Disability Funders Network (DFN) had its origins in the Funding Partnership for People with Disabilities, a grantmakers’ collaboration created in 1990 to respond to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. DFN was formally established in 1994, when a number of the grantmakers in the Funding Partnership decided that an affinity group would have a greater chance at longevity than a collaboration and would have the added advantage of enabling its members to focus on encouraging the foundation world to become more active in hiring people with disabilities as well as supporting disability issues with grants.
For four years, DFN was operated as a volunteer organization housed in and supported by The Dole Foundation for Employment of People with Disabilities, a public foundation well known to the national disability community for focusing on consumer-controlled programs supporting the economic and social advancement of people with disabilities. Focusing initially on raising the profile of disability funding, DFN was a major force behind a series of policy seminars co-sponsored with the Council on Foundations’ special project on Philanthropy and the Public Sector and began delivering sessions at the council’s annual conferences.
When the Dole Foundation closed in 1998, DFN’s board of directors committed to sustaining the organization and create a formal organizational structure. In 2005, DFN was incorporated as a 501(c)(3).
With the signing of a new U.N. Convention to Protect People with Disabilities, the disability rights movement is burgeoning. At the same time, US philanthropy is growing: more than $6 trillion in private wealth will be donated over the next 50 years. New ways to educate and connect philanthropy continue to proliferate: grantmaker associations, affinity groups, funder networks, giving circles, social venture partnerships and Internet web portals are just some of these mechanisms.
DFN occupies a unique position as the only national organization focused on promoting the inclusion of disability issues in grantmaking.