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Nancy Rosenfeld retiring from Bronfman foundation

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Nancy Rosenfeld

The guard is changing at the Claudine and Stephen Bronfman Family Foundation (CSBFF), which gives millions of dollars a year to a variety of causes, with founding executive director Nancy Rosenfeld on her way out.

Rosenfeld, who’s been at the helm for 20 years, is retiring at the end of 2018. Clarence Epstein, who has held senior posts at Concordia University for two decades, became her successor on Jan. 15.

Although it is a “fabulous job,” Rosenfeld says that she wants to start her “third act” sooner rather than later. She gave the Bronfmans two years’ notice, which will allow her to stay on until her replacement is fully oriented.

The CSBFF represents the third generation of Bronfman family philanthropy in Canada. It is, in a sense, the successor to the Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Family Foundation (SSBFF), which was started by Stephen Bronfman’s grandparents in 1952 and was wound down 10 years ago, as well as the Andrea & Charles Bronfman Philanthropies (ACBP), his father and stepmother’s main charitable vehicle, which ceased operations in 2016.

Rosenfeld started working with the ACBP as its vice-president for Canadian affairs. A year later, in 1999, Stephen Bronfman, who was still single at the time, launched the Stephen R. Bronfman Foundation.

With his marriage to Claudine and the arrival of their children, that foundation morphed into the CSBFF in 2009.

At one point, Rosenfeld was juggling three posts, after taking over the SSBFF in 2004.

Heading the foundation of such a famous family was challenging in the early years, as she was flooded with requests from causes, big and small, from across the country and beyond.

Today, the parameters of the CSBFF are well established. It allocates about $5-million annually to “select projects” related to the environment, culture, entrepreneurship, Jewish identity and Israel advocacy, with a focus on Quebec and Montreal.

The CSBFF is a “flow-through” foundation, meaning that, unlike an endowed foundation, it has no assets. Instead, its budget is drawn up each year, Rosenfeld explained. “We are in projects for the long term,” she said, often in partnership with government or non-profit organizations.

Allocations fall into two broad categories: strategic and civic. The first represents the priorities of Claudine and Stephen Bronfman, the foundation’s co-chairs, and are mostly their initiatives. Notably, these include the PME Fund, which provides seed money to young Jewish entrepreneurs and scholarships for emerging Quebec business people, and fellowships for contemporary artists. The organization also has a long-standing relationship with the David Suzuki Foundation.

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The strategic giving also encompasses the Bronfmans’ Jewish philanthropy, with money going to Combined Jewish Appeal and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

The “civic” expresses the Bronfmans’ recognition of their responsibilities as leaders in Montreal, Quebec and Canada, Rosenfeld said. Although CSBFF does not regularly contribute to health care (except the Jewish General Hospital) or education, it contributes to major capital campaigns, such as those for the McGill University Health Centre and the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal super-hospitals, as well as Centraide. Stephen Bronfman is, in fact, a chair of Centraide’s 2018 Montreal campaign.

A major part of Rosenfeld’s duties has been to represent the Bronfmans at numerous events, both inside and outside the Jewish community. She had good training for this diplomatic role from 1995 to 1998, when she was a special adviser to Montreal Mayor Pierre Bourque.

An occupational therapist by training, Rosenfeld worked in a variety of fields, including as a probation officer and a CEGEP teacher, before getting her first job in the Jewish community, with Jewish Family Services. She was Federation CJA’s director of planning and allocations, and then the first female executive director of the YM-YWHA.

In her current post, she’s in touch with Claudine and Stephen Bronfman every day, but they have given her plenty of space.

“The foundation’s interests dovetail with my own, so it has never felt like work,” she said. She and her administrative assistant have been the CSBFF’s only permanent staff members and Rosenfeld also sits on the five-member board of directors.

One of her first projects with Stephen Bronfman, and one of the most memorable, was travelling to the Arctic to launch the Trans Canada Trail. His foundation sponsored the interpretive panels on fauna and flora that are posted along the cross-country route.

Other standouts include escorting one of the last groups of Jews out of Ethiopia and attending the 2016 international conference that resulted in the Paris agreement on climate change.

Retirement is not really what Rosenfeld has in mind. “I have nothing lined up, but people are calling and I’m doing a lot of thinking. I may do some consulting in strategic philanthropy – helping people with impactful giving, showing them how they can get pleasure out of it,” she said.

“Then I might do volunteer work at the other end, with people who have nothing, maybe overseas.”

Epstein has lots of experience in cultural and heritage matters. Most recently, he was Concordia University’s senior director of urban and cultural affairs, and previously served as the director of special projects in the office of its president.

He has headed the Concordia-based Max Stern Art Restitution Project since its launch in 2002 and will continue his association with the international effort to recover Nazi-appropriated artworks for the time being.

“We are very grateful for Nancy’s leadership, wisdom, friendship and dedication to our family and to the foundation,” Claudine and Stephen Bronfman stated in a press release. “We wish her all the best in the next stage of her life.”

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