As Chuck Feeney’s 85th birthday passed in April, the man once described by Forbes as “the James Bond of Philanthropy” was celebrated by many who know him. The tens of thousands of people who benefit from the institutions and causes he has strengthened were unaware of the milestone.
Like Bill Gates, Chuck Feeney credited Andrew “I should consider it a disgrace to die a rich man” Carnegie for influencing his decision to become serious in giving (see the 1889 article The Gospel of Wealth). 2016 will probably see the last distributions from Chuck Feeney and his foundation The Atlantic Philanthropies – in total a direct distribution of more than AU$10,000,000,000 (US$7.5B). A lot of lessons were learned along the way, particularly about leveraging philanthropy to maximise impact. How will the next generation of entrepreneurs learn from the Atlantic Philanthropies experience?
If you have strong wrists (the boxed two-book set weighs in at 4.3kilos – so perhaps better to read online) a treasure trove awaits you. Laying Foundations for Change: Capital Investments of The Atlantic Philanthropies and its companion volume provide a fascinating story of how projects were selected and leveraged for maximum impact, and of the personal connection Chuck Feeney made with people at all levels of the organisations he supported.
It is also a selectively gracious account. There are no references to the Australian politicians and institutional leaders who treated him poorly on account of his humble dress and lack of entourage. The books are full of photos of universities, laboratories, hospitals, health clinics, and scholarships across the USA, Australia, South Africa, Ireland and Viet Nam.
The book recounts Chuck Feeney’s decision to give up his once-strict requirement of anonymity because a former business partner was going to make his philanthropy known, but Chuck Feeney told me a different side. Those who knew of his generosity were starting to falsely see his hand in every large gift reported as “By anonymous” – he was in danger of becoming synonymous with anonymous.
If you are a philanthropist, fundraiser, grant-maker, or anyone who needs to read the uplifting story of a remarkable human being, I recommend you dip into Laying Foundations for Change again and again.
To find out how Daniel can help your organisation, contact d.mcdiarmid@AskRIGHT.com.
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