Funding for human rights

How do human rights groups worldwide mobilize the resources they need?

Human rights work depends on the voluntary efforts and goodwill of activists, concerned citizens, and government personnel. Big transformative ideas, however, also need an organizational infrastructure, and that infrastructure requires resources to thrive. How do human rights groups around the world mobilize the money and other inputs they need? What impacts do these methods have on the work of human rights organizations, and on their relations with governments, the general public, and others?

Read our related articles on:

New business models for human rights & Local funding for Human Rights


Is China the future for hybrid CSO funding models?

By: Shawn Shih-hung Shieh
Español | 简体中文

As foreign funding dries up, Chinese CSOs have quickly adapted and reinvented themselves to mobilize local funding.

For new narratives, human rights needs new forms of economic power

By: Alejandro Bautista
Español | Français

If compelling human rights narratives are not grounded in sustainable, replicable and scalable projects, it will be hard to outweigh the political and economic ...

Sustaining civil society: learning from legacies of long-term funding

By: Merrill Sovner & Barry Gaberman & William Moody

The project of developing civil society organizations that keep the government in check and nurture democratic practices and values is a multi-generational effort.

Why do high-income Brazilians distrust human rights?

By: Alexandre Abdal & Andréa Pineda & Fernando do Amaral Nogueira & Juana Kweitel
Español | Português

The existing rejection and distrust of human rights among high-income Brazilians result mostly from lack of knowledge and reflection, rather than populist or radical ...

Giving with trust: how philanthropy can transform power relations

By: Ise Bosch & Claudia Bollwinkel
Español | Deutsch

Philanthropy can repeat oppressive patterns, or it can transform donor-recipient relations by giving decision-making power and trust along with money.

NGOs start thinking like businesses in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

By: Rostislav Valvoda

NGOs in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have shown resilience under pressure by inventing new ways to generate funds, including hybrid for-profit and non-profit ...

Funding changes in the Caucasus—will NGOs adapt?

By: Almut Rochowanski

Many NGOs in the North Caucasus have survived the panic of Russia’s “foreign agent” law, but not all activists raised in the comfort zone of grant-funded NGOs can ...

What we can learn from feminists who fund themselves

By: Tenzin Dolker
Español | Français

Now more than ever, feminist organizations need to deepen the search for autonomous resourcing models that work for our movements, on our own terms.

Trust is essential in donor strategies with grassroots groups

By: Rona Peligal

Grassroots activism through social movements offers the best hope for meaningful change in the fight for equality and dignity, and donors need to build trust and ...

Despite closing space, innovative branches of Russian civil society thrive

By: Almut Rochowanski

After years of coverage about how the “foreign agent law” would spell the end of freedom of association in Russia, parallel universes of Russian civil society are ...

Local community funding: what’s possible in Latin America?

By: Gastón Chillier

Shifting to local community funding is possible in Latin America, as a case in Argentina clearly shows. Can more organizations make such similar shifts in a sustainable ...

Human rights NGOs should learn funding lessons from service providers

By: Dimitrina Petrova

Human rights NGOs in Central and Eastern Europe are facing increased hostility from governments and declining legitimacy in public opinion, while social service ...

Why countries should welcome, not fear, foreign funding of NGOs

By: Ronald R. Krebs & James Ron

A new law in Israel seeks to stigmatize NGOs that receive foreign funding—but evidence suggests that countries should welcome rather than fear the foreign funding ...

Being flexible while staying true: the balance of engaging corporations in human rights

By: Rajshri Sen

Getting traction and funding for women’s rights in India can be difficult, but partnering with innovative corporations is one way to push the boundaries of change.

Fighting the backlash against feminism in Bulgaria

By: Nadejda Dermendjieva & Gergana Kutseva

In Bulgaria, women’s rights, feminism, and LGBTQ rights are inflammatory topics, and one women’s fund is fighting back with controversial campaigns.

Collaborating across movements to fill funding gaps for women in Nepal

By: Pratima Gurung

Groups in Nepal working at the intersections of different issues such as indigenous women with disabilities, are largely invisible to funders—but cross-movement ...

