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Following the death of J. N. "Ding" Darling in 1962, his family, friends, and admirers gathered in Des Moines, Iowa. Their task was to determine how best to perpetuate "Ding's" forceful leadership in conservation and conservation education.

Those gathered initiated the J. N. "Ding" Darling Foundation, which received its IRS Section 501(c)(3) approval letter in 1963. The Foundation's Board of Trustees represented a broad national constituency. Among the founding Trustees were former Presidents Eisenhower and Truman, as well as experienced educators, publishers, artists, business executives and conservationists.

The founders made an early decision to accomplish the work of the Foundation by relying on trustees and volunteers. Utilizing the experience of its trustees and attracting dedicated volunteers, the Darling Foundation avoided the necessity of paid staff. Since income from its modest endowment covered its low overhead, the Foundation was able to put virtually all contributions received directly into its operating projects. The Foundation supported the J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, supplied teaching materials for conservation education, and published a CD containing 6,800 of Ding's editorial cartoons.

In 2006, having accomplished the goals that the original trustees had set, the J. N. "Ding" Darling Foundation was dissolved. The Foundation issued challenge grants to three primary conservation organizations with which it had worked for many decades and in which it had the utmost confidence. Those three organizations were the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society, the Iowa National Heritage Foundation, and the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. All three organizations successfully met their challenges, and "Ding" Darling Conservation Education Fund endowments totaling nearly $700,000 were established to continue Darling's work in conservation education. Lesser challenges and grants were made to the Iowa Environmental Council, the Friends of the Prairie Learning Center, the Cowles Library at Drake University, the Brunnier Gallery and Museum at Iowa State University, Special Collections at the University of Iowa Library, and the National Wildlife Refuge Association.

In addition to cash disbursements, the J. N. "Ding" Darling Foundation assigned its copyrights and trademarks to the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society at the "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, 1 Wildlife Drive, Sanibel, FL 33957.