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Disability Inclusive Grantmaking is the mission of DFN: inclusion of disability in grantmaking programs and inclusion of people with disabilities in grantmaking organizations.

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DFN Annual Report

April 2001 – March 2002

Extending Our Reach and Capacity

In a letter dated July 26, 2001, DFN was informed of its receipt of a $150,000 capacity-building grant from The Ford Foundation, making our celebration of the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act a remarkable one indeed. The Ford grant not only gives us the flexibility to attract new members and enhance member services, but it also marks DFN’s coming-of-age and is an endorsement of our social inclusion approach to disability funding. The Ford grant will enable us to act on strategic plans — including a membership campaign, an enhanced communications plan and general operating improvements — developed with the financial support of DFN Board members from The Chicago Community Trust, ELA Foundation, Blanche Fischer Foundation and Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation.

Our membership campaign attracted 20 new members since last April and more than doubled our dues income. We now have 97 members representing 40 foundations and 35 nonprofit organizations.

The major thrust of our communications plan revolves around DFN’s new Web site, which will enhance our capacity to deliver services and information while also educating the foundation world about accessible electronic communication for people with disabilities. Specific objectives are to

  1. develop a Web site that is accessible to people with sensory and other disabilities and that will serve as a model and resource for philanthropic organizations on Web site accessibility issues,
  2. encourage more active interchange between funders and disability organizations, and
  3. create a channel for new communications to meet emerging needs. The American Express Foundation was a major force behind this effort, offering encouragement, assistance and seed funding, and Changemakers provided substantial support for this and other capacity-building communications efforts.

The Web site, www.disabilityfunders.org, will be unveiled at the DFN Annual Meeting on April 29 at the Council on Foundations (COF) Conference in Chicago. We will be actively soliciting input from members and others throughout the year and are looking forward to shaping the site to meet the needs of the disability funding field.

Keeping Our Members Informed

DFN’s two listservs — one “funders-only” group for discussion of grantmaker issues and one linking funders to disability experts, nonprofits and government agencies — give us the opportunity to alert members to disability news as it happens and to provide networking and information-and-referral services. One striking example is the use of our listserv after the September 11 attacks to alert funders from across the country to the particular needs of people with disabilities at ground zero in New York and in other affected areas. DFN’s members responded with grants targeted to disability needs unknown through the major sources of information.

One goal of our Changemakers’ grant is to enhance the utility of our listservs by posting provocative and timely discussion issues on a regular basis in order to encourage a more active interchange between funders and grassroots groups. Our other major source of information, DFN News, has been revamped for the electronic era. Beginning this year, we will distribute articles electronically as they are written and prepare a print version once a year.

Expanding Disability Funding

One of DFN’s primary objectives is to increase the extent and effectiveness of grantmaking that benefits people with disabilities. The report from our Survey of California Grantmakers and Interviews with Disability Nonprofits, a recently completed project funded by The California Endowment, contains findings and recommendations that will help us to communicate this need to grantmakers across the country. Taken as a whole, the survey and interviews document how funders understand and address disability issues and shed light on communications and knowledge gaps between grantmakers and grantseekers.

Educating Funders About Disability Issues

One way we expand disability funding is by increasing grantmakers’ understanding of the full range of issues affecting the disability community. Most important in this regard is informing them about the sweeping paradigm shift that has occurred in the world of disability policy and the lives of people with disabilities themselves. The Ticket-to-Work Pilot Project educates funders about recent landmark Federal legislation — the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act — designed to remove systemic barriers that have placed many individuals with disabilities in the position of having to choose between health coverage and work. In addition to a statewide educational effort, DFN is working with grantmakers, Federal and state officials, and disability groups to create public/private partnerships leading to state-focused demonstration projects that spotlight the crucial role for private funders and corporations in implementing the new law.

A series of briefings hosted by the three Regional Associations of Grantmakers (RAGs) in California brought grantmakers in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco together with policy experts and representatives of disability agencies to discuss opportunities for funders to support economic development, health and asset development programs that can serve as a cornerstone for implementing the Act effectively. The Los Angeles and San Francisco briefings were co-sponsored by Funders Concerned About AIDS. Major funding for the overall project was provided by The California Endowment, and Alliance Healthcare Foundation and The California Wellness Foundation provided support for individual briefings.

To emphasize the centrality of disability issues to a wide range of funding areas, DFN has adopted the strategy of developing educational workshops and briefings that include disability issues in program-related and administrative topics. For example, at the 2001 Council on Foundations (COF) annual conference in Philadelphia, we presented a session on what foundations can do to discourage stereotyping of minorities in the media. For the 2002 COF conference in Chicago, DFN has designed two sessions: one highlighting the impact on minority groups of recent Supreme Court decisions favoring states rights over civil rights, and one on funding multi-cultural arts projects. A grant from The New York Community Trust will support a project designed to raise funders’ awareness of including people with disabilities in services and projects delivered by NYC community agencies and will provide grantmakers with tools and strategies to translate that awareness into action.

Collaboration and Partnerships

DFN is a founding member of the Joint Affinity Groups (JAG) and participates on an ongoing basis in the activities and jointly sponsored programs of this ten-partner coalition of affinity groups dedicated to diversifying philanthropy.(1) JAG members have planned joint sessions at the last five COF annual conferences, covering topics ranging from affirmative action to definitions of community to an examination of the possible connections between venture philanthropy and social change grantmaking. The JAG session at the 2002 conference focused on how the 2000 Census can be combined with new diversity research to help foundations reflect the communities they serve. DFN was an active partner in the development and release of JAG’s comprehensive new study on diversity in U.S. foundations, The Meaning and Impact of Board and Staff Diversity in the Philanthropic Field (see Resources, below).

We also collaborate with other Affinity Groups (AGs) and RAGs on a regular basis. For example, we will partner with Grantmakers in Aging to expand the focus of the New York Community Trust project described above to include older people and will work with the New York Regional Association of Grantmakers to develop member briefings on the topic of inclusive nonprofit infrastructures. In addition, DFN is an active member of COF’s Affinity Group Network, an association of all 38 of the Council-recognized affinity groups, and we will chair the AG Network’s annual conference in June.

New and Updated Resources

Disability Funding in California, a summary of the findings from the online survey of grantmakers and interviews with disability nonprofits together with recommendations for funders, is now available. A summary targeted to grantseekers and short pamphlets highlighting key results for grantmakers who have not yet incorporated disability into their ongoing funding will be developed in 2002.

The Ticket-to-Work Project has produced a series of documents that explain the major features of the Federal Act, options for states, a model state response to the national legislation, and suggested roles for funders and stakeholders.

We have had excellent responses to our Disability Policy Primer for Funders, which is now used in disability studies courses. The Policy Primer was revised in 2001 and will undergo regular updates to reflect the rapidly changing disability policy environment.

Based on a national study of over 600 grantmakers nationwide, JAG’s new report, The Meaning and Impact of Board and Staff Diversity in the Philanthropic Field, offers practical recommendations for grantmakers seeking to address the growing diversity of the communities they serve. The report incorporates disability as an aspect of diversity to a much greater extent than previous studies on diversity in philanthropy.


(1) The other partners in JAG are Asian American and Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, Association of Black Foundation Executives, Funders for Lesbian and Gay Issues, Hispanics in Philanthropy, Jewish Funders Network, National Network of Grantmakers, Native Americans in Philanthropy, Women and Philanthropy and Women’s Funding Network. [return to citation 1]