Chuck Feeney: the self-made billionaire who gave it all away

Chuck Feeney has achieved a lifetime ambition: to go broke. In September 2020, at the age of 89, the US billionaire shuttered Atlantic Philanthropies, the foundation he set up in 1982 and transferred nearly all his wealth to, after it finally ran out of cash.

Over four decades, Feeney, the founder of a duty-free retail empire, donated to charities, universities and foundations with the goal of giving away the bulk of his $8bn fortune during his lifetime. He described his approach as ‘giving while living’ – choosing to spend your wealth on big, bold philanthropic bets, instead of funding a legacy endowment upon death.

“I see little reason to delay giving when so much good can be achieved through supporting worthwhile causes,” he told a journalist in 2019. “Besides, it’s a lot more fun to give while you live than to give while you're dead.”

Warren Buffett, who in 2010 co-founded the Giving Pledge with Bill and Melinda Gates to encourage billionaires to donate half of their wealth to charity, described Feeney as “a cornerstone in terms of inspiration” for the initiative.

“He’s a model for us all,” the financier said. “It’s going to take me 12 years after my death to get done what he’s doing within his lifetime.”  — PA