Transitioning Legacy: Maintaining philanthropic tradition during and after spend down

The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies is not the only time limited foundation within the Bronfman families’ philanthropy. The Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Family Foundation (SSBFF) was established in 1952 by Sam and Saidye Bronfman in their hometown of Montreal. While this family foundation no longer has living donors, each of their four children has sat on its Board of Directors at one point. Today, third generation family members living in Montreal and the United States who have some separate as well as common interests also sit on the board. This board encourages collaboration among all of its members. Even though many have set up their own vehicles for giving, their involvement on the board of SSBFF has offered them the opportunity to learn together, bringing their own experiences to the table to create a shared model.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the directors designated gifts to local programs, particularly those serving individuals with learning disabilities, institutions for cultural management, and engagement of citizens in their built environments. They were active, involved board members, and the Foundation spent capital as well as interest earned on its funds. The board spent capital in a conscious way that accelerated their gifts. The directors wanted to keep the foundation alive as much as they could to have the most impact, but in 2003 that they started to consider the option of spending down and the decision to create two major endowments that they believed would provide a legacy.

After active grantmaking ended in 2004, the Foundation set up two $1 million endowments with the Canada Council for the Arts that the Council has full control over.

The first endowment was to ensure the perpetuity of the Saidye Bronfman Award for Excellence in the Crafts – an award that was established as a gift to Saidye from her children, and one of Canada’s top artistic honors for excellence in studio crafts. On the thirtieth anniversary of the award, SSBFF and the Canada Council for the Arts arranged with the Governor General of Canada to transfer the award to become part of the prestigious Governor General’s awards in Visual and Media arts. The second endowment was the creation of the John Hobday Award in Arts Management, established as a commemorative award in 2006 to honor the more than 20 years of Hobday’s outstanding professional leadership of the Foundation. The award is given annually to support the professional development of two accomplished mid-career arts managers in Canada. 

Dedication to Jewish philanthropy has been a part of the Bronfman family tradition before, during, and after the lifespan of the foundation. Sam Bronfman played a role in creating the Combined Jewish Appeal out of the local Jewish Federation and similar organizations. When SSBFF was created, the directors continued to contribute an annual gift of close to $3 million. In 2011, the Foundation’s last remaining grantee was the Combined Jewish Appeal. Therefore, the Foundation decided to endow its remaining capital to the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal with instructions that the yearly earnings would be granted to the Federation.

The decision to give remaining funds to the Jewish Federation reflected an efficient long-term commitment to a legacy annual grant. However, it was also an emotional decision, as it meant divesting the final funds and defacto decision making powers of the family members. Because of this, the family has continued to retain some control of the gift by providing input on a small part of designated funds to programs of their choice either locally or in Israel.

Retaining some ownership of the Federation gift was also a gift to the Board itself; they are now using this as an opportunity to continue working together as a family and impacting the Foundation's legacy.

This is the fourteenth post in the “Making Change by Spending Down” series, produced in partnership by The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and GrantCraft. Please contribute your comments on each post and discuss the series on twitter using #spenddown. See related content below for more posts in this series.