The Billionaire Who Wished To Die Broke –

It took decades, however Chuck Feeney, the worn billionaire cofounder of retail large Obligation Free Customers has eventually given all his money away to charity. He has nothing left now—and he couldn’t be happier.


 harles “Chuck” Feeney, 89, who cofounded airport retailer Obligation Free Customers with Robert Miller in 1960, gathered billions while residing a lifetime of monklike frugality. As a philanthropist, he pioneered the basis of Giving Whereas Residing—spending most of your fortune on mighty, arms-on charity bets as a replace of funding a basis upon loss of life. Since you can’t seize it with you—why no longer give it all away, be pleased defend watch over of the save it goes and uncover the effects with your absorb eyes? 

“We learned a lot. We would enact some things differently, however I’m very contented. I in point of fact feel perfect about ending this on my seek,” Feeney tells Forbes. “My thanks to all who joined us on this gallop. And to those questioning about Giving Whereas Residing: Are attempting it, it is doubtless you’ll perchance take care of it.”

Over the final four decades, Feeney has donated better than $8 billion to charities, universities and foundations worldwide thru his basis, the Atlantic Philanthropies. After I first met him in 2012, he estimated he had space aside about $2 million for his and his wife’s retirement. In other phrases, he’s given away 375,000% extra money than his most modern find price. And he gave it away anonymously. Whereas many prosperous philanthropists enlist a military of publicists to trumpet their donations, Feeney went to huge lengths to take care of his gifts secret. Thanks to his clandestine, globe-trotting philanthropy advertising and marketing and marketing campaign, Forbes called him the  James Bond of Philanthropy.

Feeney and Buffett

Chuck Feeney and Warren Buffett in 2011

©Invoice & Melinda Gates Foundation/Barbara Kinney

But Feeney has come in from the chilly. The actual person that gathered a fortune selling luxurious items to vacationers, and later launched deepest equity powerhouse Normal Atlantic, lives in an home in San Francisco that has the austerity of a freshman dorm room. After I visited a pair of years within the past, inkjet-printed photos of friends and family hung from the walls over a undeniable, wooden desk. On the desk sat a tiny Lucite plaque that be taught: “Congratulations to Chuck Feeney for $8 billion of philanthropic giving.”

That’s Feeney—understated profile, oversize impact. Now no longer a secret, his coarse charity and mighty-wager grants be pleased obtained over essentially the most influential entrepreneurs and philanthropists. His stark generosity and gutsy investments influenced Invoice Gates and Warren Buffett once they launched the Giving Pledge in 2010—an aggressive advertising and marketing and marketing campaign to persuade the arena’s wealthiest to present away at the least half of their fortunes earlier than their deaths. “Chuck turn out to be once a cornerstone by manner of inspiration for the Giving Pledge,” says Warren Buffett. “He’s a model for us all. It’s going to grab me 12 years after my loss of life to opt up completed what he’s doing within his lifetime.”  

Feeney gave mighty money to mighty issues—whether or no longer bringing peace to Northern Eire, modernizing Vietnam’s properly being care system, or spending $350 million to show Sleek York’s prolonged-neglected Roosevelt Island into a expertise hub. He didn’t wait to grant gifts after loss of life or space up a legacy fund that every year tosses pennies at a $10 topic. He hunted for causes the save he would perhaps be pleased a dramatic impact and went all-in. 

In 2019, I worked with the Atlantic Philanthropies on a fable titled Zero Is the Hero, which summarized Feeney’s decades of trudge-for-broke giving. Whereas it comprises a total bunch of numbers, stats and records aspects, Feeney summarized his mission in a pair of sentences. “I uncover tiny cause to prolong giving when so powerful ideally suited might also be executed thru supporting in fact helpful causes. Moreover, it’s powerful more stress-free to present when you dwell than give when you are needless.”

Chuck Feeney signing documents

On September 14, 2020, Chuck Feeney—with wife Helga Feeney—signed paperwork in San Francisco marking the end of the Atlantic Philanthropies after four decades of global giving.

The Atlantic Philanthropies

On September 14, 2020, Feeney executed his four-decade mission and signed the paperwork to shutter the Atlantic Philanthropies. The ceremony, which occurred over Zoom with the Atlantic Philanthropies’ board, integrated video messages from Invoice Gates and worn California Gov. Jerry Brown. Speaker of the Condominium Nancy Pelosi despatched an legitimate letter from the U.S. Congress thanking Feeney for his work.

At its top, the Atlantic Philanthropies had 300-plus employees and ten global areas of work across seven time zones. The explicit closure date turn out to be once space years within the past as allotment of his prolonged-term opinion to dangle excessive-menace, excessive-impact donations by environment a laborious closing date to present away all his money and end store. The 2020 expiration date added urgency and self-discipline. It gave the Atlantic Philanthropies the time to document its historical previous, judge on wins and losses and dangle a plot for other institutions to coach. As Feeney told me in 2019: “Our giving is in step with the opportunities, no longer a opinion to forestall in swap for a truly prolonged time.”  

Whereas his philanthropy is out of swap, its influence reverberates worldwide thanks to its mighty bets on properly being, science, training and social action. The save did $8 billion trudge? Feeney gave $3.7 billion to training, along with on the topic of $1 billion to his alma mater, Cornell, which he attended on the G.I. Invoice. Greater than $870 million went to human rights and social swap, take care of $62 million in grants to abolish the loss of life penalty within the U.S. and $76 million for grassroots campaigns supporting the passage of Obamacare. He gave better than $700 million in gifts to properly being ranging from a $270 million grant to bolster public healthcare in Vietnam to a $176 million reward to the Global Mind Health Institute at the University of California, San Francisco.  

One of Feeney’s final gifts, $350 million for Cornell to dangle a expertise campus on Sleek York Metropolis’s Roosevelt Island, is a classic instance of his giving philosophy. Whereas notoriously frugal in his absorb existence, Feeney turn out to be once able to notify mighty and trudge for broke when the assign and capability impact outweighed the menace. 

FORBES spoke to Influential Philanthropists On How Chuck Feeney Changed Charity And Inspired Giving


“Chuck’s been the model for us all. Whenever you happen to might also honest be pleased the factual heroes in existence, you’re 90% of the vogue home. Chuck Feeney is an even hero to be pleased.”


“Chuck Feeney is a honest pioneer. Spending down his sources for the length of his lifetime has impressed a generation of philanthropists, along with me. And his dedication to anonymous giving—and focal point on addressing the issues of the day—judge the energy of his persona and social judgment of right and unsuitable. All of us educate in his footsteps.”


“Chuck created a route for other philanthropists to coach. I undergo in thoughts assembly him earlier than beginning the Giving Pledge. He told me we must aid of us now to not present honest 50%, however as powerful as capability for the length of their lifetime. No one is a better instance of that than Chuck. Many of us test with me about how he impressed them. It’s in fact amazing.”


“Chuck took giving to a better coarse than someone. There’s loads of rich of us—only a pair of of them cruise coach. He never spent the money on himself and gave every thing away. Slightly a couple of of us are now working out the importance of giving it away, and the importance of being furious by the things you give your money to. But I don’t cruise coach!”


“Chuck pioneered the model the save giving finishes gradual in existence, as a replace of beginning. He turn out to be once in a save to be more aggressive, he turn out to be once in a save to grab better dangers and honest opt up more enjoyment from his giving. There’s huge energy in giving while residing. The longer the distance between the particular particular person that funded the philanthropy and the work, the upper the menace of it changing into bureaucratic and institutional—that is the loss of life knell for philanthropy.”


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