Hebrew U donors protest at charges

By Simon Rocker, June 6, 2008

Donors have voiced concern at a British Friends of the Hebrew University policy of deducting administration charges from endowment funds. The policy is the subject of complaints made by a former trustee and reported by the Jewish Chronicle.

One prospective contributor, Deborah Pulvernis, of London, wrote in a letter to the JC: “My late great-aunt, father, and cousin, left substantial restricted endowments to BFHU, who gave them assurances at the time that 100 per cent of their monies would go to the university with no running costs deducted.

“The fact that I was not consulted about these charges means that my husband and I must now seriously reconsider our intended endowment arranged some years ago.”

In the year ending September 2006, the charity claimed 20 per cent of “UK endowment investment income” to help with administration costs, according to its accounts.

The management charge was subsequently revised for the following year — on a sliding scale from 1.5 per cent of the first £50,000 of endowment capital, to 0.15 per cent on £1 million plus.

Another benefactor, Esta Lefton, of London, said: “If I leave an endowment, I want it all to go to the university, I don’t want it to go for expenses.”

Charles Stevens, of Essex, said: “I lost my daughter from cancer 10 years ago. We gave practically all our savings for cancer research at the Hebrew University. For somebody to come along and start deducting 20 per cent is very painful.”

The charity’s chairman, Brent Isaacs, said in a letter to supporters on Wednesday: “Since 2006, BFHU has undertaken a more detailed review and put in place a much more focused — and probably fairer — structure, recovering costs by linking them to the size of the endowment and the work and responsibility involved in their administration and ongoing reporting to donors.”

He added that the president of the university, the Friends’ trustees and the Charity Commission “have expressed themselves comfortable with the new arrangements”.

The charity’s policy has been challenged by former trustee Geoffrey Simmonds, who resigned in September 2005 and is co-executor of a £5 million estate left to the university.

A spokesman for the Friends said the charity had “always charged” the levy — “which Mr Simmonds knew, but in 2006 this was systematised, and then ratified”.

But Mr Simmonds, who ran “Living Legacy” tours for the charity during his trusteeship, denies being aware of any admin charge at the time. According to the charity’s accounts, there were no admin costs recorded against the endowment funds in the year ending September 2003. The following year, they amounted to just over £30,000 and in 2006, over £89,000.

In his letter, Mr Isaacs, who has been in Israel for a meeting of the university governors this week, said: “The BFHU has a wonderful heritage of friendship and unity within the Anglo-Jewish community and beyond.

“Mr Simmonds was outstanding in his support of the university. We earnestly hope his concerns can be allayed and that, for the sake of the university, we can return to a positive, constructive relationship.”

Last updated: 10:49am, June 5 2008