Updated: Nov 7
20 Foundations and Endowments that Fund Human Rights, Democracy-Building and Equality
CEO & Founder of The Grants House, Dr. Philip A. Tanner, has been working in relief and development for over 25 years and has had a passion for project design and the delivery of projects that adhere to the principle of 'do no harm' and that promote peace and equality.
Our passport, he says, is just an official document that allows us to travel. "Our real passport in life is the privilege some of us have to travel the world." If you check out the Travellers Century Club (TCC) website, you'll see their motto, which reads: World Travel: The passport to peace through understanding. It's why Philip became a proud member. We cannot leave the confines of our community or town without having our senses overwhelmed and our minds expanded. Who amongst us can say we returned from overseas and didn't see things just a little bit differently - or a lot? Or - that we were encouraged to do something more to help our fellow humankind. In today's tumultuous global affairs, we need supporters of democracy and peace more than ever. And we need funding supporters to help with that vision.
So if you are working on human rights projects to promote rule-of-law, peace and democracy-building, The Grants House is on your side. And we've assembled a list of 20 supporters and donors in this important journey that you may not have considered.
What do they fund?
There are a wide variety of potential projects to be funded ranging from rule of law, freedom of the press, criminal justice, youth justice, workers rights, racial and gender equality, freedom of information, human rights, security, recovery, advocacy, research, journalistic integrity, women’s rights, environmental protection, disability, sexual and reproductive rights, freedom from violence, racial & economic equity, political participation and many other democratic values.
* These donors also often cover operating costs.
Who do they fund?
Their purpose is to strengthen and support democratic institutions around the world. This may include, inter alia, large non-profits, small & medium-sized organizations (SMOs), local and international non governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society organizations (CSOs), especially women-led organizations, and a wide variety of other groups, both formally registered and not.
Which one is right for you?
Each foundation focuses on different causes, so interested organizations should search the list (links provided) for the most appropriates grants, and follow that foundation's instructions for applying, whether through online application, letter of inquiry, or full proposal.
Check out our featured list of 20 Foundations and Endowments that fund human rights projects.
Public Welfare Foundation only supports organizations both based in and working within the United States. They accept letters of inquiry for either general or project support in four different categories: criminal justice, youth justice, workers rights, and special opportunities. They are most interested in state level projects that work to reduce incarceration, counter racism in the court system, and lessen youth incarceration, as well as improve workers’ rights and hold employers accountable. Grant seekers must first submit a letter of inquiry. These inquiries can be submitted at any time. After that, the foundation will invite full proposals from the inquiries that best match their program.
The Open Society Foundation awards grants worldwide both to organizations and, occasionally, to individuals. Grants can be for general use or specific to a project, and are available for a variety of humanitarian causes, as well as human rights such a racial and gender equality, freedom of information, and justice system reform. While most Open Society Foundation grants are awarded by invitation only, grant seekers should check their website regularly. They frequently post calls for letters of inquiry or for submissions for specific goals.
The National Endowment for Democracy is based in the United States, but provides support to human rights activists in 90 countries and every continent but Antarctica. Their focus is on rule of law, freedom of the press, and other democratic values both in authoritarian regimes and democracies in transition. The board of directors reviews new proposals every few months, and grants are awarded exclusively to registered NGOs, not individuals or federal institutions.
Lifeline is a consortium of seven international NGOs supported by a variety of private donors and 19 nations. They offer three types of grants to CSOs: emergency, advocacy, and resiliency. Most Lifeline grants are small emergency grants to help with security or recovery needs regarding threats received within the last three months. Advocacy grants help CSOs respond to immediate threats of human rights, and resiliency grants support at risk organizations with training, networking, and other needs. Lifeline Grant seekers must contact Lifeline for an application before submitting a full proposal. Most applications will be routed through one of the seven NGOs that run Lifeline.
The goal of the Arcus Foundation is to help humans and nature live peacefully together. As such, a large portion of their grants are directed towards bringing social justice for people of marginalized sexual orientations and gender identities. Projects within specific areas in Africa and the Americas are their primary focus, with the goal to promote safety, legal protection, inclusion, and acceptance of LGBTQ. Arcus has offices in the United States and England, and all grant applicants must have legal non-profit status in their home country.
Interested parties can sign up for updates from Arcus to be notified when they next issue a Request for Concepts. No unsolicited proposals will be considered. Preference is given to local groups with marginalized people in decision making roles.
Since 1952, the Arca Foundation has given grants to public charities in the United States working for human rights or developing new techniques to address them. Their goal is to promote racial, economic, and democratic equity both domestically and internationally.
The Arca Foundation accepts proposals twice yearly through their online portal, during January and July. Grants are available for general support or project financing to registered nonprofit organizations, and for project support to organizations with an official nonprofit fiscal sponsor.
KIOS Foundation funds local and regional civil society organizations in developing countries, primarily in Africa and Asia. Based in Finland, KIOS accepts proposals for current targeted countries about once a year, depending on available funding and volume of proposals in the prior opening. Their focus is on human rights advocacy, monitoring, and education, as well as improving access for all and protecting human rights defenders.
The Norwegian Human Rights Fund supports front line organizations and at risk human rights defenders. Priority is given to specific predetermined countries on multiple continents, but proposals for any location will be considered as long as they provide better protection or working conditions for activists at risk, or support human rights defenders in crisis situations. Special consideration is given to organizations led by marginalized peoples or helping vulnerable groups towards self-advocacy, as well as projects that promote gender equality.
