“Shy” Philanthropist Signs Giving Pledge

February 24, 2011 at 8:28 PM Leave a comment

Duty Free Store co-founder Chuck Feeney – the publicity-averse founder who has quietly given away billions via his Atlantic Philanthropies – has signed on to the Giving Pledge, the New York Times reports.

Mr. Feeney is a leading advocate of a school of philanthropy that argues on behalf of “giving while living” rather than creating a foundation that will live in perpetuity, and his intention is for Atlantic to have spent its final dollar by 2020.

Even though neither [Bill and Melinda Gates] nor [Warren] Buffett has ever advocated that pledge signatories adopt similar spend-down policies, Mr. Feeney makes it clear in his letter that he plans to use his participation to urge fellow signers to give away their money while they are alive.

The case for and against perpetual foundations is an interesting one. In The Foundation, Joel Fleishman examines the arguments for “giving while living,” ultimately concluding that “lack of confidence in the good stewardship of their successor philanthropic administrators” was the number one driver of the trend. However, he made a strong case for perpetual foundations:

  • They can be a “countercyclical force…to policy-making and problem-solving,” taking the longer view while others might get caught up in shifting focuses and solutions.
  • They will invest in generating basic knowledge (which may only be applied to problems later) while life-limited foundations will focus of applying knowledge in hope of solving problems quickly.
  • They serve as a steadying influence for social activism; they are a vehicle for social change to happen gradually and peacefully, without requiring sudden revolution.
  • By exerting influence over the decades, perpetual foundations also serve as both “a prod and a counterweight” to the government.

We are interested in seeing if any of the Giving Pledge signatories establish more traditional, perpetual foundations. A mix would seem to be optimum.

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Entry filed under: Big Donors.

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