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Charles Bronfman winds down his philanthropic foundation

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Charles Bronfman
Charles Bronfman

The Andrea & Charles Bronfman Philanthropies (ACBP) has wound up most of its operations after three decades, as had long been planned.

Birthright Israel, which it co-founded in 1998, is probably the best known of the innovative programs it supported and developed.

The New York-based charity is not entertaining any new requests for funding, and during 2016 – its final year – it’s limiting its activity to meeting previous grant commitments and monitoring how grants are used.

Over its history, ACBP has given out more than $340 million (US) to some 1,820 organizations, and employs a staff of 85.

The end of ACBP, founded by Charles Bronfman and his late wife, Andrea, has been carefully choreographed and, in fact, was envisaged from the day it was founded.
In 2001, the couple, with ACBP president Jeffrey Solomon, chose 2016 as the date by which the entire endowment would be distributed. This is the year Bronfman turns 85.

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In 2011, ACBP chair Bronfman and Solomon officially announced the final “spend down” over the next five years. Since then, the charity, with the outside consultants Cambridge Leadership Associations, has been working with the nine programs it operates, including Birthright, to ensure they can carry on.

Founded in 1985, ACBP (originally the Montreal-based CRB Foundation) had two main goals: to promote Canadian heritage and to “nurture the unity of the Jewish People, whose soul is in Jerusalem.” ACBP would in time also encompass Keren Kerev, the Bronfmans’ charitable foundation in Israel, whose goal was to improve the quality of life in that country.

The Bronfmans moved to New York in 1998. Birthright now operates independently, as, in varying degrees, the eight other programs “incubated” by ACBP do.

In Canada, these are Historica Canada, founded in 2000 and noted for its televised Heritage Minutes, and the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada in 1994.

The newest program is the U.S.-based Slingshot, started in 2005, which has the goal of nurturing the next generation of Jewish philanthropists.

Throughout its history, Bronfman Philanthropies has been hands-on in nurturing its core investments, providing not only money, but also administrative and inspirational guidance. It has always emphasized innovation and even experimentation, but has expected its beneficiaries to strive to ultimately stand on their own.

Major grant recipients in Canada included the University of Toronto’s chair in Israeli studies (1997), the National Gallery of Canada (2002) for the creation of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Canadian Art Fund, and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (2006) in Winnipeg, which opened in 2014.

The Charles Bronfman Prize was established in 2004, through an endowment from his two children, which awards $100,000 (US) each year to an outstanding Jewish humanitarian under age 50.

Among other recipients of major grants have been Brandeis University, the Brookings Institution and the Israel Museum.

One extraordinary ACBP project was The Gift of New York, a response to 9/11 that offered free cultural and sports venue entrance to families of victims.

Andrea’s accidental death in 2006 gave further impetus to the ACBP’s winding up. Her passing “robbed the foundation of her unique blend of focus, energy and street smarts, which so positively impacted our work,” Bronfman and Solomon said in their 2011 announcement.

But the couple had years earlier realized that “their philanthropic interests were an expression of their own particular values, experiences and interests, and therefore ACBP should phase out its grant-making as they began to anticipate entering a less engaged chapter of their own lives.”

They also believed that their children should be free to pursue their own philanthropic interests.

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Bronfman and Solomon emphasize that the end of ACBP does not mean the end of Bronfman’s philanthropy or Solomon’s professional support. “We will still be active donors, but without the infrastructure and support built over the years.”

He says he will carry on with his philanthropy, but “without all the overhead,” and continue his interest, in particular, in Birthright. But he emphasized he won’t “take on anything new, certainly nothing major. I can’t afford it.” He takes great pleasure in his children’s “doing their own thing” in philanthropy today.

In 2012, Bronfman signed the Giving Pledge, an initiative of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, in which the richest Americans promise to give more than half of their wealth to philanthropy during or after their lifetimes.

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