Democracy Guidelines

The Joyce Foundation’s Democracy Program seeks to build a more equitable democracy by investing in policies to protect and strengthen voting rights and elections, fair representation, and accurate census data. The brief description below explains our approaches to this work and the types of projects we seek to fund as part of our 2021-2025 strategy. For any questions you may have about our work or to inquire about applying for funding, please feel free to reach out to [email protected].


The Democracy Program pursues its mission to build a more equitable democracy by striving for participation and representation of all people who call the Great Lakes home. This work focuses on three key underpinnings of a functional and equitable democracy.

Voting Rights and Elections

Protecting voting rights and well-run elections are the very heart of a functioning democracy. Elections should be free, fair, accessible, and trusted. Yet, far too often, our elections fall short of that aspiration. We support four interrelated areas of work: (1) protect and expand voting rights and access to the vote; (2) support research and policy solutions to remedy voting barriers that are a product of systemic racism or have discriminatory impact; (3) support election administration best practices and adequate resources; and (4) counter efforts to undermine safe and trusted elections. These initiatives will encompass work throughout the policy spectrum – research and testing, policy development, public education and engagement, policy and legal advocacy, support for implementation, and evaluation and refinement.

Fair Representation

In a healthy democracy, representation should be determined by the electorate in a fair, transparent, and accountable process. Our approach here involves two initiatives.

First, we will support adoption and implementation of fair redistricting policies and practices within the Great Lakes states. We will support proactive efforts to achieve reform, as well as implementation in states that have adopted redistricting reform to help them run effectively and to learn from their experiences. We will also support defensive work to push back against gerrymandering and other efforts to draw districts behind closed doors.

Second, the shifting legal landscape in how federal courts treat redistricting and representation issues has caused a great deal of uncertainty, both for the development and adoption of new redistricting policies and the implementation of existing systems. In response, we will support the development and application of solutions to major legal landscape changes impacting redistricting, such as the continued erosion of the Voting Rights Act and the emergence of fringe legal theories like the Independent State Legislature Theory.

Census Data Accuracy

The 2020 decennial census experienced multiple complex problems that impacted census operations and, ultimately, appears to have impacted the quality of census data. The Foundation will support three census-related initiatives: (1) assess the impact of 2020 census problems on data quality, including the extent of any inaccuracies overall and with respect to specific subpopulations; (2) support corrective action to remedy census data integrity and alternative options to improve the accuracy of census data for certain uses, so that undercounted communities are not deprived of their fair share of resources for the rest of the decade; and (3) policy improvements for future censuses gleaned from assessment of the 2020 census.


Does Joyce fund voter registration or get out the vote work? Yes, but only within certain limitations. Joyce has to follow special rules that apply to private foundations, which generally cannot make project grants to fund voter registration unless the project meets very narrow exceptions – it must take place in five or more states and during more than one election cycle (note a primary and general election for the same office counts as the same cycle). Joyce does support other permissible, related activities including public education about the voter registration process and advocacy to improve voter registration policy. For more information about the voter registration limitations on private foundations, see Bolder Advocacy’s helpful one-pager. Other nonpartisan voter education, engagement, and get out the vote programs conducted by 501(c)(3) organizations may be considered for funding if those programs are part of an overall project aligned with Joyce’s voting rights strategy described above.

Do you support civics education or civic engagement? Mostly no. We do not work on civics education or general civic engagement. The only exception is if a project is part of an education and engagement strategy related to one of our three focus areas (see above) or is focused on addressing barriers to voting that are a by-product of systemic racism. One such example is Democracy Program funding to support implementation of Illinois’ “Unlock Civics” law that incorporates civics and voting education in state corrections settings and removes barriers to voting for returning citizens and citizens held in county jails.

Do you support high school or college student voter engagement? Yes, both the Foundation’s Democracy Program and Education and Economic Mobility Program support student voter engagement. To qualify for the Democracy Program, we look for projects that seek to remove barriers to student voting or that improve voting and elections policies to make voting more accessible to students. To qualify for the Education and Economic Mobility Program, we look for efforts by college students to improve state higher education policy. If you are unsure which program may be better aligned with your project, please feel free to reach out to the relevant program staff to inquire.

Do you fund litigation? Yes, we do fund litigation if it aligns with our Democracy Program focus areas.

Do you fund work on other democracy subjects such as money in politics, fair courts, government accountability, or civil discourse? No, our Democracy Program work is currently focused on voting rights and elections, redistricting and representation, and census data accuracy only.

If I want to submit a request for funding, what would be an appropriate amount? Ultimately, it's up to each applicant to decide on an appropriate request amount based on the specifics of the project, but we can provide some context that may help inform your request. While there are exceptions, typical Democracy Program grants tend to be in the $25,000-$125,000 per year range for one-time or state-specific projects or in the $100,000-$250,000 per year range for larger multistate projects. The majority of our Democracy Program grants are for one or two years. We consider requests for general operating grants on a case-by-case basis. For new inquiries, we strongly recommend reaching out to schedule an introductory call to discuss your proposed project before submitting a request for funding.

Do you support events? Occasionally, if the event is relevant to the Democracy Program’s three focus areas described above. Please contact Democracy program staff to discuss prior to submitting a letter of inquiry.