Billionaire advocates giving while living to support Ireland through the recession

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Philanthropy UK | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

By Ben Eyre

Publicity shy multi-billion-dollar philanthropist Chuck Feeney has featured in a documentary on Irish television to inspire ‘giving while living’.

In ‘Secret Billionaire: The Chuck Feeney Story’, Feeney talked about how he made and then anonymously gave away a multi-billion-dollar fortune, including $1.2 bn (£790m) to Irish causes.

Feeney, 78, is hoping to promote ‘giving while living’ to wealthy people in Ireland. He founded and is chair of Atlantic Philanthropies, a member of the Association of Charitable Foundations, which gives all over the world, including substantial amounts to causes in Ireland.

Atlantic Philanthropies gives around $400m (£264m) per year and its endowment currently stands at approximately $3 bn (£1.98 bn). The foundation has a limited lifetime and is on course to spend out its endowment by 2016.

“Atlantic Philanthropies is the biggest single giver in Ireland. Because of their limited lifetime, there will be a huge hole when they close and they want to help deal with that now by encouraging giving,” says Jackie Harrison, chief executive of Philanthropy Ireland.

In the documentary, Feeney talks about his life as well as his aim to make a lasting change in vulnerable people’s lives. Feeney also used this high-profile appearance, the type of which he normally eschews, to promote philanthropy.

“Chuck Feeney has overcome his natural reticence to encourage other people to give”, says Harrison. “He has shown potential donors in Ireland that one person can make a difference.”

Colin McCrea, Senior Vice President of Atlantic Philanthropies, said that Feeney hopes to promote the giving while living concept to a broad range of wealthy people. “You don’t need mega-millions to become a great philanthropist. People with relatively little money can have a huge impact by doing something strategic and targeted. It really is about approaching giving with the same acumen as you do your business”, he told Philanthropy UK.

McCrea says that the shift from ‘charity’ to ‘philanthropy’, from trying to alleviate symptoms to tackling route causes, is key to this.

“While there is a strong culture of charitable giving in Ireland there is a limited history of strategic giving,” McCrea says. The wealth created in the ‘celtic tiger’ years of economic strength is still available: “Despite the economic downturn there are still people out there in a position to give philanthropically”, he adds.

Feeney and Atlantic Philanthropies are seeking to tap into this wealth to ensure sustainable philanthropy in Ireland.

‘Secret Billionaire: The Chuck Feeney Story’ aired on 5th May.

Philanthropy UK’s publications editor, Beth Breeze, described Feeney as an ‘enigmatic philanthropist’ in her review of the biography ‘The Billionaire who Wasn’t: How Chuck Feeney secretly made and gave away a fortune’, in Philanthropy UK’s December 2007 Newsletter

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Colin McCrea, Giving While Living