparent. Organizations that receive 0-1 stars are highly opaque.

Rating criteria
Transparify awards between 0 and 5 stars for funding transparency. The criteria for the number of stars to award are clearly defined and have remained unchanged since Transparify began its work in 2013.

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Transparify’s system rests on the assumption that nonprofits’ voluntary disclosure is accurate and comprehensive. Organizations whose disclosures appear comprehensive but in fact conceal key donor information are rated as “deceptive”. So far, Transparify has only had to rate a nonprofit as deceptive on one single occasion, after a secret funding arrangement that had not been disclosed on the organization’s website became public.

Rating examples

An example of 5-star disclosure can be found on the website of the Sunlight Foundation. The Foundation is rated as highly transparent because it lists the name of each major funder, states the precise amount given by each funder, and explains the purpose (or destination) of each donation.

An example of 4-star disclosure can be found on the website of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Instead of disclosing the precise amount given by each funder, PIIE groups its funders into five different brackets according to the sum they contributed.

Transparify encourages organizations to choose a disclosure format that is appropriate to their own context and stakeholders. We have seen a wide range of formats for disclosing funding information, and have rated many of them 4-star or 5-star. We do not expect or encourage organizations to use a rigid one-size-fits-all template for disclosure.

Special cases 

Some organizations collect contributions from a large number of small funders, usually private individuals. Such small funders cannot reasonably be assumed to exert influence on an organization’s policy advice or advocacy, and Transparify does not expect organizations to list each of these contributors by name. We encourage organizations to group minor donations into one single funding line, as in the example of the Sunlight Foundation shown above. 

Some funders insist on anonymity, for a variety of reasons. Transparify’s scoring system allows organizations to list such funders as “anonymous” rather than stating their name. However, if more than 15% of an organization’s funding comes from anonymous sources, the highest rating result that that organization can receive is 3 stars.

If funding information is more than two years out of date, Transparify deducts one star from its rating result. If funding information is more than three years out of date, Transparify automatically rates that organization as 0-star because stakeholders cannot gain any insight into the organization’s current sources of financial support.

Cohort selection

Transparify typically selects the cohorts of organizations it will rate based on external lists. Each Transparify report details the selection methodology used for that particular cohort in its methodology section.

Rating process

Two raters assess each organization independently from each other. They visit policy groups’ websites and search for financial data following a standard protocol, and then award between 0 and 5 stars according to the type and extent of funding information available. The rater does not know how his or her peer has assessed the same organization.

An adjudicator then reviews the two rating results for each organization. In cases where the raters returned different results, or where at least one rater flagged an organization as being difficult to rate, the adjudicator revisits the organization’s website and determines the final score based on Transparify’s assessment criteria. This ensures consistency between different organizations, and also consistency between different rounds of ratings over the years. The adjudicator records the reasons for the final rating score awarded, which is shared with the institution or third parties upon request.

Respondent validation

Once all rating results have been adjudicated, Transparify contacts the organization in question, informs it of its rating score, and invites it to contact us in case we overlooked relevant information on their websites or otherwise rated them incorrectly. If an organization challenges the accuracy of its rating result, the adjudicator reviews the notes made by the two original raters and any further information on the website that the organization may have flagged. S/he then determines the final score, which is subsequently shared with the organization together with an explanation of how the final rating result was determined.

Reliability of rating results

To date, after having conducted over 500 ratings worldwide, Transparify has not had to correct any ratings post-publication. Anyone can visit the website of any organization Transparify rates and compare the information provided there against our rating criteria. Thus, the results can be verified and replicated by any interested third parties, keeping in mind that Transparify’s ratings period covered web content available during the assessment time periods outlined within a given report. If Transparify is notified of a rating result that was incorrect at the time of rating, we will follow up and, if applicable, correct that result and announce the corrected result as quickly as possible on our blog and Twitter account.

We have been rated and want to improve our ratings. How do we do that?

Please contact us. Transparify welcomes enquiries from organizations that wish to improve their rating results. Our team has advised many organizations on how to improve their disclosure. Transparify never charges organizations for this service.

We have not been rated. How can we gain recognition for our transparency?

Please contact us. Transparify welcomes enquiries from organizations that wish to become 5-star transparent, or that believe they already are 5-star transparent but have not been rated yet. Our team can rate your organization upon request, and if we rate it 5-star, we will publish that finding on our blog and you can henceforth use the Transparify Award logo in your public communications. Transparify never charges organizations for this service.

Transparify’s own transparency

From the outset, Transparify has disclosed its own funding in great detail. Please see this webpage for more details.