What is the Advancing Human Rights initiative?

With limited resources and immense challenges, now more than ever human rights grantmakers and advocates are asking critical questions about the human rights funding landscape: Where is the money going? What are the gaps? Who is doing what?

We developed the Advancing Human Rights initiative to address these questions. It is a collaboration between Human Rights Funders Network and Candid, in partnership with Ariadne and Prospera, to track the evolving state of global human rights grantmaking by collecting and analyzing grants data. The goal is to help human rights funders and advocates make more informed decisions, discover opportunities for collaboration, and work more effectively.

To learn more:

  • Explore human rights funding over time by human rights issues addressed, populations and regions served, and funding strategies used on our research hub.
  • Dive deeper into grant-level details and find peers working on similar issues through our funders-only database and mapping platform.
  • Follow our blog series where we showcase funder perspectives and contextualize the numbers.
  • Reflect on the field’s present and past through our reports and analyses.

How is human rights grantmaking defined?

The first step in analyzing the state of human rights funding was adopting a shared definition of human rights grantmaking. Under the guidance of an advisory committee composed of nine human rights funders, and in consultation with other human rights grantmakers and leading human rights activists, we adopted a definition that emphasizes funding in pursuit of structural change to ensure the protection and enjoyment of rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent human rights treaties. Our research taxonomy includes 30 unique human rights categories grouped into 13 overarching issues, from "access to justice" to "social and cultural rights."

Because these rights apply to all populations, regardless of individual characteristics such as gender or ethnicity, particular identity groups are not mentioned in our definition. However, human rights grantmaking addresses the root causes of injustice and inequality and has a special focus on – even duty to support – disadvantaged or marginalized groups. In recognition of this, our research explicitly tracks human rights funding for eight populations to offer insights on funding trends related to those communities.

How can you use the research findings?

You can use the research to:

  • Increase your knowledge of the human rights funding landscape and trends
  • Understand where your organization fits in the field of human rights philanthropy
  • Inform your strategies
  • Identify new partners
  • Mobilize additional resources to address funding gaps

In 2018, we conducted an evaluation of the research to gather feedback about its accessibility and usefulness. The findings suggest that the research has had an impact on increasing knowledge about the field of human rights philanthropy, strengthening grantmaking practice, helping funders advocate for greater support to certain programs or issues, and facilitating funder collaboration. You can learn more about the evaluation by visiting our evaluation report and this summary.

How do we track human rights funding from foundations?

We track human rights funding from foundations by collecting and analyzing their grants data. Each year we ask foundations in the HRFN, Ariadne, and Prospera networks to share their grants lists with us using this template as a guide, especially these details:

• grantee name and location
• grant total and time frame
• geographic area served (including countries and cities where possible)
• grant description (including the issues addressed, populations served, and funding strategies used)
• whether the grant is unrestricted support or project funding

Using coding and key words, we map the grants data that meet our definition of human rights grantmaking to the human rights issues, populations, and funding strategies we track. Much of the coding is done through an automated process, which we then review for accuracy. Some funders prefer to code their grants data themselves based on our research taxonomy – which we always appreciate!

Beyond our networks, the research also includes grants data collected by Candid from a set of the 1000 largest U.S. private and community foundations. Many of these funders may not consider themselves human rights grantmakers but funded one or more grants that meets our definition. This helps us build a more comprehensive picture of the human rights funding landscape.

What foundations submitted grants data for our most recent analysis?

The map below shows the geographic distribution of the 785 funders included in our analysis of 2016 human rights grantmaking. North America accounted for the majority of funders, largely reflecting the relative accessibility of grants data for U.S. foundations. Nonetheless, the number of funders based outside North America who submitted data for the project has more than doubled since our initial analysis, from 49 foundations for 2010 to 102 foundations for 2016.

View the full list.

How do we track human rights funding from bilateral and multilateral donors?

We began analyzing funding from bilateral and multilateral donors in 2014 to provide a more comprehensive picture of the human rights funding landscape. We worked with a committee of advisors to consider options for securing this data, and decided to use the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Creditor Reporting System (OECD-CRS).

The OECD-CRS is one of the most comprehensive data sets on aid flows available and contains information about tens of thousands of disbursements annually. The data set is limited to the 30 countries that make up the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC), along with almost 40 non-DAC countries and multilateral organizations that choose to report their giving. The data set only includes aid to countries that qualify for Official Development Assistance (ODA).

Bilateral and multilateral institutions that report their giving to the OECD-CRS can choose to assign a “human rights” issue code, but they can only assign one issue code for each disbursement. This means that disbursements that more closely match a different category (such as “women’s equality organizations and institutions” or “democratic participation”) won't receive a human rights code, even though that funding would meet our definition of human rights grantmaking. With this in mind, we use a combination of OECD-CRS codes and key words to capture rights-related funding. We then map that funding to the regions, populations, and human rights issues we track.

How does the trends methodology differ from our annual analyses?

We analyze foundation grants data each year to create annual snapshots of human rights funding. With multiple years of data under our belt, in 2018 we produced our first analysis of human rights funding trends over time – looking at grantmaking from 2011 to 2015 – to gain insights into shifts in the field. Our methodology for the trends analysis differs from our annual analyses in important ways.

Our annual analyses for 2011 to 2015 included data from 1,193 funders. However, because many of these funders did not participate in the research all five years, we used a subset of 561 funders for the trends analysis that had reported at least one human rights grant each year to control for year-to-year variations. The funding totals for the trends analysis are therefore less than the total you'd get if you add all five years of human rights funding together.

We have also tweaked our search criteria over the course of the project in an ongoing effort to improve accuracy and reflect changes in the field. The criteria used to identify human rights grants has therefore varied slightly from year to year. In the trends analysis, to ensure consistency, we applied the most current criteria to all five years of data.

