In 1999 funders fragmented by health or environmental interests connected over shared concerns that pollutants were harming people, wildlife, and ecosystems. HEFN was created to help funders connect, learn, and build philanthropy for an environmental health movement.
For HEFN's first decade, it was based at the Consultative Group on Biological Diversity (CGBD) and often partnered with other affinity groups. HEFN grew its lively funder community, their investments, and impact. By its 10th anniversary:
- More than 250 grantmakers were participating.
- Funders had collaborated to catalyze major campaigns on toxics and antibiotic resistance, as well as rapid response to communities affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
- Environmental health and justice grantmaking had expanded to over $65 million annually, enabling dramatic field growth, including in science, advocacy, and organizing.
In 2010 HEFN moved to more independent operations as a joint plan of work of Virginia Organizing. HEFN added a working group for funders concerned about impacts of fracking in 2011, complementing ongoing collaboration on chemicals and on environmental health and justice work in communities. In 2012 HEFN launched a membership structure, a blog, Giving Insight, and expanded uses of social media.