ARS History
& Awards

History of the ARS Endowment Fund

There was need for a fund which could be used for research, promotion, and recognition or to in any way advance the cause of rhododendron growing in any part of North America.  Accordingly the Directors of the American Rhododendron Society, on March 8, 1959 voted to set up a fund to be known as the Rhododendron Foundation and to solicit gifts and bequests.  The interest from this fund would be used as designated above, and the principal would be drawn upon only in case of very urgent need.  Contributions to this fund could be made in memory of individuals, or simply as an evidence of interest in its objectives.  However it does not appear that this fund ever developed.

In 1976, the ARS Research Foundation was started as an endowment fund to stimulate rhododendron related research.  The remarkable success of the ARS Research Foundation was noted both within the ARS itself and by other plant societies.

In 1984, President Janet Binford announced that another endowment fund was being established.  This foundation was known by the name of ARS Foundation.  As a result the Society now had two foundations.  It was generally agreed that this fund should be endowed for the purpose of assuring our ability to print publications and provide education about the genus Rhododendron.

Some even felt it could provide an avenue to ward off dues increases forever, and opted to launch a campaign to have $1 million in the fund by 1995, marking our 50th anniversary.  However, at that time, the idea of asking members for donations above their dues commitment or otherwise soliciting for the newly proposed endowment fund brought general disfavor.

By 1995, with less than $70,000 in the fund, the income from the endowment had sometimes been used for operating expenses to help balance the budget.  In 1998 the Board of Directors took action to formally cancel the million-dollar campaign and use the income from the fund for Society needs.

In 2000, the Society received a $320,000 bequest from Dr. John Swisher.  Dr. Swisher had left the money unrestricted to the Society for the "benefit of mankind and the quality of life on our planet," [3] but nothing more specific than that.

At its April 2002 meeting in Atlanta, the Board of Directors established a grant program to assist in fostering the Society's purpose of encouraging "the culture of rhododendrons, including azaleas, and the increase of the general understanding of and interest in all aspects of these plants." [3]  This included support of the Society 's educational and publishing activities.  Up until then, the ARS had not utilized its endowment funds, in large part due to the small amount of income produced.  Previously the Board took the position of having the principal grow before considering any disbursements.  However, as a result of board action taken in April, the earned income generated each year in excess of inflation could be available for use.  This precedent setting event would help chapters and committees with a variety of projects and programs.

This change in position by the Board was the result of a $342,000 bequest received from the estate of Dr. John E. Swisher in 2000.  This gift was made without restriction so that the Board placed the funds into the Society's Endowment Fund to protect the principal.  The endowment fund was in excess of $540,000 and capable of producing significant income to benefit the ARS at large.

When money is given to the ARS Endowment Fund directly, but without specific instructions, the principal becomes a permanent part of a Restricted Endowment (General) Fund and is forever preserved.  The income is used to further projects of the Society, that qualify under the rules of the granting program, and as approved by the Board of Directors.  The Board affirmed at its fall 2003 meeting in Hyannis, MA, three distinct accounts within the Endowment Fund for which all donations may be specified:

Only a donor may restrict his or her donation on a permanent basis.  Many donors prefer to give to the Society without any restrictions, trusting that the Board will determine the best way to utilize the donation.  The Swisher bequest was given in this spirit.

Generally, only large sums of money given to the Endowment Fund will be accepted for other donor restricted uses, as these restrictions impose a great deal of administrative detail and special accounting.

In 2002, Jeffrey Cheyne wrote an appeal in the JARS for help in endowing the ARS.  He listed the methods available to contribute to the Endowment Fund, General Fund, or the Research Fund:

The main advantage of planned giving was that it resulted in tax advantages that maximized the total of the gift to the ARS plus the amount provided to beneficiaries.

In 2002 a grant application procedure was developed by the Endowment Committee and approved by the Board of Directors.  The first grant applications were accepted in 2003.  Five grant applications were received, and four grants awarded to chapters and affiliated groups to further education in the form of public gardens and publication development.

In 2003, $12,800 was distributed as follows:

By August 31, 2013, the ARS Endowment Fund had grown to $803,765 in net assets.  During the first eleven years, the Endowment Committee awarded a total of 27 grants totaling $68,184. [7]  The following is a listing of awards by date:








No grants were awarded due to insufficient endowment income





At its fall 2014 meeting in Everett Washington, the ARS Board approved a revised Society budget for 2014-15, including reducing funds from both publishing the journal and in the administration expenses of the Society.  These were difficult steps to take, but the Board realized that it needed to take drastic action in order to bring expenditures in line with income.  Part of the action taken included the elimination of the Endowment Grant Program and to use endowment income to support the operation of the Society.  This was deemed necessary, and our awarding of grants was temporarily suspended to allow endowment funds to be available for other uses.








  1. "Two Rhododendron Funds Established"; (no author); QBARS V13, N3; July 1959.
  2. "A History of the ARS Research Foundation"; by August E. Kehr and Alfred S. Martin; JARS V55, N2; Spring 2001.
  3. "The ARS Establishes A Grant Program"; by William Mangels; JARS V56, N3; Summer 2002.
  4. "Help Endow the ARS"; by Jeffrey Cheyne; JARS V56, N4; Fall 2002.
  5. "The Endowment Fund–Building a Solid Foundation for the ARS"; by Bill Mangels; JARS V58, N1; Winter 2004.
  6. "ARS Board of Directors Meeting Agenda"; by Kath Collier; ARS; May 15, 2014.
  7. "The ARS Endowment Fund"; Bill Mangels; (unpublished); March 5, 2015.

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