Charity

I recently learned that the Wine & Spirits Division Dinner of the UJA-Federation of NY is honoring Charlie Merinoff. It made me think of a couple of things.

First, Charlie is a good guy and one of the brightest people in the industry. The Merinoff family has been great for this business and Charlie is a real mensch. It’s an excellent cause and they can use his support. I hope the dinner raises a bundle.

I also thought about the Seagram experience with the UJA fund raising event. It wasn’t pleasant. Here goes…

I came to Seagram as the VP Marketing Research, so I started in a senior position. That was in the spring of none-of-your-business. Three months later I received a memo telling me to report to The Glenlivet Tavern on the 5th floor of 375 Park Ave. for the UJA “meeting” of the executive group. I had no idea what to make of this gathering. The folks who were on my staff said things like “Uh-ho, they are going to call you by name and expect you to announce your contribution to the annual spirits and wine fund drive for the UJA; going to cost you lots of money but don’t worry the company will match your gift.” What?

I quickly  realized that 1) this was organized extortion 2) I didn’t want to appear stingy 3) I also didn’t want to appear obsequious and 4) it was a good cause but why do I have to stand up and publically declare my gift? I later learned that it was the “tithe” that made the family look good. (Although, in fairness, I should add that the Bronfmans always made a significant contribution in their own right. But, their gift, plus the executives’ gift plus matching funds meant that the Seagram “family” would be giving enough to sustain a small developing nation for a year.)

I came to the decision that I had to do what I had to do and decided on a number that my staff had suggested. You don’t want to know how much. It was over the top.

So I was locked and loaded and ready for the “calling of names” at the meeting. Unbeknownst to me, my colleagues had been through this many times before and knew how to beat the system. They called each other beforehand and decided on the amount that would be given by each managerial level. (Hey folks, thanks for telling me!)

Since my name begins with an S, I had ample opportunity to see what my associates were giving. My planned contribution was way out of whack. I quickly made a readjustment downward.

Lessons learned: After only 3 months I realized it was us against them. I also learned that the advice you got from some was not necessarily reliable. In short, I got the lay of the land pretty quickly.

Please forgive me if the UJA is not at the top of my charitable giving list.

Blame the Bronfman’s.

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