We are living in an age where the word ‘billionaire’ may have lost meaning given the number of unicorns springing up all over the world and even more, the richest in the world are now worth over a hundred billion. But there are some who give meaning to their fortune and can be inspire many others along the way – Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and closer home, Azim Premji come up on the list of billionaires contributing meaningfully to philanthropy. Buffett indeed has pledged more than 90% of his wealth to charity upon his death. But here’s a story of a billionaire who actually inspired Buffett and Gates on philanthropy by starting a new paradigm – going-broke-giving – he put all his money to philanthropic work whilst he is alive and to be able to see the outcome.
“Charles “Chuck” Feeney, 89, who cofounded airport retailer Duty Free Shoppers with Robert Miller in 1960, amassed billions while living a life of monklike frugality. As a philanthropist, he pioneered the idea of Giving While Living—spending most of your fortune on big, hands-on charity bets instead of funding a foundation upon death. Since you can’t take it with you—why not give it all away, have control of where it goes and see the results with your own eyes?”
Earlier this week, Chuck Feeney closed his charity as he gave away the last bit of his wealth barring the fraction of it he retained for his retirement.
“Over the last four decades, Feeney has donated more than $8 billion to charities, universities and foundations worldwide through his foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies. When I first met him in 2012, he estimated he had set aside about $2 million for his and his wife’s retirement. In other words, he’s given away 375,000% more money than his current net worth. And he gave it away anonymously. While many wealthy philanthropists enlist an army of publicists to trumpet their donations, Feeney went to great lengths to keep his gifts secret. Because of his clandestine, globe-trotting philanthropy campaign, Forbes called him the James Bond of Philanthropy….
…. His stark generosity and gutsy investments influenced Bill Gates and Warren Buffett when they launched the Giving Pledge in 2010—an aggressive campaign to convince the world’s wealthiest to give away at least half their fortunes before their deaths. “Chuck was a cornerstone in terms of inspiration for the Giving Pledge,” says Warren Buffett. “He’s a model for us all. It’s going to take me 12 years after my death to get done what he’s doing within his lifetime.”
The piece ends with some quotes from Buffett, Gates and others in appreciation of Feeney as a role model for the wealthy.
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