Chuck Feeney made a fortune from duty-free shops in airports.
Over the past 60 years he’s earned well over eight billion dollars from his venture – Duty Free Shoppers.
But today, he has perhaps two million dollars left.
Chuck is now 89 years of age. And he knows that no matter how much money you have, you can’t take it with you. So Chuck resolved to give as much of his fortune away as he could.
Since 1980, Chuck has given more than $8 billion to charities, universities and other philanthropic foundations around the world. He has donated to everything from an organisation trying to heal the political and religious divides in Northern Ireland and a group trying to modernise Vietnam’s health system.
And, unlike many big financial donors, he’s done it quietly, with little fanfare.
Conor O'Clery's new book, The Billionaire Who Wasn't: How Chuck Feeney Secretly Made and Gave Away a Fortune, reveals for the first time Chuck's amazing story.
Even Chuck's own charitable organisation, Atlantic Philanthropies, had a built-in sell-by date to make sure it did the job of giving away his money and didn’t turn into a long-term proposition. It closed in September.
He says: “Our giving is based on the opportunities, not a plan to stay in business for a long time.”
Chuck has only recently revealed the staggering scale of his charitable giving. Forbes magazine calculates that he has given away 375,000% more than his current net worth.
It’s inspired other high net worth individuals to follow suit. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett launched their Giving Pledge organisation in 2010 after learning about Chuck’s incredible generosity.
The Giving Pledge sets out to persuade the world’s richest people to give away at least half their fortunes before their deaths. Warren Buffett says: “Chuck was a cornerstone in terms of inspiration for the Giving Pledge.
“He’s a model for us all. It’s going to take me 12 years after my death to get done what he’s doing within his lifetime.”
Bill Gates, who himself runs the $46 billion Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest charity, says: “Chuck created a path for other philanthropists to follow.
“I remember meeting him before starting the Giving Pledge. He told me we should encourage people not to give just 50%, but as much as possible during their lifetime.
“No one is a better example of that than Chuck. Many people talk to me about how he inspired them. It is truly amazing.”
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