Mapping trends to understand shifts in human rights funding

By: Anna Koob & Sarah Tansey
Français | Español

Trends analysis allows human rights activists to see where human rights funding is going, and where it’s not. But what further questions do these findings spark ...

Participatory grantmaking helps to shift power relations in Mexico

By: Jenny Barry

Powerful results surfaced when a Mexican women’s rights funder began to give decision-making power to local activists.

NGOs are adapting to closing space when they must push back

By: Julian Oram & Deborah Doane

Most development and funding organizations are adapting to shrinking space rather than challenging it, but is this trend inevitable?

Addressing systemic inequality in human rights funding

By: Barbara Klugman & Ravindran Daniel & Denise Dora & Maimouna Jallow

Human rights funding is systemically inequitable, and this will only change when funders provide core support that allows grantee organizations to make their own ...

To strengthen global resistance, resource young feminists

By: Felogene Anumo & Ruby Johnson
Español | Français

Young feminists are pushing back and forging new paths in global resistance, but they need financial support and personal security to achieve real gains.

Building communities to boost local fundraising

By: Sadhana Shrestha
Español | नेपाली | Français

Fundraising should never just be about money—it must also be about raising awareness of human rights and social justice.

A levy in the African Union could be a step towards independence

By: Amandine Rushenguziminega

A new levy in the African Union could lead to more financial independence—but who is funding human rights?

Exploring new possibilities beyond foreign funding in Brazil

By: Amanda Fazano
Español | Français | Português

Brazil has a potentially large philanthropy market, and social media may be key to tapping into this resource.

Monetizing the human rights “brand”

By: David Crow & José Kaire & James Ron

Marketing research can help Mexican rights groups monetize their “brand” and boost public donations.

Ordinary people will pay for rights. We asked them

By: James Ron & José Kaire & David Crow

New research suggests that if human rights organizations use evidence-based fundraising strategies, the public will donate.

From funding projects to funding struggles: Reimagining the role of donors

By: Maina Kiai

While donors partner with civil society to counter shrinking civic space, their rigid funding systems can undermine progress.

Should funding agencies also share in the sacrifice of social change?

By: Michael Edwards
Español | Français | Português

What standards of behavior should we expect from the leaders of foundations, NGOs and aid agencies?

To preserve human rights, organizational models must change

By: Edwin Rekosh
Español | Français

The current human rights business model is not keeping up with trends in technology, philanthropy, business and society.

Fast and flexible support: ingredients to enrich LGBTI campaigning

By: Laura Piazza

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to campaigning for today’s LGBTI activists, but providing support on short notice allows organisations to be reactive and ...

Small grants can make big impacts

By: Maria Amália Souza 

Building a culture of philanthropy in the global South is a herculean task, but small grants can still make big changes.

Fighting misconceptions and logistics to raise funds in Brazil

By: Ana Valéria Araújo & Maíra Junqueira 
Português | Español

Logistical issues and lack of awareness among Brazilians have created significant—but not insurmountable—obstacles to fundraising for human rights.

The end of the grant era

By: Ellen Sprenger

Asking donors for money and then implementing programs is an old model from which civil society must break free.

New approach to refugee protection must prioritize self-sufficiency

By: Mallory Mroz

A new approach to refugee protection needs to draw on the principles of self-sufficiency to prevent aid dependency and let refugees work so that they contribute ...

Local funding is not always the answer

By: Hussein Baoumi
Français | العربية

In some countries, relying on local funding gives human rights defenders even less freedom.

Cross-movement organizing in Mexico leads to new resources

By: Jenny Barry

Feminists and environmentalists are coming together in Mexico to form new partnerships with an emphasis on local resource mobilization.

Local funding is not just an option anymore—it’s an imperative

By: Jenny Hodgson

As local rights groups seek alternative funding sources, the closing space for civil society makes this even more imperative.

Old dogs and new tricks: rethinking human rights business models

By: Edwin Rekosh

In this climate of closing space, we have an imperative to rethink the business models for protecting human rights.

