IEEE Foundation Celebrates 40 Years of Giving

The philanthropic arm is also preparing for the future

15 November 2013

The IEEE Foundation’s financial support for noteworthy efforts over the past four decades has been felt around the world. It has funded the recognition by IEEE of such technical milestones as the development of the first electric battery in Como, Italy; educational initiatives like the IEEE Teacher In-Service Program in Cape Town, South Africa, humanitarian-technology projects such as the construction of a laptop-charging system for a rural school in Haiti; and awards that celebrate the extraordinary contributions of engineers like Gordon Moore.

While the foundation has raised millions over the years to support such good deeds, there is more to be done. That’s why the foundation’s board commissioned a study in 2012 to assess how it could become a more effective fundraiser, toward the goal of having even greater impact through IEEE projects it supports.

This year the foundation board worked on implementing the improvements suggested by the study and plans to roll out changes in 2014.

40-YEAR EFFORT

The foundation was established in 1973 to support the scientific and educational purposes of IEEE. Initially, it accepted and administered charitable donations to fund IEEE awards. It soon expanded its scope to fund educational, historical-preservation, and peer-recognition programs. In 2009, it began supporting technology-based projects for underserved communities.

Like any philanthropic organization, the foundation depends on the generosity of donors, which include individuals, companies, and IEEE organizational units. In 1989, for example, it received about US $4 million from the Trusts of Alfred and Gertrude Goldsmith. Alfred Goldsmith was one of the founders of the Institute of Radio Engineers, a predecessor society of IEEE, and a member of the IRE Board of Directors for 51 years.

In 1998, the foundation’s fortunes enjoyed another step-function improvement when the IEEE Board of Directors donated the $7.6 million it received from the sale of the United Engineering Center building, in New York City.

In 2012 the foundation was managing and investing a total of $35.3 million through about 130 funds, including funds that support programs related to historical preservation and education. These include the IEEE Milestones in Electrical Engineering and Computing and the IEEE Presidents’ Scholarship, which is awarded to high schoolers who have carried out exceptional technical projects.

“What better time than now to build on our past accomplishments and to create an even more inspired future?” asks Leah Jamieson, president of the IEEE Foundation and the 2007 IEEE president.

THE BIG THREE

For Jamieson, three of the foundation’s greatest accomplishments over the past 40 years have been its establishment of an endowment fund for the IEEE History Center, the IEEE Awards Program, and (a rather recent one) a scholarship in 2011 to encourage students to pursue careers in power engineering. 

 “The History Center is very important to many IEEE members and to people in the profession,” she says. “We want to continue to build it not only as a preserver of history but also as a learning resource.”

Recognizing accomplishments through the IEEE Awards Program, says Jamieson, “is essential to having a thriving, healthy, and forward-looking global community.” The foundation supports many of the awards given by IEEE organizational units and specifically sponsors three directly: IEEE’s highest award, its Medal of Honor; the IEEE Founder’s Medal; and the IEEE Haraden Pratt Award.

The Medal of Honor is presented to an individual for an exceptional contribution or an extraordinary career in the IEEE fields of interest. The Founder’s Medal recognizes outstanding contributions in the leadership, planning, and administration of affairs of great value to the electrical and electronics engineering profession. And the Haraden Pratt Award, named after a noted electrical engineer, radio pioneer, and former IEEE director, recognizes dedicated and distinguished service to IEEE.

POWERFUL ATTRACTION

According to Jamieson, the IEEE Power & Energy Society first developed a compelling case and then partnered with the foundation to create and execute a development plan to raise funds for the multimillion-dollar PES Scholarship Plus Initiative, which was established in 2010. The initiative encourages electrical engineering undergrads to pursue careers in power engineering by awarding them scholarships and providing career-learning experiences during their last three years in college. The initiative is designed to head off the dire shortage of expertise in power and energy anticipated during the next decade, when about half the estimated 7000 engineers in the field in the United States are expected to retire. In 2012 the program awarded $486 000 in scholarships to 228 students. Since it began, 549 scholarships have been distributed.

“The fund-raising goal for the scholarship fund is $10 million,” she says. “We are more than halfway there, having raised over $5.2 million in contributions.”

FOCUSED FUNDRAISING

The study commissioned by the IEEE Foundation in 2012 surveyed donors, foundation board members, and IEEE’s Board of Directors for their opinions on how it could become a more effective fund-raiser.

Results showed that the foundation’s mission and vision needed clarification. It also noted that the relationship between IEEE and the IEEE Foundation had to be strengthened and that the foundation had to sharpen its focus on what to fund.

A task force composed of both boards’ members developed updated mission and vision statements, which will be presented to the foundation’s board at its November meeting. And the joint task force is continuing its work by looking into ways the two organizations can work together most effectively.

As to what to fund, the foundation is identifying what it calls signature programs. These will be projects falling under the rubrics of education or humanitarian technology that can have a big social impact. And they cannot just be done once and forgotten. Signature programs will also have to meet criteria showing that they are successful as the years pass.

 “These programs will be significant, will have a broad impact, and will inspire people to connect with the foundation and with IEEE,” Jamieson says. “They will provide compelling stories about the effect of our funds. These success stories will, in turn, help fuel further efforts. The goal is to increase the effectiveness of giving because the funds will be supporting programs that are, in the words of the IEEE’s tagline, ‘Advancing technology for humanity.’”

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