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The Human Rights Grantmaking Principles are a tool to transform philanthropy

In addition to what foundations fund, an important consideration is also how they fund.

  • Do they recognize the power dynamics at play?
  • Are they funding the communities most affected by injustice and inequality?
  • Are they transparent and accountable in their decision making?
  • In short, do they adhere to the values their grants seek to uphold?

HRFN—in collaboration with peer donor networks Ariadne and Gender Funders CoLab—established the “Principles Project” to build a framework for how to enact a human rights approach to grantmaking. Through the Human Rights Grantmaking Principles, we hope to challenge our networks to live up to a higher standard.


Whether you’re a grantmaker looking for ways to improve your practices or an activist advocating for philanthropy to do better: These principles are a resource for YOU.

The principles can help foundations explore their practices internally, catalyze conversations among funders from different institutions, and support funders to share and learn together with others in the human rights field. They are meant as a tool for self-reflection and growth. For some they will seem extremely challenging to achieve. For others they will not go far enough. For some foundations, change may take time and require a long process of mentality shift, internally and externally.

Our aim is for the principles to be digestible, actionable, memorable, and—when applied in concert with each other—transformational. We ask that funders set tangible benchmarks and hold themselves accountable to these shifts in practice.


As a field, human rights philanthropy aims to move money to those working to protect and promote human rights. Yet, among funders who share that value, we see that the practice does not always meet the vision. In 2019, our three donor networks—Ariadne, HRFN, and Gender Funders CoLab (formerly named Philanthropy Advancing Women’s Human Rights)—established the Principles Project to build a framework for how to enact a human rights approach to grantmaking and challenge our networks to live up to a higher standard.

We knew we couldn’t do this in isolation if it was going to have an impact. Initially, our three networks worked with an advisory committee composed of our members. Seeing the need to make the principles align with movements’ funding experiences, we later extended this group to include civil society advisors as well. The development itself was also collaborative and iterative. First, we surveyed our networks and developed a set of aspirational principles based on the findings. We then broadened the net, collecting feedback from funders and organizations that receive human rights grants through surveys, in-person meetings, and virtual town halls. This process itself was vital to ensuring that the principles were grounded in the realities faced by grantmakers and movements. We launched the principles in September 2020.


We are grateful to our advisors who have contributed in various capacities to the development and promotion of the principles. You can see a list of our past and present advisors here.


We have compiled additional resources to support your learning journey on the pages for each principle, including:

  • thought-provoking articles to deepen your understanding of the concepts,
  • practical tools to help you assess and improve your grantmaking practice, and
  • research to inform your advocacy on how philanthropy can and must do better.

To recommend additional materials, submit a resource.


Translations of the principles are available in Deutsche, English, Español, Français, Italiano, and Português.

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