Generous Contractors Boost Foundation Funding Despite Economic Challenges

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Elaine Ervin Moss Adams J.R. Lunsford JKT Development Inc.

By Elaine Ervin President AGC Education Foundation and J.R. Lunsford Immediate Past President

In 1980 a group of thoughtful contractors created a means to focus the generous nature of those in the industry on the critical topic of education. Flash forward 30 years and the AGC Education Foundation is bucking national philanthropic trends.

Charitable giving by Americans fell 3.6 percent in 2009 according to a report by the Giving USA Foundation. And says the Chronicle of Philanthropy it looks like 2010 could end up being the toughest year in history for the nonprofit world. “By every measure 2010 could be far more painful for charities and the people they serve than any other they have known” says the magazine.

Thanks to those pioneering contractors and the many other industry professionals who have joined the effort in the last 30 years those statistics just don’t hold true for the AGC Education Foundation which was established by AGC members and serves the entire construction industry through education training outreach scholarships and grants.

This month we closed out the 2009/2010 fiscal year and despite the dire outlook for nonprofits generally the AGC Education Foundation’s Annual Fund revenues increased over last year by 26 percent. Our base of individual donors is up 55 percent and 23 percent of these donors increased their gift amount. Plus the foundation added its thirtieth named endowment ($25000) in honor of construction industry leader Jim Crutcher.

Why is it that with the economy in difficult straits that this foundation should be experiencing such an upswing in giving?

Part of the reason is successful outreach by Foundation staff. Another is the knowledge that no matter the current economic conditions the construction industry faces critical workforce challenges.

The aging of the construction industry labor force is well documented (nearly 50 years old on average) as is the difficulty of attracting young people into the trades. Equally important if less apparent from the outside is the need for more highly skilled employees in the management ranks – for example those who can take advantage of building information modeling technology who can comprehend the nuances of LEED certification and who understand the local implications of a global marketplace.

Our donors recognize these challenges and they are taking action. By supporting the foundation they are funding programs that pique the interest of school age children in satisfying and well-paying careers in construction trades. They are helping to fund the education of construction management college students while they are expanding construction management programs at CWU WSU and UW. They fund continuing education courses to keep the current workforce at the leading edge. Plus they are innovating new approaches like a pilot program in Bellingham that teaches math to high school students through real-world construction applications. Not only are the math scores of students in the program improving dramatically but the students are now more likely to explore construction careers and be better skilled when they do.

Tackling practical problems with practical solutions is what contractors do. It’s in their DNA. In our experience there are other aspects of contractors’ nature that spur the expansion of the AGC Education Foundation: their generous spirit and strong belief in giving back. As original and still active Board member Allan Osberg puts it “The industry has been very good to my company and me so I do what I can. Every company that has any kind of success owes a debt to the industry in a way that promotes it and improves it.”

Thanks to all the donors who made this 30th Anniversary another year of positive change for the construction industry!

Elaine Ervin is a Partner with Moss Adams LLP. J.R. Lunsford is President of JKT Development Inc.