General Funding Guidelines

No matter which fund you're applying to, these are relevant


No matter what fund, fellowship, or lab you’re applying to, adherence to OTF’s mission is essential. It’s first and foremost among the criteria we consider when reviewing any application.

We support open technologies and communities that increase free expression, circumvent censorship, and obstruct repressive surveillance as a way to promote human rights and open societies.

As long as your idea falls within our mission and gets us excited, we are committed to finding a way to support you.

Supported Effort Types

The projects and people we support all fall into one or more of the following categories: Technology Development, Applied Research, Digital Security and Community Convenings. Some straddle the line between two of these categories, and some even touch on all three.

  • Technology Development: In this category we support the development of innovative Internet freedom technology, prototypes, and projects as well as core infrastructure projects that serve the Internet freedom and human rights communities. OTF seeks to support technology-focused interventions with clear human-centred benefits for Internet freedom.

  • Applied Research: Applied research efforts supported through the Internet Freedom Fund should be applied - that is, with direct feedback, insight, or applicability to the technology development process. This research may include identifying how, why, or where censorship is happening, studying specific Internet freedom tools and ways to improve them, advancing knowledge around what types of content censors target, or assessing threats to Internet freedom in a specific geographic context.

  • Digital Security: OTF aims to fill missing digital security capacity needs for on-the-ground organizations promoting human rights, focusing on those fighting to increase free expression and Internet freedom. Further, OTF seeks to support efforts that increase the developer communities’ understanding of the challenges that organizations and users are facing on the ground, when maintaining digital security strategies or using their tools.

  • Community Convenings: OTF provides funding that empowers Internet freedom communities to become stronger and vibrant by focusing on cultivating deeper trust relationships, improving knowledge share and collaboration, and supporting and diversifying the next generation of leaders. Applications for this category could include Targeted research and development gatherings or community organized events.

Primary Focus Areas

The projects and people we support all work to increase one or more of the following: access, awareness, privacy, and security. Many of our supported efforts can be defined as falling under two or more of these categories. Here’s what we mean when we use these terms:

  • Access: to the internet, including tools to circumvent website blocks, connection blackouts, and widespread censorship.

  • Awareness: of access, privacy, or security threats and protective measures, including how-to guides, instructional apps, data collection platforms, and other efforts that increase the efficacy of Internet freedom tools.

  • Privacy: enhancement, including the ability to be free from repressive observation and the option to be anonymous when accessing the internet.

  • Security: from danger or threat when accessing the internet, including encryption tools.

Target Beneficiaries

Our goal is to support efforts that aim to advance Internet freedom in the world’s most repressive environments. Ideally, this means we support organizations and individuals that are:

  • Working on projects that will directly benefit those living in the world’s most oppressive censorship and surveillance environments;

  • Located in or have direct experience with communities in the Global South;

  • Come from or have direct experience with repressive censorship and surveillance environments;

  • Come from or have direct experience with underrepresented and/or targeted minority groups, including those with a focus on human rights, LGBT, journalism, media, or activism.

Contracts, Not Grants

One thing that separates OTF from other funders is that we do not provide grants to our supported projects. Rather, OTF administers deliverable-based contracts based on proposals and scopes of work. This means that compelling applications need to clearly propose objectives, deliverables, and timelines in order to be considered competitive. OTF does not provide “lump sum” funding of any sort - funds are disbursed following completion of previously agreed upon metrics and deliverables.

Overhead Costs

OTF supports projects, not overhead. Generally, we do not support standalone costs which are not directly associated with the completion of objectives or deliverables. For example, indirect costs such as operational or administrative expenses are not supported. This is in part due to the contractual vehicle OTF relies upon to support projects in the internet freedom space. This policy ensures that programmatic funds are focused on the objectives specifically outlined by Congress.

In the very limited instances where OTF determines that an overhead cost would be permitted, such costs cannot be greater than 10 percent of the overall cost of the project. Projects seeking an exception bear the burden of clearly demonstrating how the lack of such an inclusion will prevent the completion of the project’s objectives.

USG Provisions

As a program funded by the United States Congress, contracts between OTF and supported projects include standard provisions for U.S. Government funded agreements.

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