August 20, 2016; IrishCentral.com
Billionaire Chuck Feeney, who made his massive fortune in duty-free shopping, declared in 2000 that his charity fund, Atlantic Philanthropies, would close by 2020. The foundation, which has had major programs in Bermuda, the United States, Ireland, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Vietnam, and Australia, has closed in all but the first three, with Ireland soon to follow—it is scheduled to close on the last day of 2016. The Irish office has been open since 1990, and its focus has been on education.
Feeney, who is 85, committed to giving his last grant in 2016, with the remaining staff at Atlantic monitoring those last few grants until 2020. When he is done, he will have given away in excess of $8 billion, with $2 billion going to Irish causes.
Feeney is not a hands-off type of philanthropist. He’s reputed to have played a role in the Irish peace process and the IRA ceasefire, and more recently in the marriage equality struggle there. Elsewhere, he has given to causes as diverse as pursuing human rights, fighting child poverty, and studying dementia and neuroscience in general. But neither does he fit the mold of the new philanthropic peacock; instead, he lives modestly and stays under the press’s radar. In fact, until 16 years ago, grantees of Atlantic Philanthropies were obliged to list any grant as being anonymous. The corpus of the foundation was kept offshore to avoid reporting requirements—so it may not be a model of transparency. But Bill Gates and Warren Buffett of the giving pledge credit him as their “hero” and a major champion of giving while living.
Atlantic Philanthropies was known for the attention it paid to the institutions to which it gave, carefully designing the weaning process with many of its longer-term grantees.
For more to inform your thinking regarding foundation perpetuity vs. spend-downs, see Francie Ostrower’s article and this one of Buzz Schmidt’s, complete with questions to inform the thinking of philanthropists.—Ruth McCambridge