Thursday, October 9, 2014
Comparing Spending Down and Perpetuity - Should Charity Go on Forever?
Chuck Feeney, the 83-year-old co-founder of the pioneering retail business Duty Free Shoppers (the company that sells the tax-free alcohol and perfume in airports), is practically unknown as a public figure. Though Forbes once ranked him the 23rd-richest person alive, you wouldn’t realize it if you met him on the street: In his prime, he famously wore a $15 watch and flew economy. You certainly won’t find his name on any buildings. Yet his foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, will soon become the largest ever foundation to purposefully give away all its money--seeded by almost Feeney’s entire fortune, which was worth about $4 billion when he donated it anonymously three decades ago--and then go about shutting its doors.
Big bucks philanthropy was once defined by benevolent barons like Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Ford, men who plastered their names on brick walls and established foundations with large endowments meant to carry on their legacy forever. In 1984, when Feeney gave away nearly all his wealth, he became an early, outsized example of a new breed of philanthropist, a forefather of a style of giving that is becoming more and more popular with today's rich and ultra-rich.
The current class of high-profile wealthy elite, people like Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Richard Branson, and Mark Zuckerberg, are giving away money earlier in their life than their predecessors. Some are setting up their donations or foundations in a way that their funds won’t last for generations. In many cases, they’re also becoming what you might call philanthropic entrepreneurs, devoting energies in their prime to directing their charities either alongside--or instead of--their businesses....