Bronfman promises to donate half of fortune

MONTREAL — Billionaire Charles Bronfman has promised to give away at least half of his fortune.

He is the second Canadian, after his elder brother, Edgar, to join the Giving Pledge, a movement begun two years ago by multibillionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to persuade the super-rich to be significantly more philanthropic.

Members must commit to donating at least 50 per cent of their wealth to charitable causes.

Bronfman, 81, who has lived in New York for about 15 years, is now on the list of 92 wealthy American individuals. Bronfman has never become an American citizen.

Edgar Bronfman, a U.S. and Canadian citizen, earlier joined the movement.

Canadian Business magazine, in its 2011 ranking of the wealthiest Canadians, put Bronfman’s worth at $2.37 billion. An heir of the Seagram’s distillery fortune, Bronfman’s principal business interests today are in the entertainment conglomerate Vivendi and in investing.

The foundation he and his late wife, Andrea, founded in 1986 will close in 2016, he writes in his letter on the Giving Pledge website.

“My children [Stephen of Montreal and Ellen Hauptman of New York and London] have their own foundations and philanthropy interests, as it should be. And I had and have no intent to ‘rule from the grave.’ My philanthropy will continue on a personal basis.”

Bronfman, the son of Samuel Bronfman, writes that philanthropy is “in the DNA of my family” and his own efforts began early.

At 17, he started canvassing for the United Jewish Appeal.

“I collected 50 cents from 20 peers in poor Jewish area of Montreal. While I knew I could easily pay the $10 myself and claim it came from them, I relished meeting those who were in lesser circumstances and yet still wanted to participate in helping others.”

The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies (ACBP) was created to support innovative projects designed to enhance Canadian identity and Jewish identity and unity, as well as informal education in Israel. Donations are supplementary to the couple’s regular philanthropic giving.

Among the projects the foundation has helped initiate are the Canadian heritage television spots and Birthright Israel, which organizes free trips to Israel for young Jews.

Andrea Bronfman died in 2006.

Steps are being taken to ensure the many projects ACBP incubated will carry on.