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Atlantic Insights Giving While Living

About the Book

“If you give while living, the money goes to work quickly — everyone gets to see the action and the results.”
— Chuck Feeney

This book explores Atlantic Founder Chuck Feeney’s long-standing belief that people with wealth should use it during their lifetimes to help others.

Written by journalist and philanthropy expert Heidi Waleson, along with an introduction by Forbes senior editor Steven Bertoni, the book traces Chuck Feeney’s evolution as a philanthropist, and how his Giving While Living philosophy has influenced Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and other donors who have decided to devote the majority of their fortunes to better humanity.

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What's Inside

Give Now. Make a Difference During Your Lifetime.

Donors who want to know what kind of difference they can make using their wealth to help people during their lifetimes will find Chuck Feeney’s story inspiring and instructive. Among the topics covered:

  • Chuck Feeney’s Good Fortune: Born into a working class neighborhood in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Feeney became a successful businessman after college, amassing a major fortune from Duty Free Shoppers. Uninterested in the “trappings” of money, he made the irrevocable decision to commit virtually all his wealth in 1984 to the foundation he had set up two years earlier.
  • Feeney’s Philanthropic Process: From his early work in Ireland, Feeney developed a philanthropic process that enabled The Atlantic Philanthropies to have a transformative effect on people’s lives all over the world in the years that followed.
  • A Revolution in Philanthropy: Feeney’s choice to give away all his money during his lifetime no longer looks like an outlier, oddball decision, but a remarkably prescient forerunner to the activities of today’s billionaire philanthropists, including several who are featured in the book.

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‘A Huge Influence’

In the summer of 2012, Bill Gates sent Forbes a tip. It went something like this: “You guys should take a look at Chuck Feeney; he’s been a huge influence on how Warren and I think about philanthropy.”

Warren was, of course, Warren Buffett, the legendary investor partnering with Gates on The Giving Pledge—a bold campaign to coax the world’s richest to donate at least half of their wealth before or upon their deaths. Each day, thousands of story pitches flood the Forbes newsroom, but when the two richest people on the planet take the time to share a story idea, you act. So, as Gates suggested, we looked into Chuck Feeney, the billionaire founder of The Atlantic Philanthropies.

Bold bets, big checks, dramatic impact—this is how Feeney practiced Giving While Living. “If you give while living, the money goes to work quickly, everyone gets to see the action and the results—that’s what we’re all about,” said Feeney during a recent meeting in San Francisco. “The problems we seek to fix are those we can carry out quickly and make real, tangible change.”

“I had one idea that never changed in my mind — that you should use your wealth to help people.”
– Chuck Feeney

A lifelong entrepreneur, Feeney approached his philanthropy with the same scrappy business sense and eye for opportunity that he used to turn a gig selling alcohol to U.S. sailors into the billion-dollar Duty Free Shoppers (DFS) empire. For decades, he traveled the world in search of high-value causes. Once discovered, he’d target the problem and would go all in. Feeney’s Irish impact, while substantial, was far from isolated. Atlantic’s projects spread worldwide, with similar initiatives across the U.S., Australia, Viet Nam, and South Africa. “The model was very different, and the people had to work to understand it,” says Feeney. “The advantage from our point of view was that the money was promptly available for the desired activity. Our giving is based on the opportunities, not on a plan to stay in business for a long time.”

The Purpose of Wealth

Just as he built DFS, Feeney looked to hire top talent and maximize every dollar donated. “Chuck always said the purpose of wealth is to improve the human condition,” says Steve Denning, chairman of private equity fund General Atlantic, which Feeney founded in 1980. “He loves people who are building great companies, and doing it in a way that is good for customers, employees, and their communities.”

Atlantic money wasn’t easy money—each grant came with strict rules for full data transparency, progress reports, and clear milestones. “The best approach is to look for the people that have ideas and can get them activated,” says Feeney. “Good ideas are important, but so is the ability to execute.” Large Atlantic gifts often came with the requirement that government and other donors match the foundation’s award. And Feeney forbade anyone from attaching his name to a building or plaque—it was better to collect additional donations by having someone else pay for the privilege.

For a man who has routinely shunned the spotlight over the years, the story of Feeney’s life and the legacy he leaves behind after more than three decades and $8 billion in grants might be his greatest philanthropic gift of all. In addition to venerable entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Salesforce’s Marc Benioff, his Giving While Living philosophy has inspired a new generation of young business leaders like Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz, and Joe Gebbia who will lead in both capitalism and philanthropy for the next 50 years. Feeney’s example of all-in philanthropy will continue to win over new generations of doers and dreamers for years to come.

“It’s nice to be proven correct,” says Feeney. “Being proven correct is what it’s all about when it’s all said and done.”

While Feeney has always said that he’s “not here to tell anyone what they should do with their money,” his actions and philosophy offer invaluable lessons on big-hearted and impactful philanthropy. The pages that follow trace Feeney’s evolution as a philanthropist, from his earliest work in Ireland to Atlantic’s final years of grantmaking. While he used many different strategies to solve a diverse set of changes across the globe, the one constant through it all has been his unwavering commitment to Giving While Living.

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Watch Video

Giving While Living: Making a Difference

Watch: This is the story of Atlantic Founder Chuck Feeney, the man who has inspired Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and others to devote their wealth to the service of humanity during their lifetimes. Narrated by Timothy Hutton.


Read it now.

Learn about the power of Giving While Living and the immense satisfaction of making a difference your lifetime.

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Further Reading

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