For Amnesty’s India office, raising local funds is all about membership

By: Aakar Patel
Español | العربية

Amnesty International’s India hub focuses most of its fundraising efforts on domestic contributions, facing challenges as diverse as the weather to brand recognition

Building community around women’s rights: feminist philanthropy in Serbia

By: Zoe Gudovic

Becoming agents of change for women’s rights in Serbian society requires creativity in building connections and solidarity.

The duty to rescue: a new paradigm for refugee protection

By: Jean-François Durieux
Français | Español

The refugee protection regime needs reform, but this requires new international approaches that go beyond the Refugee Convention.

Rethinking progressive NGO funding in Israel

By: Hillel Ben-Sasson

Marked as traitors by the dominant Right for relying on foreign aid, Israeli liberal NGOs need a wider base of local donors.

Sustainability through direct dialogue: a Latin American success story

By: Mariela Puga & Luz Aquilante & Natalia Eberbach

Building a culture of giving in Latin America takes creativity, persistence and a willingness to invest in people.

Getting creative with local resource mobilization in Hong Kong

By: Linda To

To get funding amidst intense non-profit competition in Hong Kong, human rights groups must get creative.

Insisting and resisting: women’s funds lead the way for local philanthropy

By: Lucía Carrasco Scherer & Christen Dobson
Español | Français

Women’s funds are gaining increasing recognition at the local and international levels as leading agents of social change.

Mongolia’s economic crisis: an end to corporate social responsibility?

By: Bolor Legjeem

Despite an economic crisis, some Mongolian companies still respond to carefully constructed funding requests.

Can celebrities and fashion magazines in Mexico really influence social change?

By: Jenny Barry

Partnering with celebrities and seeking visibility is key to mobilizing resources for the women’s movement in Mexico.

Can rights organizations use low-burden self-reflection for evaluation?

By: Brian Root 
Español | Français | العربية

Human Rights Watch generally avoids burdensome evaluations; instead, we’re looking for “light and agile” reflections on our work.

Crushing dissent: NGOs under threat in India

By: Seema Guha

Can NGOs and India’s political opposition stop Modi’s civil society clampdown?

When evaluating human rights progress, focus also on the journey

By: Emma Naughton & Kevin Kelpin
Español | Français | العربية

Yes, human rights work must be measured, but we need to focus on the small steps as well as the “big picture.”

Government repression and bureaucratic hoops spell gloom for rights groups in Bangladesh

By: Mubin S. Khan

Amidst tighter donor budgets for human rights, NGOs in Bangladesh are also grappling with increasingly intrusive governments.

Do-It-Yourself-Aid: alternative funding sources for rights work?

By: Anne Meike Fetcher

Is “Do-It-Yourself-Aid” the answer to funding rights work? Anne-Meike Fechter describes this model, its funding and related implications

Human rights and results-based management: adopting from a different world

By: Vincent Ploton
Español | Français

Human rights groups are understandably reluctant to use “results-based management”, but embracing this approach can boost their impact.

Disputes over foreign funding in Israel mask much deeper issues

By: Dimi Reider
العربية | עברית

If Israeli human rights groups are labeled fronts for foreign interests due to their funding, what does that make Israel itself?

Modi government cracks down on green NGOs

By: Prafu Bidwai

India’s new Modi government trains its guns on environmental activists.

Beyond foreign funding – selling human rights in Africa

By: Charles Kojo Vandyck 
Español | Français

Human rights groups can survive in the current funding climate if they shift their focus towards locally driven funding resources.

Focusing on women and transgenders in LGBT rights

By: Nicola Desouza

Nepal is the most open country in South Asia for LGBT rights, but even here, patriarchal biases exclude women and transgenders. Can foreign funding change this?

A tax on texting? Getting creative with funding human rights in Africa

By: Selemani Kinyunyu

For too long, the African Union and its human rights bodies have depended on foreign aid. If the Union implements a radical new financing tax on airline tickets, ...

American Jews, money and the Israel-Palestine conflict

By: Benjy Cannon
العربية | עברית

Although the American Jewish community spends relatively little on human rights work in Israel/Palestine, they are getting serious about promoting a lasting peace ...

