Search Member Login Accessibility Options

Resource Library

“Nothing About Us, Without Us” is Beginning to Take Hold in Philanthropy

by Emily Harris, Outgoing Executive Director, Disability & Philanthropy Forum
May 30, 2024

As my time as the executive director of the Disability & Philanthropy Forum comes to a close, there’s so much to reflect on that makes me truly proud of the work we do. From our amazing team of professionals who all identify as disabled; to our report underscoring the urgency of heeding the disability community’s long held critique of philanthropy’s exclusion of disability in grantmaking, to the nearly 90 signatories of our Disability Inclusion Pledge; to our strategic plan, which clearly articulates our mission to dismantle ableism across the philanthropic sector.

Beyond these accomplishments and milestones, three recent observations illustrate the impact of the Forum.

  • Staff from the MacArthur Foundation who have attended our Celebrating Disability Across Philanthropy (CDAP) employee resource group meetings recently shared with me that their conversations at CDAP encouraged them to create their own employee resource group. It is now growing, meeting regularly, and advising the foundation on building a more inclusive internal culture.
  • I had the opportunity to witness two philanthropy CEOs publicly disclose their own identities as members of the disability community during a recent webinar we hosted on the connections between LGBTQIA+ and Disability Funding. The original idea behind our webinar series was that if we asked foundation CEOs to learn publicly from disabled leaders with lived experience and expertise on issues they cared about, an even broader audience would join them on the journey.  But frankly, I didn’t imagine that our moderators would start to come forward with disability identity stories of their own.
  • The Chicago Community Trust Disabilities Fund Advisory Board call for nominations announced in May that “the Fund’s strategic and operational direction and grants decision-making will be led by activists representing different segments of the disability community in the metropolitan Chicago area.” [Emphasis mine.]

These stories are powerful evidence of the change that is starting to take hold in the philanthropic sector.  More and more people in philanthropy are finally listening to and implementing  the disability community’s rallying call, “Nothing About Us, Without Us.” Incorporating this message is key to advancing the Forum’s north star of increased disability leadership in the philanthropic sector and expanded disability grantmaking. 

We’ve advanced the conversation around disability inclusion in philanthropy in so many ways.  We’ve brought a focus to disability inclusion at conferences for the sector. We’ve created spaces for open and honest conversation in our three peer networks. We’ve created a robust library of original resources to support philanthropy on the disability learning journey.

Our vision looks ahead to a time when the philanthropic sector will embrace a strong culture of inclusion, with leadership from disabled CEOs, board members, and employees.  When I became part of this work in late 2019/early 2020, I knew of only one philanthropy CEO who publicly claimed their disability identity. Within a year, I knew of two. Now, I can think of six, and that is just in my own small circle. On the same timeline, the number of registrants for our CDAP employee resource group meetings has steadily increased. And so many employees who attend our training workshops and conference sessions express joy and relief at hearing us talk about experiences that resonate with them. 

These changes may seem small but I am encouraged that they will snowball. I look forward to seeing many more philanthropic leaders and staff recognize that disability is a natural part of the human experience, and seeing more leaders begin to embrace their own disability identities. I am hopeful that philanthropic leaders will increasingly seek disabled activists to lead across their foundations, advisory groups, and boards. And as philanthropy embraces the leadership of disabled people within its walls, I look forward to seeing foundations increasingly apply a disability lens to transform programs, investments, and lives.