I Want To Die Broke
With wealth comes great responsibility. For one billionaire, that means ‘giving while living’. Chuck Feeney is spending most of his fortune on charity while he’s alive to see its impact. In fact, his goal is to die broke.
Chuck Feeney, cofounder of retail giant Duty Free Shoppers, was once a billionaire. Over his lifetime, he amassed a fortune of over $8 billion dollars selling luxury goods to tourists. Now age 90 – his birthday is today – Feeney has nothing left and couldn’t be happier.
It was Feeney’s lifetime ambition to give away his entire fortune before he died, a concept he called “Giving While Living”— spend most of your fortune on charity while you are alive to see its impact instead of funding a foundation upon death.
As he signed papers to formally dissolve his foundation, The Atlantic Philanthropies, Feeney said he was very satisfied with “completing this on my watch” and urged other members of the super-rich to “try it, you’ll like it.”
“Wealth brings responsibility,” he often said. “People must define themselves, or feel a responsibility to use some of their assets to improve the lives of their fellow humans, or else create intractable problems for future generations.”
Over the last four decades, Feeney donated his wealth to charities, universities, human rights groups and foundations worldwide all while living a remarkably frugal lifestyle. Feeney didn’t own a car or a home, he only had one pair of shoes and flew economy class even when his family or friends who were on the same plane flew business.
Christopher Oechsli, the president and chief executive of The Atlantic Philanthropies, said Feeney would not preach his views to other members of the global super-rich, “But he would scratch his head and say ‘how many yachts or pairs of shoes do you need? What is all this wealth accumulation about, when you can look about you and see such tremendous needs,’” as shared in an article by The Guardian.
Unlike many wealthy philanthropists who greatly publicize their charitable efforts, all of Feeney’s donations throughout his lifetime were made anonymously. Because of his “clandestine, globe-trotting philanthropy campaign,” Forbes magazine dubbed him the James Bond of Philanthropy.
Feeney’s charitable actions inspired Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to establish the “Giving Pledge” in 2010 for the world’s richest people. Those who take the pledge commit to giving at least half of their fortune away to charity. “Give as much as possible during your lifetime.”
Gates credited Feeney with creating a path for other philanthropists to follow. “I remember meeting him before starting the Giving Pledge,” Gates said. “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,” he adds. Says Gates, “Many people talk to me about how he inspired them. It is truly amazing.”
On a table in Feeney’s small dorm-like apartment in San Francisco, sits a small plaque. It reads: ‘Congratulations to Chuck Feeney for $8 billion of philanthropic giving.’