The Billionaire Who Wanted to Die Broke Is Now Officially Broke


It took a long time, nevertheless Chuck Feeney, the broken-down billionaire cofounder of retail giant Responsibility Free Purchasers has sooner or later given all his cash away to charity. He has nothing left now—and he would possibly per chance per chance now not be happier.


 harles “Chuck” Feeney, 89, who cofounded airport retailer Responsibility Free Purchasers with Robert Miller in 1960 collected billions whereas residing a existence of monk-treasure frugality. As a philanthropist, he pioneered the premise of Giving Whereas Residing—spending most of your fortune on sizable, palms-on charity bets somewhat than funding a foundation upon demise. Since you can’t preserve it with you—why no longer give all of it away, accumulate administration of the place apart it goes, and gaze the outcomes with your dangle eyes? 

“We realized rather a lot. We would attain some things in a different draw, nevertheless I’m very delighted. I have faith very correct about completing this on my seek files from,” Feeney tells Forbes. “My resulting from all who joined us on this scramble. And to these wondering about Giving Whereas Residing: are attempting it, you would possibly per chance per chance treasure it.” 

Over the final four a long time, Feeney has donated better than $8 billion to charities, universities, and foundations worldwide thru his foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies. When I first met him in 2012, he estimated he had divulge apart about $2 million for his and his necessary other’s retirement. In other words, he’s given away 375,000% extra cash than his most up-to-date web worth. And he gave it away anonymously. Whereas many prosperous philanthropists enlist an military of publicists to trumpet their donations, Feeney went to obliging lengths to preserve his gifts secret. On story of of his clandestine, globe-trotting philanthropy marketing campaign, Forbes called him the  James Bond of Philanthropy

Feeney and Buffett

Chuck Feeney and Warren Buffett in 2011

©Invoice & Melinda Gates Basis/Barbara Kinney

Nonetheless Feeney has attain in from the chilly. The person that collected a fortune promoting luxury goods to tourist, and later launched personal equity powerhouse Total Atlantic, lives in an dwelling in San Francisco that has the austerity of a freshman dorm room. When I visited a couple of years ago, inkjet-printed pictures of guests and household hung from the partitions over a unpleasant, wood desk. On the desk sat a small Lucite plaque that be taught Congratulations to Chuck Feeney for $8 billion of philanthropic giving

That’s Feeney—understated profile, oversized impact. No longer a secret, his impolite charity and sizable-bet grants accumulate won over the most influential entrepreneurs and philanthropists. His stark generosity and gutsy investments influenced Invoice Gates and Warren Buffett after they launched the Giving Pledge in 2010—an aggressive marketing campaign to persuade the enviornment’s wealthiest to provide away no longer decrease than half of their fortunes earlier than their deaths. “Chuck became a cornerstone in phrases of inspiration for the Giving Pledge,” says Warren Buffett. “He is a mannequin for us all. It be going to preserve me 12 years after my demise to accumulate finished what he’s doing internal his lifetime.”  

Feeney gave sizable cash to sizable concerns—whether bringing peace to Northern Ireland, modernizing Vietnam’s successfully being care machine, or spending $350 million to flip Unique York’s lengthy-neglected Roosevelt Island correct into a technology hub. He didn’t wait to grant gifts after demise or divulge up a legacy fund that yearly tosses pennies at a $10 distress. He hunted for causes the place apart he can accumulate a dramatic impact and went all-in. 

In 2019, I worked with the Atlantic Philanthropies on a document titled Zero Is the Hero, which summarized Feeney’s a long time of tear-for-broke giving. Whereas it incorporates hundreds of numbers, stats, and files facets, Feeney summarized his mission a couple of sentences. “I gaze small motive to extend giving when so out of the ordinary correct would possibly per chance per chance moreover very successfully be achieved thru supporting purposeful causes. Moreover, or no longer it’s miles rather a lot extra enjoyable to provide whereas you live than give whereas you are expressionless.” 

Chuck Feeney signing documents

On September 14, 2020 Chuck Feeney–with necessary other Helga Feeney–signed paperwork in San Francisco marking the discontinuance of the Atlantic Philanthropies after four a long time of world giving.

The Atlantic Philanthropies

On September 14, 2020, Feeney done his four-decade mission and signed the paperwork to shutter the Atlantic Philanthropies. The ceremony, which took dwelling over Zoom with the Atlantic Philanthropies’ board, included video messages from Invoice Gates and broken-down California Governor Jerry Brown. Speaker of the Residence Nancy Pelosi despatched an legit letter from the U.S. Congress thanking Feeney for his work.

At its top, the Atlantic Philanthropies had 300-plus workers and ten world locations of work all the draw thru seven time zones. The actual closure date became divulge years ago as share of his lengthy-term conception to create excessive-chance, excessive-impact donations by surroundings a laborious closing date to provide away all his cash and discontinuance store. The 2020 expiration date added urgency and discipline. It gave the Atlantic Philanthropies the time to doc its historic past, contain on wins and losses, and produce a approach for other institutions to apply. As Feeney advised me in 2019: “Our giving is primarily primarily based on the opportunities, no longer a conception to preserve in enterprise for a in actual fact very lengthy time.”  

Whereas his philanthropy is out of enterprise, its influence reverberates worldwide resulting from its sizable bets on successfully being, science, education, and social motion. Where did $8 billion tear? Feeney gave $3.7 billion to education along side virtually about $1 billion to his alma mater Cornell, which he attended on the G.I. Invoice. Extra than $870 went to human rights and social change, treasure $62 million in grants to abolish the demise 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 successfully being ranging from a $270 million grant to toughen public healthcare in Vietnam to a $176 million gift to the World Brain Health Institute at College of California, San Francisco.  

One among Feeney’s final gifts, $350 million for Cornell to present a technology campus on Unique York Metropolis’s Roosevelt Island is a conventional instance of his giving philosophy. Whereas notoriously frugal in his dangle existence, Feeney became involving to spend sizable and tear for broke when the worth and doable impact outweigh the chance. 

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


“Chuck’s been the mannequin for us all. In case you accumulate got the factual heroes in existence, you’re 90% of the capability dwelling. Chuck Feeney is a correct hero to accumulate.”


“Chuck Feeney is an correct pioneer. Spending down his sources all over his lifetime has inspired a generation of philanthropists, along side me. And his dedication to anonymous giving—and focal level on addressing the concerns of the day—contain the strength of his character and social sense of right and wrong. We all apply in his footsteps.”


“Chuck created a course for other philanthropists to apply. I keep in mind meeting him earlier than starting the Giving Pledge. He advised me we must always serve folks now to now not provide factual 50%, nevertheless as out of the ordinary as probably all over their lifetime. No one is a better instance of that than Chuck. Many participants take a look at with me about how he inspired them. It is some distance if truth be told unbelievable.”


“Chuck took giving to a bigger impolite than anybody. There’s just a few rich folks, very few of them wing coach. He never spent the cash on himself and gave every little thing away. Moderately just a few participants are if truth be told thought the importance of giving it away, and the importance of being fascinated by the things you give you money to. Nonetheless I intention no longer wing coach!”


“Chuck pioneered the mannequin the place apart giving finishes unhurried in existence, somewhat than starting. He became ready to be extra aggressive, he became ready to preserve bigger risks and factual accumulate extra enjoyment from his giving. There’s obliging energy in giving whereas residing. The longer the distance between the person that funded the philanthropy and the work, the elevated the chance of it changing into bureaucratic and institutional—that is the demise knell for philanthropy.”


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