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Big Questions

Why Did Atlantic Decide to Limit Its Life?

Atlantic founder Chuck Feeney’s belief in Giving While Living—that people of great wealth should put their money to the service of humanity now—inspired the board to limit the foundation’s life to a fixed number of years. The determination to complete all grantmaking at the end of 2016—a milestone the foundation reached on schedule—and to cease operations by 2020, has enabled Atlantic to make large, concentrated investments that could produce significant and lasting benefits.

“I believe that people of substantial wealth potentially create problems for future generations unless they themselves accept responsibility to use their wealth during their lifetime to help worthwhile causes.”
– Chuck Feeney

The plan to complete all grantmaking by the end of 2016 freed the foundation of the responsibility of ensuring its endowment would last in perpetuity. That has enabled Atlantic to make “big bets”—investments designed to address present-day problems or to try to prevent them from becoming more challenging or intractable in the future.

As one foundation trustee said about Atlantic’s focus on big grants and big issues: “You’re much more likely to make a difference by doing something big right now than dribbling the money out to the end of time.”

Atlantic isn’t the first philanthropy to have committed its entire endowment for a fixed period. But the $8 billion awarded between 1982 and 2016 is many times the amount granted by any previous limited life foundation.

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