Pure hypocrisy: India’s fear of foreign funding for NGOs

By: Medha Patkar

The Indian state aggressively promotes foreign investment in all sectors but civil society.

In India, a pervasive paranoia blocks progress on human rights

By: Lenin Raghuvanshi

NGOs working with untouchables and bonded labour face hostility from upper castes. For these groups, it’s nearly impossible to raise local funds. Without foreign ...

As the world’s eyes turn to Brazil, local rights groups must seize the day

By: Patricia Mendoca

The world is watching as Brazil prepares for the World Cup and Olympics. As Northern funding for Brazilian human rights groups declines, local groups must take ...

Turkey, the EU, and civil society: An incomplete revolution

By: H. Selen Akçali Uzunhasan

Turkey’s campaign for EU membership has revolutionized funding for its civil society, but there is still a long way to go.

Funding for human rights: the BRAC experience

By: Ian Smillie

Over four decades, BRAC has become one of the largest and most effective NGOs in the world, with outstanding success in incorporating human rights into its programs ...

In for a bumpy ride: international aid and the closing space for domestic NGOs

By: Saskia Brechenmacher & Thomas Carothers
Español | Français | العربية

The global pushback against domestic NGOs has arrived. International donors must learn to cope, but it won’t be easy.

Kenyan rights groups under fire: are officials abusing the “Beijing Consensus”?

By: Melaku Mulualem

Kenyan officials under International Criminal Court indictment seek caps for foreign funding to local NGOs, raising the spectre of a “Beijing Consesus” for African ...

An alternative to international aid

By: Nora Lester Murad
Español | עברית | العربية

Nora Lester Murad describes a new alternative to international aid and domestic charity for Palestine; community directed funds

Exploring local possibilities for local rights

By: Okeoma Ibe

Designing and planning solutions to human rights problems from thousands of miles away often produces unsustainable results. The time has come for Southern human ...

Brazil needs new public mechanisms and laws to fund human rights domestically

By: Eduardo Pannunzio

Human rights groups in the global South are dependent on international funds, but those monies are dwindling for NGOs in emerging economies such as Brazil. To survive, ...

Local funds for local issues: raising the bar

By: Osai Ojigho

International aid is not ethically wrong, and local rights groups will use it for years to come. We must also mobilize domestic funds, however, by gaining a better ...

To raise funds, Indian rights groups must emulate the country’s newest political party

By: Ajaz Ashraf

Donations by ordinary citizens to India’s newest political party, the AAP, prove that Indians can and will donate to important causes. Indian rights groups can ...

What's a funder to do?

By: Rachel Wahl

If international funding compromises the work of domestic human rights groups, what should international donors do? It is admirable for local groups to refuse international ...

In defense of 'professional' human rights organizations

By: Fateh Azzam

Human rights NGOs do not necessarily need to be grassroots social movements. But issues of dependence on foreign funding and corruption that accompany 'professionalization' ...

No shortage of international complicity with Israeli occupation

By: Nora Lester Murad

Aid to Palestine is essentially palliative, intended to maintain a status quo. From that vantage point, aid seems to be remarkably complicit with continued Israeli ...

Funds and civil liberties

By: V. Suresh

Dependence on institutional funding has depoliticized, monetized and corrupted much of the human rights work in India. While state-control of human rights funds ...

Building a domestic human rights constituency in India

By: Rita Jalali

To fight the chilling effect created by new laws on foreign funding, Indian human rights NGOs need to develop support for funding among citizens. Though difficult, ...

Can corporate campaigners tap corporate largesse? Unlocking millions for human rights advocates

By: Chris Jochnick

Human rights advocates are loathe to accept corporate funding, even in pursuit of worthy initiatives. But companies facing human rights challenges are eager for ...

Human rights in Brazil: international funders must empower David against Goliath

By: Helle Abelvik-Lawson

Brazil’s recent economic growth – driven by multinational corporations and supported by the government – is a source of human rights violations and perpetuates ...

