For most of us who aren’t billionaires, it’s always baffling that such wealthy people *cough Jeff Bezos* can sit atop giant sums of money without donating a decent chunk of it to help improve the world.
But then there’s Chuck Feeney.
If you’re aren’t familiar with Feeney, he’s an Irish American who made billions from a duty-free shopping empire. He’s not your typical billionaire. In fact, he lived a remarkably frugal lifestyle, not owning a car or home, and only one pair of shoes. He was also known for flying only in economy class, even when members of his family and colleagues would travel in business class on the same plane.
Around 38 years ago, Feeney made it his life goal to give away all of his $8 billion fortune while he’s still alive. Fast forward to today, and Feeney has achieved his goal at the age of 89. The Atlantic Philanthropies, the foundation he secretly set up in 1982 and transferred almost all of his wealth to, has finally run out of money.
After signing papers to dissolve the foundation from his small rented apartment in San Francisco, Feeney had a message for all the billionaires out there: “To those wondering about Giving While Living: try it, you’ll like it.”
Feeney gave away more than $3.7 billion to higher education institutions, including nearly $1 billion to his alma mater, Cornell University. He also donated $870m to human rights groups (including $62 million in grants to groups campaigning to end the death penalty in the US, and $76 million to grassroots campaigns supporting the passage of Obamacare.) Apparently, Feeney’s generosity is also what spurred Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to establish the Giving Pledge, under which the world’s richest people commit to giving away at least half their wealth to charity.
At the Optimist Daily, we don’t get overexcited when billionaires decide to make a donation. But it is definitely worth talking about when a billionaire recognizes the power of their own wealth and decides to give it all away for the greater good.