Washington-area think tanks have evolved beyond the scope of Beltway insiders. Today, many of these institutions have expanded towards a “do tank” role by using outreach tools such as blogs, social media, and even grassroots mobilization. They have come to realize that in order to stay relevant and participate in the many conversations happening on matters of policy and advocacy, they need to establish a much broader appeal.
So, if think tanks do matter, which institutions are the ones we’re paying attention to?
Earlier this year, FPRI’s Global Go-To Think Tank provided a report ranking global institutions by influence with The Brookings Institution at the top of their list. From our experience at Linktank, we’ve learned that influence alone doesn’t convey the full extent of an organization’s capacity to affect policy or culture. We wanted a popularity contest.
The Linktank team reviewed our vast database of local organizations and did an analysis based on Alexa web data to determine which think tanks generate the largest interest. We looked only at independent organizations, not affiliated with an academic institution, and with a presence in Greater Washington DC.
The top ten results, in the slideshow below, surprised us. Brookings, decidedly most influential think tank according to the FPRI report, did not reach the top position in our list. Politics appears to have played a hand in building larger grassroots interest, particular from some of the emerging think tanks, but there are still plenty of venerable institutions who can claim some of the top spots.
10. Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
Dedicated to finding ways to sustain American prominence and prosperity as a force for good in the world.
Go-To Influence Rank (US): 4
Average DC Events/Month: 22
Alexa Worldwide Rank: 121,560
Annual Contributions: $39,138,159
Annual Expenses: $30,114,700
9. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
To help shape public debates over proposed budget and tax policies and to help ensure that policymakers consider the needs of low-income families and individuals in these debates.
Go-To Influence Rank (US): 47
Alexa Worldwide Rank: 120,798
Annual Contributions: $28,029,778
Annual Expenses: $26,380,857
8. World Resources Institute
To move human society to live in ways that protect Earth’s environment and its capacity to provide for the needs and aspirations of current and future generations.
Go-To Influence Rank (US): 28
Average DC Events/Month: 3
Alexa Worldwide Rank: 120,700
Annual Contributions: $47,451,943
Annual Expenses: $40,533,012
Photo credit: WRI/Dave K. Cooper
7. US Institute of Peace
USIP works to save lives, increase the government's ability to deal with conflicts before they escalate, reduce government costs, and enhance our national security.
Go-To Influence Rank (US): 16
Average DC Events/Month: 16
Alexa Worldwide Rank: 102,152
Annual Contribution: $24,447,975
Annual Expenses: $30,284,229
6. Center for American Progress
Dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through progressive ideas and action.
Go-To Influence Rank (US): 11
Average DC Events/Month: 7
Alexa Worldwide Rank: 93,527
Annual Contributions: $36,517,866
Annual Expenses: $33,727,128
Help improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis.
Go-To Influence Rank (US): 5
Average DC Events/Month: 1-2
Alexa Worldwide Rank: 74,123
Annual Contributions: $250,987,982
Annual Expenses: $266,873,864
4. The Brookings Institution
Advance three broad goals: strengthen American democracy; foster the economic and social welfare, security and opportunity of all Americans; and secure a more open, safe, prosperous and cooperative international system.
Go-To Influence Rank (US): 1
Average DC Events/Month: 26
Alexa Worldwide Rank: 69,560
Annual Contributions: $86,934,790
Annual Expenses: $88,922,671
3. Cato Institute
Dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace.
Go-To Influence Rank (US): 3
Average DC Events/Month: 11
Alexa Worldwide Rank: 58,117
Annual Contributions: $39,253,053
Annual Expenses: $23,648,195
2. Council on Foreign Relations
Dedicated to being a resource for its members, government officials, business executives, journalists, educators and students, civic and religious leaders, and other interested citizens in order to help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries.
Go-To Influence Rank (US): 2
Average DC Events/Month: 10
Alexa Worldwide Rank: 45,172
Annual Contributions: $47,654,800
Annual Expenses: $50,731,317
1. Heritage Foundation
To formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.
Go-To Influence Rank (US): 7
Average DC Events/Month: 22
Alexa Worldwide Rank: 17,105
Annual Contributions: $73,957,186
Annual Expenses: $80,378,250
View the full list of the 50 most popular think tanks in Washington >