Human Rights Grant Guidelines

Understand guideline and funding cycles

Grant guidelines help applicants determine whether their idea for a grant fits within a particular grantmaking strategy. MacArthur can consider funding only those applications that closely match three related criteria that appear in program guidelines: topical focus addressed by the grantmaking strategy; geographic area covered by the grantmaking strategy; type of funding (general operating support, research, program support, etc.) that supports the grantmaking strategy.


The Human Rights program seeks to strengthen human rights protections, advance government accountability, and improve the reach and quality of justice.  Our grantmaking aims to defend free expression and enhance criminal justice globally, and in select countries. The Foundation has a long history as a leading human rights funder, beginning with the new Foundation’s very first grant in 1978.  Since then MacArthur has supported more than 600 organizations that have been fundamental in providing the infrastructure for the human rights movement.

Our current strategy builds on this work, while responding to trends and opportunities that have emerged in the field in recent years: 

  • Increasing threats to freedom of speech and association, ranging from intensified attacks on frontline human rights defenders to the rise of national laws that restrict the ability for civil society to operate.
  • Assertive citizen movements calling for greater government accountability and demanding more protection of basic rights.
  • Growing demands for localizing accountability for atrocity crimes and expanding access to justice.
  • Rapid advancement in digital technology that is altering the way human rights advocates monitor violations, collect, manage, and protect data, and analyze findings.

Grantmaking takes account of these trends through a strategy that is framed around two fundamental aspects of human rights: free expression and criminal justice.  There is an emphasis on accountability as essential to securing human rights and a focus on leveraging technology to advance the work. 

Questions about this grantmaking area can be addressed to Quinn Hanzel.

What MacArthur Funds

Defending free expression includes attention to: responding to government pushback against human rights advocates; promoting political accountability; advancing Internet opennes.

Enhancing criminal justice focuses on: expanding national-level accountability for mass atrocities; and advancing criminal justice reform in selected countries.

Geographic Focus Areas

We engage with a consortium of funders to improve national laws related to atrocity crimes in countries across Africa, with a particular MacArthur focus on Uganda. In Mexico, we support efforts to improve investigation of human rights violations under the new criminal justice system. We work at the global level on a range of issues including Internet openness and government constraints on civil society.

Activities considered for funding in both grantmaking themes include evidence-based advocacy, strategic litigation, networking, information-sharing, training, and policy research.


The program receives and considers submissions on a rolling basis throughout the year.  Grant recommendations are linked to four quarterly meetings of the MacArthur Board of Directors in March, June, September, and December. It generally takes at least five months to consider grant requests, from the time a letter of inquiry is submitted until a grant is made.


Updated August 2015