Anti-ngo legislation in Israel: a first step toward silencing dissent

By: Daniel Sokatch

Ultra-nationalist political parties are yet again trying to crack down on dissenting Israeli NGOs. This is the latest in a longer series of efforts to fundamentally ...

In Kenya, averting a move to strangle civil society with the financial noose

By: Maina Kiai

In October Kenya introduced legislation capping foreign funding to NGOs and requiring that money be channeled through a government body. Though narrowly defeated, ...

Turkey’s human rights groups in a funding squeeze

By: Murat Çelikkan 

The government often accuses Turkey’s human rights groups of doing the work of “foreign powers,” which scares off local donors. But when rights groups seek foreign ...

From aid to investment: funding women's rights groups

By: Angelika Artyunova

A paradigm shift in funding from human rights toward 'investments' and 'business solutions' is threatening women’s rights organizing and the rights-based approach ...

Rights-based approaches to development: from rights ‘talk’ to joint action

By: Hans Peter Schmitz

The rights based approach to development is increasingly popular, but more rights-based money isn’t the answer to the world’s ills. Rights-based practitioners will ...

Going local

By: G. Ananthapadmanabhan

The Indian government uses the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act to block global support to NGOs that question the state. The FCRA must go, but meanwhile, civil ...

The state of global human rights philanthropy

By: Christen Dobson & Lucía Carrasco Scherer & Emilienne de León
Español | Français | العربية | Português

Using the first-ever data-driven effort to track global human rights funding, representatives from two major global funding networks based in the U.S. and Mexico ...

Now is the time to invest in China’s nascent rights groups

By: William Nee

Even as China grows in wealth, it has yet to fully develop a culture of philanthropy – one that is free and clear of government influence and able to effect real ...

Mismatch: why are human rights NGOs in emerging powers not emerging?

By: Lucia Nader
Español | Français | Português

There is a perverse see-saw effect in place within the BRICS countries. In Brazil, as the government grows in prominence and companies become more global and voracious, ...

Will foreign funding last for those inside Israel who defend the Palestinians?

By: Noam Sheizaf
العربية | עברית

Israel’s human rights organisations depend on foreign funding to defend the rights of the Palestinians. But as the Middle East is increasingly torn by new conflicts, ...

In the Arab region, barriers abound to giving locally

By: Elie Abouaoun
Español | Français | العربية

It’s time for a paradigm shift in the Arab region, where local human rights groups are negatively perceived and donors still resist supporting right based initiatives.

Universal values, foreign money: local human rights organizations in the Global South

By: James Ron & Archana Pandya
Türkçe | Español | Français | Português | العربية | עברית

Despite enjoying a fair bit of local support, local human rights organizations (LHROs) in the Global South are still largely dependent on foreign funds. To better ...

The challenge of finding funding for gay rights in Cameroon

By: Alice Nkom
Español | Français | العربية

When the EU awarded a large grant to Alice Nkom for her work defending gay people in Cameroon it was attacked for encouraging illegal activity. Here Nkom describes ...

Human rights funding in Brazil

By: Ana Valéria Araújo
Español | العربية | Português

Brazil’s economic success has led to foreign funders pulling the plug on human rights groups but a major education campaign is needed before Brazilian donors will ...

Time to challenge India for its stranglehold on funding for rights organizations

By: Ravi Nair
हिन्दी | العربية | Español

One of the country’s most informed human rights experts explains how India blocks foreign funding for rights work it doesn’t like. Philanthropists avoid supporting ...

Funding cannot stop rights abuses

By: Lori Allen
Español | العربية | עברית | Türkçe

The work of human rights organisations in the occupied Palestinian territories can never end abuses. Only a political solution that ends the Israeli occupation ...

Human rights, democracy, and development: partners at last

By: J. Brian Atwood
Español | Français | العربية

The human rights movement, the democracy-promotion community, and development donors have common goals, but they have not always seen themselves as allies. It is ...

Introducing this week's theme: Funding for human rights

By: James Ron

Human rights work depends on the voluntary efforts of activists, concerned citizens, and government personnel. Big transformative ideas, however, also require organizational ...

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