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When Philanthropy Goes Wrong

Resource type: News

The Wall Street Journal | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]


Entrepreneur and philanthropist Chuck Feeney recently made news when his foundation donated $350 million to Cornell University. The huge gift was made to clinch that institution’s victory in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s competition to build a technology-incubating campus in New York City. Behind the scenes, what generated the Atlantic Philanthropies’ donation was Mr. Feeney’s refusal to fall into a trap that has snared many other philanthropists.

When a foundation is set up to dribble out its funds in perpetuity, there is a high risk it will eventually drift into projects the donor did not believe in. Recognizing this, Mr. Feeney has insisted on giving away money fast to do good now.

“Giving while living” is his way to make certain his funds support causes he believes in. It’s not simple. By the end of 2016, when he intends it to cease making grants, the Atlantic Philanthropies will have to donate more than $2 million every working day to exhaust its more than $2 billion of assets.

The Feeney method is not the only way to avoid having charitable gifts go to the wrong places, but he is absolutely right to be wary. One of the great scandals in modern philanthropy is that trustees and staff of grant-making institutions all too often pay little attention to the principles governing their founders’ charitable giving.

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Giving While Living, limited life