The Donor: John Vellinga
The Gift: Co-founding the Waterloo Engineering Endowment Fund
The Reason: To finance projects for engineering students at the University of Waterloo
One day many years ago, John Vellinga and his buddy, Avi Belinsky, took a break from their engineering studies at Ontario’s University of Waterloo and headed to a campus pub for a beer. They started talking about government financing with some friends.
“Everybody was complaining about university under funding at the time,” Mr. Vellinga recalled.
The conversation turned to how universities in the United States use endowment funds as a key financial support. Those funds rely largely on donations from alumni, but Mr. Vellinga and Mr. Belinsky wondered if they could start an endowment that relied on donations from students.
“We thought, let’s get them started donating before they even leave,” Mr. Vellinga said.
“And we started thinking about setting up a student-controlled endowment fund where we would actually have students donate money while they were students and then have that money specifically earmarked just for undergrad equipment and education.”
They put down their beers, headed to a computer lab and drew up bylaws for the foundation. Within a year they had created the Waterloo Engineering Endowment Fund with each engineering student contributing a voluntary, tax-deductible fee, of $75 per term.
That was 21 years ago and today the endowment, the first of its kind in Canada, has grown to $10-million and has been used to finance improvements to laboratories and to buy computers and other equipment. The fund also contributed to the cost of a 20,000-square-foot Student Design Centre which opened last year and is used by students to build and test projects.
Mr. Vellinga graduated in 1991 and founded an Oakville, Ont., company called Multiculture Bevco Inc. But he is still involved with the foundation, which now contributes more money annually to campus improvements than it collects from students.
“It’s really quite amazing to see just how the original intent is still absolutely intact,” he said. “Sometimes these things kind of get hijacked over the years, but this is one of those times where it just is exactly what we meant it to be later.”