What Large Foundations Are Doing to Strengthen Democracy

What Large Foundations Are Doing to Strengthen Democracy

Current philanthropic efforts to strengthen democracy

Since 2011, philanthropic organizations of all types have allocated some $5.7 billion in grants to strengthening U.S. democracy, according to the Foundation Center. Support for democracy can take distinct forms: support for the institutions of democracy for democracy’s sake, and the use of those institutions to advance another cause. Democracy Fund exemplifies how philanthropy can support democratic institutions through research, convening, or advocacy (among other activities) designed to strengthen the system of rules and norms that shape our politics, things like elections, the press, or Congress. Funders motivated by a particular issue, such as Carnegie with immigration reform, work within the democratic system to affect change, using tactics like policy development and strategic communication to influence actors in legislatures and the press.

CHIP’s “We the People: A Philanthropic Guide to Strengthening Democracy” creates a framework for anyone looking to strengthen the democratic system.

We the People guides on blue ground

Strengthening Democracy: Two Distinct Approaches

Carnegie Corporation of New York and Democracy Fund shown below have an explicit focus on democracy but take two distinct approaches.


To foster a pluralistic, vibrant democracy through the civic integration of immigrants, support for nonpartisan voter registration and education, and voting rights.

To ensure that our political system is able to withstand new challenges and deliver on its promise to the American people.

Program Areas

•  Field Building
•  Strategic Communication
•  Policy Development
•  Civic Engagement

•  Governance
•  Elections
•  Public Square

Ways of categorizing democracy grantmaking

Our interviews with representatives of a dozen funders and philanthropic advisory organizations demonstrate the variety of ways the philanthropic community frames the democracy space. Even funders with the same focus area might differ in their programmatic divisions, grouping grantees by issue areas, strategies, or by which institution of democracy they support. Our framework for strengthening democracy was designed to be applicable to funders regardless of their programmatic priorities.

Organization type

Grouped by


National Civic Engagement Funder

Local Foundation


Leadership, Grassroots Organizing, Voting Rights, Tax & Budget, State-based

Journalism and Movement Building

National Issue-based Funder

National Journalism Funder


Policy, Strategic Communications, Civic Engagement, Field Building, Alliance Building

Innovation, Financial Sustainability, Academic Research

National Research and Higher Ed Funder


Free Speech & Toleration, Criminal Justice, Technology & Innovation, Corporate Welfare, Foreign Policy

National Democracy Funder


Governing Institutions, Elections & Voting, Civic Participation, Free Press, Civil Society and Rule of Law/Civil Rights

National Funder Affinity Group


Values, Issues, Systems, Processes

New Democracy Funder


Policy-focused, Centrists/Political Independents, Grassroots Organizers, Marginalized Communities