After years of giving away much of his fortune, Charles Bronfman decided it was time for a call-out to other members of the super-rich club.
Mr. Bronfman has joined the Giving Pledge, a high-profile movement of philanthropists, committing to channel most of his $2-billion fortune to charitable causes.
He adds his name to a list started two years ago by Microsoft mogul Bill Gates, his wife, Belinda, and billionaire investor Warren Buffett.
And he hopes his action <QL>will challenge others to do the same.
“You say, ‘Well, this can be an example to people who are giving, but not as much as they could,’ ” said Mr. Bronfman, whose father, Samuel, built the mighty Montreal-based Seagram booze empire.
“You might end up influenc-ing someone to say, ‘Why not me?’ ” Mr. Bronfman, 81, said in an interview on Tuesday after the Giving Pledge announced that he and 10 others are the latest to join its ranks.
A total of 92 individuals and couples are now on the Giving Pledge roster, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, blockbuster movie producer George Lucas and investor Carl Icahn.
While he refused to say he was urging other Canadians to step up, Mr. Bronfman stands out for being only the second Canadian on the list. His brother, Edgar, who preceded Charles in committing to the Giving Pledge, became a U.S. citizen years ago, but Charles says he remains a proud Canadian and never took out U.S. citizenship even though he has lived in New York for some time.
Forbes magazine ranked the Montreal-born Charles Bronfman in 2012 as the 13th-richest Canadian, with a net worth of about $2-billion (U.S.).
He is no longer active in business, but describes himself as a “hands-on” philanthropist. He launched a foundation in 1986 with his late wife, Andrea.
Among the causes are “the enhancement of Canadianism” via the Historica-Dominion Institute, producer of the now-famous Heritage minutes on television that highlight major events in Canadian history; and sponsoring free trips to Israel for young North American Jews.
Another cause is offering informal education to children in Israeli schools as a supplement to their regular curriculum.
Mr. Bronfman said he decided about 40 years ago, when he was at Seagram, to become a committed philanthropist.
“In my 40s – when I was giving to the Red Cross, United Jewish Appeal and other charities – I said to myself, this is all well and good but these are really amorphous things and maybe there are some causes out there that I really give a damn about,” he said.
That finally came true with the foundation The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, which has so far given about $325-million to some 1,700 organizations.
Mr. Bronfman – who has a book called The Art of Giving, co-written with foundation president Jeffrey Solomon, coming out next week – met Mr. Gates in January at an alternative investment conference in Miami, but said he was not subjected to a pitch about the Giving Pledge.
In a letter posted on the Giving Pledge website – one of the few requirements for new recruits – Mr. Bronfman says he grew up in a household that was very active in Jewish, local Montreal and Canadian charities.
“I’ll never forget we four siblings knitting (yes, the two boys also) squares for blankets to be sent to the troops overseas during World War II! An inspiration from Mother! It’s no surprise then, that each of us has contributed to society, each in his or her own way.”
What he’s learned over the years is “pretty simple,” he said: “No matter how much money you have, how passionate you are about something, you cannot change the entire world. You have to find a niche and be effective. Don’t take something you can’t make a difference in.”
The Giving Pledge, announced in 2010, was launched by Microsoft mogul Bill Gates and investment guru Warren Buffett, who want to persuade rich people to give 50 per cent or more of their fortune to charity. Here are some other the other members of the group:
Larry Ellison, Oracle Corp.
Barry Diller, broadcasting
Ted Turner, CNN founder
George Lucas, filmmaker
Michael Bloomberg, New York City mayor
T. Boone Pickens, oil
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook