Biogen Idec Foundation: Boston Area Grants

OVERVIEW: Biogen Idec Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the Cambridge-based drug maker by the same name. The foundation gives to benefit the communities it operates in, primarily in North Carolina and Massachusetts. The funder has made huge grants to Boston’s Museum of Science for an elaborate biotechnology exhibits. Boston science centers and informal education programs should definitely have this funder on their radars.

IP TAKE: As the corporation has seen some recent growth following a boost in revenue, the foundation has also ramped up giving. It has also solidified its focus on science education programs, making grants very big and very small.

PROFILE: The Biogen Idec Foundation stepped into the big leagues of Boston philanthropy by pledging a $2.5 million grant to Boston’s Museum of Science, the largest since the foundation started in 2001. That was a big step up, as the largest grant before that, also to the Museum of Science, was a $1 million pledge. Prior to that, the large majority of the foundation’s grants were in the range of $5,000 to $50,000, with the occasional six-figure exception. 

From those numbers, we can conclude two things for sure—the foundation is increasing its giving, and it loves the Museum of Science.

But the museum is far from its only beneficiary. The foundation gives to a lot of institutions and organizations through an employee matching program, but also funds a large list of small-to-medium-sized grants that totaled about $1.6 million in a recent year. The mission of the foundation has been stated as“improving the quality of people’s lives and contributing to the vitality of the communities where we operate, with a special emphasis on innovative ways to promote science literacy and encourage young people to consider science careers.” The stated communities they support are San Diego, Cambridge and greater Boston, and Durham and Raleigh. But giving in California appears to have waned, so they now mostly support projects in North Carolina and Massachusetts.

This M.O. is fairly similar those of many science and tech company foundations. For one thing, most corporate foundations have missions to serve the communities in which they do business, being a good corporate neighbor and all that. And STEM education funding is driven by the need for a vibrant young generation of people going into the field.

The large museum grants satisfy both of those missions, but they are also great for the image and brand of Biogen Idec. Its $2.5 million grant will support an exhibit that highlights the state’s leadership in cutting-edge biotechnology, and the exhibit’s main hub will now carry the company name—not a bad thing to be associated with if you’re a biotechnology firm. Corporate foundations love these kinds of grants because they help the community while making the corporation appear a bit less scary. This one shows off the kind of fancy work Biogen Idec does.

Past partnerships include the World Biotech Tour, the Swiss Science Center Tecnorama, Citizen Schools, and the Biomedical Science Careers Program. This is also a funder that supports human service causes for children and their families in the communities that Biogen operates.

Their work is fairly fancy. The company has a strong presence in Boston/Cambridge, but it’s a global biotechnology firm, known for developing therapies for cancer, neurological disorders and autoimmune disorders. They recently had a breakthrough on a drug for treatment of multiple sclerosis, which has been a big boost for the company. 

That kind of success suggests the million-dollar-plus grants might not be isolated incidents, despite the fact that the partnership with the museum is a particularly good fit. 

There are few initiatives and trends to note regarding Biogen Idec's funding:

  • First, a lot of the grants they make are employee-matching grants. The foundation matches up to $5,000 gifts to universities and colleges, totaling more than $150,000 in 2012.
  • The have a “Micro-Grants” program that provides $250-$2,500 to schools and nonprofits to boost science education.
  • Teach for America recently received a grant of $100,000.
  • The foundation loves museums and informal science programming, and not just the big museum in Boston. They also give to the Museum of Life and Science in Raleigh and the Harvard Museum of Natural History. The foundation supports science fairs like the Cambridge Science Festival and after school programs like the Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA.

The foundation used to give general K-12 education, homelessness, and arts & culture grants to Boston organizations as well. However, that given has taken a backseat, at least for now. Giving is exclusively focused on the U.S. grants program for STEM education, the international grants program for STEM education, the Ignite the Power of STEM Grants Program to support STEM teachers and schools, and an employee matching program.

    To approach the foundation for support, start by reading IP’s profile of executive director Kara DiGiacomo, linked below. The foundation website also accepts online proposals, following an eligibility quiz.

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