Grant seekers must first take an eligibility quiz to determine if their project is suitable. If so, the Norwegian Human Rights Fund will invite the applicant to submit a full proposal.
The Taiwan Foundation for Democracy supports democracy and human rights projects both within Taiwan and internationally, with priority given to work in East Asia. Proposals are accepted three times a year in the following categories: advocacy, research, conferences, publications, and educational programs. Most awards are small, with the average grant being only US $5000, but may be awarded up to US $100,000.
The Wallace Global Fund is a U.S. based foundation committed to restraining corporate might and empowering the marginalized. Special consideration is given to projects that support journalistic integrity, women’s rights, and environmental protection. Every project they fund must not only help fulfill one of their missions, but also be completely free of fossil fuels so as to not counteract their environmental goals. Wallace Global Fund always accepts letters of inquiry through their online portal, but no unsolicited proposals.
The Disability Rights Fund is focused on inclusivity, both within its own structure and in every organization it helps fund. Every six months, the Disability Rights Fund invites proposals for grants in preselected countries or regions. They work with disabled person organizations on the local to national level around the globe.
The Ford Foundation’s primary goal is to challenge inequality. They do this in a variety of areas, from arts, culture and media, to fair economies, to sexual and reproductive rights, etc., and are open to working with organizations or individuals. The Ford Foundation is located in the United States, but has been working globally for several decades, researching new ideas and implementing them to support marginalized people.
Those interested in receiving funding should fill out their online form and wait for an invitation. Unsolicited proposals are not accepted.
Five separate funds are available under the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner. These include grants for victims of torture and victims of contemporary forms of slavery, as well as one specific to providing travel money for representatives of various indigenous peoples to participate in sessions of the United Nations. The “Assisting Communities Together” project supports local human rights education. Each fund has its own instructions and rules for grant proposals.
Abilis is a Finland based foundation that supports disabled persons organizations in developing countries. To qualify, the organization’s governing board must be at least 51% people with a disability or parents of a child with a disability. Priority is given to projects that benefit women or children with disabilities, especially girls. Most Abilis grants are small, and they especially encourage grassroots campaigns to apply. The grant application process can only be started by contacting an Abilis representative.
The Global Fund for Women supplies grants to organizations for women’s rights, giving priority to goals such as women in leadership, sexual and reproductive rights, workers rights, and freedom from violence. Their goal is to help women and trans people be “strong, safe, powerful, and heard.” Not only do they provide grants to support women’s organizations globally, but they also help connect organizations and activists to each other, and are available to act as a fiscal sponsor for smaller, more localized women’s funds.
All grant recipients must be organizations based outside the United States, whether registered NGOs or not, and be led primarily by women, girls, or trans people. Applicants must fill out an online registration form and wait for an invitation to submit a proposal. Proposals may be submitted without an invitation for travel and event grants only.
The United Nations Democracy Fund supports a wide range of projects, from gender equality to increasing participation in government. While many types of organizations can apply, the vast majority of funding goes to CSOs and NGOs. Applications from any location will be accepted, but preference is given to regions of emerging or consolidating democratization. Grants from the United Nations Democracy Fund last for two years and range from US $100,000 – $300,000. Proposals are only accepted through the online system during a yearly proposal window, usually in November.
Mama Cash supports small organizations that work for the rights of women, girls, trans, and intersex people and are led by the very people they serve. Grant seekers must show that they are working to change the conditions that lead to inequality, not merely providing aid to underprivileged peoples. Most Mama Cash grants are small or medium, and can last for 1-2 years. They work with primarily smaller, recently developed organizations, and even informal ones, and also provide an accompaniment program to help grantees evaluate how effect their efforts are and how they can be improved. Letters of interest can be submitted during the annual grantmaking window, typically held in the first few months of the year.
The Human Rights Grants Program of USAID is a relative newcomer, only established in 2012, but has already given millions to organizations working in multiple countries and continents. The program is an official outreach of the United States government, with goals to ensure justice, encourage political participation of marginalized people, and promote transparency in governments across the globe. Unsolicited letters of inquiry can be submitted by contacting the Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance.
Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights offers two types of grant: security or opportunity. The fund is designed for fast turn around when a situation threatens the safety of activists or organizations or when an unexpected opportunity arises that must be seized quickly or lost. All projects support women, trans, or gender non-conforming people. In addition, applying organizations must also be led by women, trans, or gender-nonconforming people, be supported by similar groups, and be focused on human rights for these people. They must also address an issue that was both unanticipated and time sensitive.
Proposals may be submitted online at any time, and typically receive a response within 24 hours. Grants are small, for no more than US $8000, but are typically dispensed within 1-10 days.
Ok, not technically a funder. However, the Human Rights Funders Network (HRFN) has brought funders together to collaborate, strategize, and advance the field of global human rights grant-making. It supports all areas of human rights through their research and networks. If you've taken The Grants House courses, you'll remember that grant-seeking is all about influence and networking. It is a longer term investment of time and you'll want to check out the HRFN.
The Grants House @2023
Dr. Philip A. Tanner, CEO and Founder
In 2020, Philip was nominated by the Canadian Royal Niagara Military Institute (RNMI) for the prestigious Vimy Award, for promoting democracy and peace globally over 20 years in many conflict affected countries. He is also a member of the RNMI, which promotes education & awareness, public outreach and educational conferences that support democracy and peace.