Have you ever gone through an airport and purchased something “Duty Free?” Did you know that the man who developed that idea became a billionaire off your purchases? His name is Chuck Feeney.
In this “CHARITY SPEAK,” series, I share about some businessmen I knew who created income for our non-profit efforts. Here’s a vinette about a businesman I don’t know who is impacting the non-profit environment on a mammoth scale. My thesis: Wealth created in the business sector is essential for “providing love” through the non-profit sector.
Chuck Feeney, used his entrepreneurial skills to build tremendous wealth. Born of modest, blue-collar Irish-American parents in Elizabeth, New Jersey, during the Great Depression, he served as a U.S. Air Force radio operator during the Korean War.
After graduating from Cornell University, he continued in business by co-founding the Duty Free Shoppers Group he subsequently sold. When that happened he set aside $26 million dollars to give to 2400 long-term staff. That act of generosity to employees represented his philanthropic philosophy, “”I had one idea that never changed in my mind—that you should use your wealth to help people. I try to live a normal life, the way I grew up,” Feeney said. “I set out to work hard, not to get rich.
Once he became wealthy, he made it his life mission to give away every penny of his billion dollar fortune. Even today, he’s known for his frugality. He flies coach class, owns neither a home nor a car, and wears a $15 watch.
Feeney founded The Atlantic Philanthropies in 1982, and in 1984, having made provision for his family, as well as a very modest provision for himself, transferred the bulk of his wealth to the foundation.
As of October 2012, Atlantic had made grants totaling more than $6.2 billion since 1982 and plans to spend its remaining $1.3 billion by 2016.
In February 2011 Feeney became a signatory to The Giving Pledge. In his letter to Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, the founders of The Giving Pledge, Feeney writes, “I cannot think of a more personally rewarding and appropriate use of wealth than to give while one is living – to personally devote oneself to meaningful efforts to improve the human condition. More importantly, today’s needs are so great and varied that intelligent philanthropic support and positive interventions can have greater value and impact today than if they are delayed when the needs are greater.”
Bottom Line for Non-Profits: Without business effort and the generous heart of the business person, like Chuck Feeney, non-profits would have a tough go producing any spiritual and humanitarian outcome.