28 January 2022

The Human Rights Grantmaking Principles: a tool to transform philanthropy

As a field, human rights funding aims to move money to those working to protect and advance human rights. Yet, among funders who share that value, funding practices do not always meet this vision.

To bridge the gap between aspiration and reality, in 2019 Human Rights Funders Network joined forces with sister networks Ariadne – European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights, and the Gender Funders CoLab to establish the Human Rights Grantmaking Principles – a framework of six principles to guide a human rights approach to grantmaking. Developed by our members, with contributions from human rights organisations and advocates, the principles are a tool for self-reflection and growth to help foundations explore how they can strengthen their grantmaking practices and shift power in philanthropy. We believe that naming these aspirational principles, and articulating their underlying values, is a critical step in our collective work to make philanthropy more accessible, inclusive, and equitable.

Here are the full grantmaking principles, which we’ve summarised below.

Power Sharing and Shifting to challenge and transform how power is held and used.

Accountability to recognise our own institutions and selves as accountable to the organisations, activists, and movements we support.

Collective Care to ensure the safety and well-being of activists, and the sustainability of movements.

Community Driven to support community-led groups and commit to community-inclusive decision-making processes.

Equity to deconstruct our biases and apply an intersectional lens in addressing the root causes of injustice and inequality.

Adaptability and Learning to recognise the importance of innovation, create space for candid feedback, and foster a culture of learning.

The grantmaking principles were developed over the course of two years, in collaboration with approximately 300 funders and human rights advocates in more than 40 countries. The process itself was vital to ensuring that the principles were grounded in the realities faced by grantmakers and social justice movements. We knew we couldn’t develop a framework for funding human rights in isolation if it was going to have an impact. And we knew that how we developed the principles – the process by which we engaged with funders and activists – was as important as the result.

While initially we worked with an advisory committee composed of member foundations, we recognised that to make the principles align with movements’ funding experiences, we needed to extend this group to include civil society advisors as well. We collected feedback from funders and organisations that receive human rights grants through surveys, in-person meetings, and virtual town halls. We committed ourselves to practising language justice and accessibility, so we held our conversations in English, Spanish, and French, and with closed captioning.

We launched the principles in September 2020, and they are now available in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. Recently, we launched the principles microsite which we established as a central place to house resources and opportunities related to the principles.

These principles are inspired by the same universal human rights values enshrined in the fundamental laws that ground our European societies. We believe they can be helpful for the PEXcommunity and any other philanthropic networks seeking to support their members to improve their practices and better serve social justice movements.

Lesley Carson, director of the international human rights programme at Wellspring Philanthropic Fund and a key advisor in developing the principles, sees the principles as a roadmap and a call to action for philanthropy. She says they are especially important in this moment as funders seek to respond to current multiple and intersecting global challenges, including the rise in authoritarianism, the climate crisis, and repairing inequalities that stem from intersecting systems of patriarchy, extraction and racism put into relief by the global Covid pandemic. For philanthropy, a business as usual approach to these crises is no longer tenable. Lesley notes that the principles can help guide foundations “towards making the necessary shifts so that we can both challenge systems of oppression at their root and become more authentic and effective allies and partners of the groups that we seek to support”.

Since we began the Principles Project in 2019, a worldwide pandemic has devastated already marginalised communities; more Black men and women have died at the hands of police; authoritarian, homophobic, and xenophobic regimes are on the rise and instituting discriminatory laws and policies; and the effects of climate change have intensified as extreme weather ravages ecosystems and communities.

Philanthropy has a critical role to play in resourcing the organisations and movements on the front lines of these and other human rights struggles, who often can’t access funding from other sources. How foundations support these groups – meaning the very mechanics of their grantmaking – has significant implications for their success.

Over the last two years, calls for philanthropy to address power dynamics, institute participatory practices, and provide more flexible support have multiplied. Values-based grantmaking as a moral imperative for fairer societies has become a pervasive topic in donor circles. We hope you’ll join us on our journey to shift how philanthropy operates so that it is effective in contributing to lasting change.


Annie Hillar
Co-Director, Gender Funders CoLab
Debora Guidetti
Senior European Programme Manager, Ariadne – European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights