A growing literature identifies both situations where aid promotes peace and those where aid encourages violence. Specifically, research shows lower probability of conflict onset in democratizing states receiving high levels of democracy assistance. However, theorizing has overlooked important actors who have agency in spending such aid: civil society organizations (CSOs). We posit that the status of civil society within recipient states conditions the effect of democracy aid inflows on conflict probability. Using an instrumental variables approach to account for endogeneity between aid allocation and conflict propensity, we find that democracy aid is destabilizing when directed to environments where CSOs are weak and poorly connected to the regime and thus are less willing and able to seek change through peaceful means. When civil society is stronger and more institutionalized, however, larger democracy aid flows pose less threat.