Jewish volunteerism is top priority for 3 busy S.F. execs

David Pottruck can't remember what it's like to have free time.

But that doesn't stop the president and co-CEO of the Charles Schwab Corp. from volunteering in the San Francisco Jewish community.

"How do I find the time?" asked Pottruck, who's also an adjunct faculty member of the Haas School of Business at U.C. Berkeley. "I find the time because I force myself to. I make it a priority to go beyond the four corners of my life."

Speaking from his car phone in between meetings, the busy executive said he is currently using what little spare time he has to chair and promote the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation's upcoming annual Finance and Real Estate dinner.

The event, which takes place on Thursday, March 12, features Edgar M. Bronfman, World Jewish Congress president, and is open to donors who have given $1,000 or more to the JCF's annual campaign.

Discussing the campaign, "I think we can all agree on the effectiveness of umbrella giving," contributing to an organization that supports more than 60 agencies and programs locally, in Israel and elsewhere overseas. "Personally, I enjoy the added involvement of seeing where the money goes."

Pottruck said he made the decision to become an active federation fund-raiser after joining San Francisco's Congregation Emanu-El and becoming friendly with other Jewish community leaders.

"Up to that point, my contribution had been strictly monetary," said Pottruck, who serves on the boards of numerous organizations and is an internationally known lecturer and publisher on financial service marketing. "But it's easy to give away money. Time and energy are a much more precious commodity."

Like Pottruck, JCF volunteer William Atlas is busy working on the Finance and Real Estate dinner. Atlas, managing director of the investment banking firm Salomon Smith Barney, is co-chair of the JCF's Finance and Real Estate Division, and he's a member of the dinner's corporate sponsorship committee.

Atlas, who is also West Coast sales manager for his company, said that these days his time is spent on business, volunteering, family and, when he gets the chance, sleeping.

He said he became seriously involved with Jewish communal work several years ago when he reached a point in his life where he felt it was time to give back to the community.

Growing up in Los Angeles, he had witnessed his mother's dedication to the local Jewish Family and Children Services, where she is still active as a volunteer working with battered women and children.

"My parents gave me a strong sense of Jewish identity," said Atlas. "That's something I want to pass on to my own children. I want them to be proud of who they are."

Craig Lewis is another busy executive who donates time to the JCF. Lewis' main gig is as the regional executive vice president of MBNA Marketing Systems Inc., the nation's second largest credit-card issuer. He volunteers as a member of the dinner's corporate sponsorship committee.

Discussing his volunteer work, Lewis recalled how his father taught him about the duty of giving. "Ten percent of your gross income should go to the Jewish community," Lewis recalled his father saying to him. "The money is not yours, it belongs to them."

Lewis, who oversees MBNA's Western Regional office in the city, is now particularly interested in marketing the benefits of umbrella giving to young people. "It may not be glamorous or exciting, but umbrella giving is still the best way to support the Jewish community. I don't think young adults are fully aware of just how effective it is."

Lewis is on the boards of numerous organizations, including the National Men's Cabinet of the Young Leadership Division of the United Jewish Appeal, and formerly served on the board of the Skid Row Development Corporation, a transitional housing facility for the homeless.

"I feel an obligation to do what I can. I think fund-raising was easier in my parents' generation. Today, people can always find reasons not to give. That's something I want to help change."