Saving tax shouldn’t be reason to donate: Bronfman

Charles Bronfman, left, displays his “heartfelt” award from the Jewish Community Foundation with its outgoing executive director, Robert Kleinman.

MONTREAL — Philanthropy shouldn’t only be about making donations, Charles Bronfman says. If you want to give to charities in a significant way, do so with conviction and manage your giving like a business, he advised.

Bronfman, chair of Andrea & Charles Bronfman Philanthropies Inc., which annually provides multimillion-dollar support to causes in the United States, Canada and Israel, made a rare public appearance in his native Montreal on Sept. 3. He was honoured as Man of the Year by the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal (JCF) at its 42nd annual general meeting.

“If you’re just giving money because some tax accountant says it’s a good idea, you’re wasting your time,” Bronfman said in conversation with Marvin Corber, a longtime friend and, incidentally, a chartered accountant.

“Do something more noble; help your community, and that can be defined as your street, your country, the world – and it can be on a small or large basis,” Bronfman said.

Corber noted that Bronfman and his Peruvian-born wife, Rita Salomon, whom he married a year ago, are spending more time in Montreal, where she has lived for many years. The couple divide their time between New York, where he moved in 1996, Palm Beach, Fla., Israel and here.

Bronfman, co-author of two books on philanthropy, also advised running one’s charitable giving as a business by setting goals and measuring results.

And, he added, “self-audit. If you go to someone outside, they are going to want to come back, to be rehired. They’re not going to say you did something terrible.”

Bronfman, who retired from a 50-year career with The Seagram Co. Ltd., wrote with Jeffrey Solomon The Art of Giving: Where the Soul Meets a Business Plan in 2010 and The Art of Doing Good, published last year.

While the first addressed the concerns of major-league donors, the latter profiles 18 individuals who started with little or nothing, and in some instances, had known personal tragedy and created thriving programs around the world helping others. Bronfman calls them “social entrepreneurs.”

Bronfman, the co-founder of Birthright Israel, also stressed the necessity of being passionate about whatever cause one takes on.

Bronfman, a past president of Federation CJA’s forerunner Allied Jewish Community Services, paid tribute to the late Arthur Pascal, founding JCF president, whom he described as having been his mentor in community involvement.

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 Andrea & Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, which he and his late wife founded in 1985, will wind down in 2016. Bronfman promised he “will not fade away,” but will continue to try to persuade donors and recipients to take philanthropy “very seriously.”

The programs started by his foundation were designed to eventually be able to stand on their own two feet, he said.

“I will not take on any new projects,” he added. “Sorry about that, folks.”

Regarding philanthropy as serious business doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, he said. On the contrary, Bronfman believes in doing what you love.

“If you’re going to do this kind of work, whether professionally or as a volunteer, do your investigation, decide what turns you on, enjoy it to the fullest. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to fight, but have a lot of fun.”

Bronfman commented that how much money the JCF manages today “blew my mind.”

Treasurer Michael Etinson reported that, as of March 31, the end of its fiscal year, JCF’s assets were $344 million, up from $286 million the year before. That was achieved in part through contributions of over $38 million.

A record $29 million was distributed to charities over the year.

It was also announced that longtime JCF executive director Robert Kleinman is stepping down, but will continue to work in donor relations.

His successor, Kathy Assayag, is working part time this year, and will become full-time executive director next year. She is a former Concordia University vice-president for advancement and alumni affairs, and previously was Federation CJA’s campaign director.

The JCF’s new president, Brenda Gewurz, said the main goals of her two-year term are to continue to increase assets and strengthen JCF’s relationship with the federation.

Together, they will decide how to best use non-designated funds to benefit the community’s future, she said. “We are looking for creative initiatives to keep the next generation Jewishly engaged.”

Gewurz succeeds  Joel Segal.