Our funding, transparency, and a pathway to sustainability

To provide a full picture of Access Now’s approach to funding and fundraising, we have put the following information together. First, it is important to note that independence, diversity, and sustainability are central to Access Now’s ability to carry out our mission, and we encourage the support of a diverse range of funders and stakeholders to fund us each year.

In addition, transparency is core to Access Now’s mission. It guides our internal operations and our policy positions, on topics including government hacking, Net Neutrality, data retention and stopping internet shutdowns. And just as we encourage transparency in corporate practice, so too do we enable transparency in our own financial affairs.

The majority of our support comes from foundations (29%) and development agencies (44%, which includes contributions made by SIDA, the Swedish International Development Agency, that are granted to others through Access Now Grants). The remaining funds are a combination of corporate (10%), event sponsorship (13%), civil society (1%), and individual (3%) support.*

To ensure the independence and integrity of our organization, our funding policy is to accept support contingent upon the following non-negotiables:

  • Access Now does not accept funding that places our staff, partners, supported communities, or mission at risk.
  • Access Now does not accept funding that jeopardizes our relationship with our partners or supported communities and networks.
  • Access Now does not accept funding that compromises our organizational independence, including funding relationships that may influence our priorities, policy positions, advocacy efforts, regions of focus, or direct action work.
  • Access Now does not accept funding that poses a risk to Access Now’s reputation more broadly or with respect to specific programmatic areas of work.

These principles have continued to guide us as we’ve grown and strengthened as an organization and as we’ve engaged in policy spaces around the world. Accordingly, we make it clear to all funders, prior to receipt of funds, that our independence is our most cherished attribute and that our policy positions, advocacy campaigns, or technological expertise cannot be influenced.

To this end, below are examples of how our funding policy plays out in the real world:

  1. We have strict policies on government funding. As indicated in the policy above, we will never accept funding that places users, our staff, or our mission at risk, or that jeopardizes our relationships with partners or the communities and networks of which we are a part. This policy has cut off otherwise open avenues of support, but it is integral to our mission as an organization, and it is non-negotiable. For example, given the potential risks to users and groups we seek to support, we do not accept funding from the U.S. government. Saying no to large sums of money can be very difficult particularly when, like all civil society organizations, there are times when such funding could take a lot of stress out of maintaining our cash flow, but our first priority is the integrity of our program and partnerships.
  2. Our policies on corporate funding are equally as strict. Private sector support can be positive, and has not only assisted in the protection of users (for example, the tech sector provides in part funding for our Digital Security Helpline) but also provided sponsorship for important events like RightsCon. However, at times we run into major and minor policy disagreements with companies — both those that fund us, and those that don’t — and for this reason we insist on total independence from them in policy, advocacy, tech, and every other sphere. But any funding from the private sector must, like all funding, meet our funding policy as outlined on our site (and above). As such, we have made conscious decisions to not to request funding or purse conversations that could lead to support from corporate funders that might infringe our policy.
  3. A significant portion of our private-sector funding is for sponsorship for RightsCon and other event support as opposed to Access Now programming. The majority of funding for our programmatic work and operations comes from foundations, governments, and individual donors. A year-to-year breakdown of this funding can be found on our finances page. Less than 10% of funding for Access Now programming comes from the private sector.*
  4. We don’t engage in donor-led programming. It is understandable for funders to have a proactive agenda and an established giving framework, especially foundations and philanthropic institutions. But we don’t change our policy priorities to accommodate the needs of funders, unless their interests overlap with ours (e.g. in promoting digital security for users at risk, protecting the open internet, or addressing human rights in the global connectivity agenda). We have seen donor-led programming or partnerships fail, and therefore consider both ourselves and the funder in the formation or implementation of any ongoing relationship.
  5. We are revising our support structure to mirror our global footprint, specifically by attracting funding locally. We have local staff in ten locations around the world, with four incorporated entities (in Belgium, Costa Rica, Tunisia, and the United States), so it’s important for our funding to reflect the diverse and global makeup of our organization. It is also in line with our philosophy that local funding strengthens local programming. We think that money flowing from the global north to south, for example, can perpetuate existing power imbalances. Funding that comes from geographical sources close to the programming makes more sense to us. For example, we would love to see funding of our Costa Rica office and staff come from Central America, rather than a Scandinavian government or a U.S. foundation. There is a lot of work to do on this front.
  6. We seek to build strong civil society partnerships through applications for funding. As is the case with our programmatic work, we believe strong partnerships lend themselves to stronger applications and therefore stronger projects and programs. We endeavor to build unique partnerships that will lead to greater capacity for Access Now and partner organizations, strengthen collaboration within the sector, and lead to greater impact for users at risk. Recently, a greater portion of our funding applications are done so in partnerships with other civil society organizations.

Lastly we would like to thank the organizations, entities, companies, and individuals who have supported us since we launched in 2009. All contributions, large and small, go a long way. If you are an individual and would like to donate you can contribute here.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us at info@accessnow.org or reach out directly to a member of our staff if you would like to support us organizationally.

Access Now maintains registered entities in four countries: the United States, Belgium, Tunisia, and Costa Rica.

In the United States, Access Now is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization, so all contributions there are tax deductible.
 


 
* Percentages are based on the total data of funding to date as of January 2017.