Skip to content

2018 Request for Proposal (Closed)

View the full lists of submitted projects from previous cycles and meet our grantees here.

Digital Impact is an initiative of the Digital Civil Society Lab at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (Stanford PACS). We work to improve the digital infrastructure for civil society and help social sector practitioners and policymakers use digital resources safely, ethically, and effectively. Digital Impact is made possible with the ongoing support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the progressive financial firm Liquidnet, and Knight Foundation.

Digital Impact Grants launched in 2016 to support research and sector-wide strategies to strengthen the safe, ethical and effective use of digital resources in civil society, and to support better data-informed decision making in philanthropy (particularly individual giving) and in the social sector writ large.

Grants are awarded for two types of projects: scholarly research and sector advancement. We aim to support research, prototypes, and shared learning that can help donors and social sector organizations use digital data safely, ethically, and effectively to improve their work.

Digital Impact is committed to supporting cohorts of grantees and connecting them to the broader Digital Impact and Digital Civil Society Lab communities. We hope that the availability of these funds will help spark other funding in this area and inform the field of new ideas and efforts focused on using digital data well.

Toward that end, all applicants, regardless of whether they are selected for a grant or not, will have the opportunity to opt in to share their contact information and ideas as part of a “map” of the field, which we will build on over time and make publicly available for anyone’s use.

Types of Grants

Research Grants

Intended for academic teams exploring questions of scholarly interest that have practical applications for the social sector, or scholarly review of existing practice.
Sample topics for consideration include (these are suggestions only):
  • Investigations of charitable or public good activity on crowdfunding platforms, and research that can inform policy regarding the public reporting of data from crowdfunding platforms. What do we know about what is being funded on these platforms? What does research tell us about the role that the platforms play in the broader ecosystem of philanthropy? What scholarly insights are there on regulatory practice regarding privacy, data sharing, reporting, and accountability practices?
  • Research on ethical and governance issues related to the use of algorithmic decision making tools in nonprofits or social sector contexts. Surveys or analyses of the state of the field, or comparative analysis of different methodologies are of interest.
  • Research on community-based governance and oversight of data assets. ​Surveys or analyses of the state of the field, or comparative analysis of different methodologies are of interest.
  • New applications of data science, or use of new data sets such as social media or payment processor data, to understand the relationships (complementary, substitutional, other) between people’s political and charitable contributions. What can these data tell us about how we spend money in line with our values?

Sector Advancement Grants

Intended for nonprofits and partners to address sector-wide challenges in using digital data safely, ethically and effectively.

Priority will be given to projects that align with the four principles for digital data use outlined on the Digital Impact Toolkit: permission, privacy, openness and pluralism. Some ways to address these issues include: reproducible consent practices, best practices for data sharing across organizations or sectors, transferable organizational governance practices, or software platforms or tools built to prioritize permission or individual identity/data ownership. A sample list of ideas for sector grants includes (these are suggestions only):

  • Development and review of principles, practices, and processes for sharing data across nonprofits, government, and/or industry.
  • Digital fundraising or marketing practices that meet EU GDPR requirements and can be turned into specifications for use and adaptation by other organizations.
  • Organizational templates or processes for improving organizational digital literacy and security.
  • Tools or templates for committing/forking civil society data governance policies (e.g. using or github).

Additional Guidelines


For both grant categories (research and sector advancement), preference will be given to projects that involve one or more nonprofit or civil society organization partners, and that have a clear plan for sharing what they learn or produce.


In February 2018 the Digital Impact community identified six emerging thematic areas of interest. These are listed below and described in detail hereResearch or sector advancement proposals that align with any of these six are of special interest to Digital Impact.
  • Institutional and process innovation: Emergence of trusted data intermediaries – opportunities to invent new institutions to manage and govern digital data for civil society purposes. Multiple types of intermediaries (repositories, process, analytic intermediaries).
  • New diverse, robust policy alliances: How to connect policy expertise across digital rights, intellectual property, and telecommunications to expertise in civil society, democratic process, civil liberties, and nonprofit law.
  • Advancing digital norms for civil society: How to expand the reach of rights-based, civil society-values regarding use of digital data and infrastructure, even to the point of influencing new digital norms.
  • Networking networks: Multiple layers and silos of communities – digital rights, digital tech, CSOs, policy, funding, alternative finance – present opportunities to expand alliances and engage global concerns.
  • Collective civil society approaches to corporate allies: Opportunities to articulate civil society values and partner with corporate sector for support, scale and new defaults. Applies to existing dominant communications technologies and emergent ones.
  • Funding strategies for alternative infrastructures: How to build, support, and sustain hardware and software that mimics civil society values.


Research grants will be made to faculty or graduate students at universities in the United States and abroad. Priority will be given to research projects with either a demonstrated commitment to practical applications in the social sector or those that clearly articulate a plan to turn their research into practical knowledge. We welcome applications from any disciplinary perspective or methodology, as well as applications that bring together multiple disciplinary inquiries.

Sector advancement grants will be made to non-profit organizations in the United States and abroad. U.S.-based organizations must have 501(c)(3) status. Organizations based outside of the U.S. must have equivalent exempt status. Please note that the grant excludes activities with countries against which the United States maintains a comprehensive embargo unless such activities are fully authorized by the U.S. government under applicable law and specifically approved by the Gates Foundation in its sole discretion.

Grant Structure

Digital Impact Grants are subawards from the Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford University. Selected grantees will complete and submit a form to the Office of Sponsored Research at Stanford University. Upon full approval by Stanford grantees will submit an invoice for the full amount of the award, to be paid by Stanford at the beginning of the grant period.

AmountThe total funding pool is $200,000. We anticipate making between 5 and 10 grants, although number and size will depend on the applicant pool. 
Duration: Grants are for one year, beginning late Fall 201and ending late Fall 2019.
Disbursement: Funds will be disbursed between Fall 2018 and Winter 2019, depending upon the timing of completion of all required documents by grantees and final approval by Stanford University


All work must be done with the expectation of being publicly shared and geared toward improving practice in the field.

Participation & Contribution

  • Grantees are invited and expected to participate in and contribute to Digital Impact conversations and resources including the blog, virtual roundtable series, and toolkit at 
  • Grantees will provide a final grant report (narrative and budget accounting) at the conclusion of the grant period.

Open Access

Digital Impact Grants are intended to support grantees in developing new learning and tools that the entire social sector can use to improve the safe, ethical, and effective use of data in the digital age. All grantees must agree to make their findings and/or innovations publicly available according to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Open Access policy.

Application Process

To apply for a Digital Impact Grant, submit the following materials via our online application:

  • Application Form
  • Project Budget (please use template included in the application form). Budget must include all overhead and indirect costs, and must identify any other sources of funding for this project.
  • CV(s) of core project team member(s)

Deadline: All application materials must be received by 5:00 PM (Pacific Time) on June 25, 2018.


June 25, 2018 – Deadline to apply (5:00 PM Pacific Time)

August 2018 – Grant recipients notified


View a list of frequently asked questions and check back often as we post new information. Please send us your questions using the form on this page

Digital Impact hosted two live Q&A webinars to answer questions from prospective applicants:

Thank you for your interest in Digital Impact Grants.