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Atlantic Philanthropies Names Human-Rights Advocate as CEO

Resource type: News

Wall Street Journal |

The Atlantic Philanthropies named Gara LaMarche, a veteran human-rights advocate, its new chief executive officer. He faces one of the more unusual challenges in philanthropy: The foundation plans to spend its entire $4 billion endowment within 10 years and go out of business. Mr. LaMarche, 52 years old, is director of U.S. programs for investor George Soros’s Open Society Institute, where he built and oversaw a grant program that gave away $55 million to $125 million a year. He succeeds departing CEO John R. Healy, 60, who has led Atlantic Philanthropies since 2001. The $4 billion foundation, launched in 1982 by Charles F. “Chuck” Feeney, announced in 2002 that it plans to spend all its money and cease grant-making in 2016. Mr. Feeney, 75, was a co-founder of Duty Free Shoppers Group Ltd., which operates duty-free stores. Atlantic’s plan represents the biggest spend-down in actual dollars by a private foundation in modern times. Such a decision, known as “sunsetting,” has been rare among major foundations but has been gaining popularity as a new generation of philanthropists takes a more hands-on approach. Increasingly, some donors worry that, after their deaths, professional managers may lose touch with their goals and become more concerned with perpetuating the foundation. Last week the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced it would spend its entire endowment within 50 years of the death of the last of its three trustees. Like the Gates Foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, one of the 20 largest foundations active in the U.S., conducts rigorous due diligence and continuing evaluations of the nonprofits in which it invests. Also like Gates, it favors fewer, bigger grants as a way to achieve the most impact. Atlantic is different from many U.S. foundations in its focus on human rights, and on controversial causes such as restoring voting rights for convicted criminals and pushing to end the death penalty. Though its CEO is based in New York, it is formally licensed in Bermuda, which allows it to play more of an advocacy role — such as funding organizations that last year staged demonstrations promoting changes in immigration law. Under federal tax law, U.S. foundations are restricted from most forms of legislative lobbying. In an interview, Mr. LaMarche said he hoped increasing interest in the Atlantic’s limited-lifetime strategy would help attract more funding to the causes it supports and lure partners to join in its grant-making. In 2005, Atlantic spent some $289 million on about 200 grants. The goal for the next 10 years is to spend about $350 million annually on new grants. However, precise targeting isn’t easy to achieve. This year the foundation had expected its endowment to shrink modestly. But its investment team had a better year than planned, and grant makers identified additional opportunities they wanted to support, so 2006 grant commitments are likely to exceed $450 million. Write to Sally Beatty at

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Gara LaMarche, Open Society Institute