The History of the Giving While Living Ethic

The History of the Giving While Living Ethic

The ethic of "giving while living," championed in recent decades by Atlantic Philanthropies founder Chuck Feeney, is a complex phenomenon of intertwined — and sometimes competing — transactional, donor, and institutional imperatives, a report commissioned by the foundation finds. According to the report, The History of the Giving While Living Ethic (54 pages, PDF), the concept comprises three imperatives — that the donor commits money to charitable causes while still alive, that the donor is actively engaged in overseeing his or her giving, and that the giving be done publicly to encourage giving by others. Having made a fortune from his ownership stake in Duty Free Shoppers, Feeney became preoccupied with putting his wealth to "the highest and best use" and doing it promptly. Like Andrew Carnegie and many twenty-first-century philanthrocapitalists, Feeney also believed in a donor's duty to take active stewardship of the transfer of his or her wealth based on the notion that a successful entrepreneur's talents, applied to philanthropy, could maximize impact. As the growing scale of his giving came to require an institutional apparatus, however, Feeney, who shared Julius Rosenwald's uneasiness with public giving, overcame his preference for anonymous gifts and eventually signed the Giving Pledge, with the understanding that giving while living carried a responsibility to promote a culture of active philanthropy among the wealthy. The report also notes that the evolution of Feeney's philosophy of giving has at times resulted in tensions among the three imperatives and within the foundation, and that his efforts to promote that philosophy have not always been successful.