What challenges do we face in conducting this research?

Balancing Transparency and Security: We are committed to keeping human rights grantmakers and advocates informed about the state of human rights funding, while ensuring this information does not put anyone at risk. As we’ve developed tools for sharing our findings, we’ve grappled with exactly how much detail to include. One step we’ve taken is to ask grantmakers to anonymize any grant details they feel are too sensitive to be made public. To learn more about our approach to responsible data sharing, visit our data sharing guidelines.

Getting the Details: Funders provide varying levels of detail about their grants. Grant records that have only minimal information about the grantee, purpose of the grant, funding strategies used, and populations and locations served make it difficult to accurately capture the nuances of human rights philanthropy. The more detailed information grantmakers can share, the more accurately we can capture their funding.

Identifying Re-Granting: Re-granting also poses a challenge in capturing human rights grantmaking. In some cases, private foundations make grants to support the work of public foundations, which operate their own grant programs. To avoid double-counting, we exclude grants from private foundations to public foundations in our totals when those public foundations are also included in our analysis. However, when calculating a foundation's total human rights grantmaking, we include all of its human rights-related grants.

Establishing a Global Picture: Grants from U.S. foundations account for a large proportion of the funding we track, due to the relative accessibility of data from the U.S. where foundations are legally required to make this information publicly available. Since we began this research, the number of foundations based outside the U.S. that are sharing their grants lists with us has continued to grow. Collecting data from more funders outside the U.S. is a priority for us as we work to build a more comprehensive picture of the funding landscape.

Producing Timely Analyses: We believe in the value of real-time data. However, we can’t start our annual analyses until we receive grants lists from a critical mass of foundations who fund human rights work. We ask that foundations send their most recent fiscal year data to info@hrfn.org by June 30 each year and encourage their peers to share their grants lists, too.

How can you share grants data responsibly?

We are committed to being responsible stewards of the data funders share with us and supporting funders to balance data transparency and security in sensitive contexts. We recognize that in some cases it may not be possible for foundations to share the full details about their grants, and that circumstances can change, making grants data that was once safe to share more sensitive.

We ask funders to keep the following things in mind when sharing grants data:

  • Any grant details that should not be made public should not be shared with us.
  • Sensitive data should be anonymized or removed before it is shared with us.
  • The degree to which data is anonymized or excluded should reflect the degree or nature of the risks associated with sharing that data.

What are the options for sharing sensitive grants data?
If an organization or its staff could be put at risk were details of a grant to be made public, funders may opt to anonymize aspects of that grant or, if necessary, exclude it entirely from what they share with us. There are a range of options:

    Recipient Name: Funders can list recipients as "Anonymous Recipient."
    Recipient Location: Funders can exclude information about the recipient’s location to different degrees, ranging from just the street address, to the city, state, or country, to providing only the region.
    Descriptive Text: Funders can keep grant titles and descriptions general or omit them.
    Grantmaker Name: If there are potential risks to the grantmaker, funders can ask that we anonymize their name in our records and list them as “Anonymous Funder.”

If these anonymization or exclusion options are not enough, funders can also submit their data as an aggregate. For instance, they can provide a total amount funded to a particular geographical region for a specific human rights issue and/or population and we’ll process the data as one grant to an anonymized recipient in that region.

Where will the data appear?
By sharing your grants data through the Advancing Human Rights initiative, you are helping power several products and resources that serve the social sector. In addition to the human rights grants database and mapping platform, (freely accessible to funders sharing data for the project), your grants data will be accessible to users of  Foundation Directory Online (FDO), Foundation Maps, issue- or location-specific “Foundation Landscapes,” reports, online dashboards of philanthropic giving in a region, and more.

In short, it should be assumed that any data sent to us will be published in Candid platforms. Please do not share grants information with us that may not be made public.

How can foundations modify grants data that they have previously shared?
In rare cases – such as those where security risks arise – it may be necessary to delete or modify a grant or set of grants from our database and products. If deleted, the grants information would no longer be available in Candid databases and therefore could not be included in our analyses of human rights funding. In these cases, we will not be able to re-add the grants data if the security risk no longer poses a threat. A less permanent solution to address security concerns is to anonymize grants data.

To request that grants be anonymized or removed from Candid databases, please contact Rachel Thomas (rthomas@hrfn.org) at HRFN and Matthew Ross (matthew.ross@candid.org) at Candid, copying both.

How long will it take before the changes appear?
If anonymization is requested, we may suppress grants temporarily in our products (i.e., the human rights grants database and mapping platform, Foundation Directory Online, etc.) while we work to modify the data to reflect the chosen level of anonymity. Once we’ve landed on a course of action, it will take up to two weeks before these modifications are reflected in products.

If deletion is requested, data will be suppressed in all of our products within one to two weeks and deleted completely from our databases within one month.

Who serves on our advisory committee?

We are grateful to the past and present members of our advisory committee for their ongoing guidance and feedback for this initiative.

Current Members

Julie Broome, Ariadne
Lesley Carson, Wellspring Philanthropic Fund
Florent Gonthier, Ariadne
Augusta Hagen-Dillon, Prospera
Carla Lopez, Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres
David Sampson, Baring Foundation
Jesenia Santana, NoVo Foundation
Ndana Tawamba, Urgent Action Fund Africa

Who should you contact with questions or comments?

Your input is critical to our efforts to support more effective, collaborative, and transparent human rights philanthropy. To submit data, provide feedback, or discuss how to apply this research in your work, please contact Rachel Thomas, Director of Research Initiatives at Human Rights Funders Network, at rthomas@hrfn.org.