Posted on Jan 24, 2011
John M Grau
One of the more satisfying things in life is to create something. Sometimes that’s in the form of taking an idea and turning it into reality. Seeing others accept and even embrace what you helped create is most satisfying of all.
I just returned from a meeting of the ELECTRI Council in Scottsdale, Arizona, where our 21-year-old foundation went about its work of selecting research projects for the coming year. I’m proud of what the foundation is accomplishing, and I can’t help but think back to how it all started.
In 1986, then NECA Director of Services Bob Wilkinson came to me with the idea of starting a foundation to fund research for NECA. I was in my first year as CEO and I realized this had the potential for a big impact on NECA. Bob convinced me of both the need for research conducted specifically for our industry and of using the foundation structure to assure a steady source of funding. The next step was to get buy-in from NECA members.
Since Bob was a member of the Academy of Electrical Contractor and the staff person assigned to one of their committees looking at the future, I suggested that he run the idea by them. If the Academy, made up of our industry’s best and brightest, endorsed the concept, we might leverage that into overall support from the Executive Committee and Board of Governors.
Wilkinson sold the idea and we put the basic foundation structure together. Then the challenge was how to fund it. My idea was that NECA would contribute one million dollars from its reserves, and we would raise another million from members. To show donors what we could do, we produced some early research reports that NECA paid for but we labeled as foundation studies. We put NECA Marketing Director Lew Tagliaferre in charge of the foundation and these first research efforts.
To raise funds, Lew thought we needed professional fundraising help. I was concerned about the cost of hiring a consultant, but Lew was persistent. At the NECA convention that year, he brought in fundraiser Charlie Fazio to meet me. Charlie had visions of a bigger endowment than I had ever imagined. He presented a strategy of how it could be done.
We hired Charlie and, a couple months later, he and I flew to Jacksonville, Florida, to meet with former NECA President Buck Autrey. We left that meeting with our first $100,000 pledge. The Electrical Contracting Foundation was born.
The endowment that I originally envisioned as $2 million, and Charlie saw as $7 million, now stands at $13 million. Electrical manufacturers, NECA chapters, and individual members have contributed to the endowment’s growth. Extraordinary gifts where provided by Square D/Schneider, Al Wendt, Dick McBride, and Buzz Allison.
In addition to the seed money to start the operation, NECA itself continues to be the foundation’s biggest supporter. Since its founding, ELECTRI has spent over $24 million on programs and operations. Over $ 9 million of that amount has come directly from NECA’s coffers. In 1990, NECA provided 93% of ELECTRI’s budget. This year it’s around 37%.
That’s not money that NECA’s giving away. Like the other major contributors to the foundation, NECA sees its contribution as an investment. The fate of our industry – members, suppliers, chapters, the NECA organization, and the foundation – are intertwined and inseparable.
The foundation for our success was conceived 25 years ago. Today we can’t imagine it any other way.