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New Book Explores “Giving While Living” Approach to Philanthropy

Resource type: News

The Atlantic Philanthropies |


The Atlantic Philanthropies today released Atlantic Insights: Giving While Living, a 56-page publication that explores Founder Charles “Chuck” Feeney’s long-standing belief in “Giving While Living,” the idea that people with wealth should use it during their lifetimes to help others. Written by journalist and philanthropy expert Heidi Waleson, the book also features other donors who have decided to devote the majority of their fortunes to philanthropy.

“Donors who want to know what kind of difference they can make using their wealth to better humanity during their lifetimes will find Chuck’s story inspiring and instructive,” said Christopher G. Oechsli, Atlantic president and CEO. “As Chuck once said, ‘if you give while living, the money goes to work quickly…everyone gets to see the action and the results.’”

WATCH: Giving While Living, a video about Chuck Feeney and his philanthropy

The Impact of One “Unusual” Decision

Billionaire entrepreneur Feeney, who made his fortune as co-founder of Duty Free Shoppers, created Atlantic in 1982. In 1984, he made what Waleson says was the “unusual” decision to donate virtually all his personal wealth, an amount estimated between $500 million to $1 billion, to his foundation.

Some 17 years later, Feeney’s belief in Giving While Living inspired Atlantic’s board to limit the foundation’s life to a fixed number of years. Unlike foundations that have to manage their endowments for perpetuity, Atlantic had the freedom to make “big bets” — large philanthropic investments designed to address deeply rooted problems sooner than later and produce lasting results.

Examples of Atlantic’s and Feeney’s work include:

  • Facilitating the peace process in Northern Ireland.
  • Catalyzing the creation of knowledge economies in the Republic of Ireland and Australia.
  • Hastening the end of the juvenile death penalty and reducing the number of children without health insurance in the United States.
  • Securing life-saving medication for millions afflicted with HIV/AIDS in South Africa.
  • Helping Viet Nam develop a more equitable system for delivering health care throughout the country.
  • Restoring diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.

The Influence of Giving While Living

Both Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have said Feeney influenced their thinking about philanthropy, including the decision to launch the Giving Pledge in 2010 to inspire wealthy people to give the majority of their net worth to charity. The Giving Pledge, Waleson notes, “brought Giving While Living out of the shadows and made it a key part of the conversation about giving.” She adds that Feeney’s decision to “give all his money away during his lifetime no longer looks like an oddball decision, but a remarkably prescient forerunner to the activities of today’s billionaire philanthropists.” In addition to Gates and Buffett, they include Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Dustin Moskovitz and Cari Tuna, and Sean Parker among others.

The Giving Pledge “brought Giving While Living out of the shadows.”

The new volume on Giving While Living is the first in Atlantic’s Insights series, a set of reflections on the foundation’s work over the past 35 years. Others will detail what it was like to operate as a limited-life foundation, how Atlantic supported groups working to change harmful or unfair laws or public policies through advocacy or by seeking legal remedies in the courts. Additional titles will examine how Atlantic partnered or engaged with government in different countries over the years to improve public services, and how the foundation’s investments of more than $2.8 billion in capital projects helped advance its mission of building a better world.

Giving While Living: Making a Difference 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, the video shows the power of Giving While Living and the immense satisfaction of making a difference during your lifetime.

In addition to this Insights volume, Atlantic recently released a short documentary on Feeney’s life and philanthropy in order to spread awareness of Giving While Living. As Feeney says in both the book and film, “I see little reason to delay giving when so much good can be achieved through supporting worthwhile causes today.”

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