Presidents' Council of the Disability & Philanthropy Forum

Five professionals sit around a well set dinner table. They are deep in discussion.
Members of the Presidents’ Council at the 2023 meeting

Five years ago, the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation joined a peer community of top foundation executives who recognized that disability inclusion is critical to solving some of society’s most critical human rights, social justice, and health equity challenges. For the Neilsen Foundation, inclusion is one of our core values and our involvement with the Presidents’ Council pushed us to ask what else we can do to support the disability community? The impact has been a two-way street. Since joining the Presidents’ Council in 2019, we have been able to share our experiences working with the spinal cord injury (SCI) community. We have also had the opportunity to collaborate with our philanthropic colleagues, which has expanded our thinking of what it means to build a culture of inclusion and to increase leadership and participation of disabled people in philanthropy. Our involvement has influenced our grantmaking philosophy far more than we anticipated.

We believe that a key way for the Neilsen Foundation to learn and grow is through collaboration—sharing both information and viewpoints. The Presidents’ Council quickly came to a similar conclusion, with members prioritizing dialog and supporting the development of the Disability & Philanthropy Forum. The Forum emerged with the goal of sharing information and advancing the long-term vision to help the philanthropic sector integrate disability rights seamlessly into its agenda. It was exciting when the Forum announced its mission to mobilize philanthropy to dismantle ableism by increasing funding for disability inclusion, rights, and justice; amplifying the leadership of disabled people in the philanthropic sector; and educating philanthropy to build a culture of inclusion.

Another priority of the Council is the Disability Inclusion Fund, which provides funding for organizations run by and for people with disabilities. The first grants were made in 2020 and the Fund has since supported 72 disability-led groups for a total of $9.4 million. These grants celebrate work that creates and uplifts the representation of people with disabilities in the arts, media, education, community, and popular culture. To learn more about funding opportunities, visit their website.

Partnership is important to the Neilsen Foundation and over the last five years our involvement with partners on the Presidents’ Council has helped evaluate our processes and identify ways to better engage with the disability community. We have expanded our funding to build capacity for organizations that benefit the SCI community, built opportunities for those with disabilities to participate more fully in research, developed a more accessible Neilsen Foundation website, and increased support of educational programs for students with SCI.

Being more inclusive has required intentional decision making, the allocation of time, and dedication of resources. It’s not an overnight shift and will likely need ongoing attention to ensure our practices match our objectives. We hope those in the philanthropic sector realize that they are not alone in this disability inclusion journey. No matter where you are on your journey, there is no idea too big or too small if it represents progress. Every action step forward is meaningful. Start now. Let’s do this together.