Charles Feeney, the former-billionaire co-founder of the Duty Free Shoppers (DFS) Group who for years made large philanthropic gifts in relative anonymity through a Bermuda-based entity, Atlantic Philanthropies, has signed the papers dissolving the foundation, Forbes reports.
In 1982, Feeney, with support from his family and advisors, established the Atlantic Foundation, which later would become known as Atlantic Philanthropies and to which Feeney would turn over his entire stake in DFS. That year, the foundation, acting anonymously, as it would for the next fifteen years, made a grant of $7 million to establish the Cornell Tradition Fellows. Over the years that followed, Atlantic developed extensive international subsidiary businesses for charitable purposes while maintaining Feeney's and his family's privacy and anonymity. In 1996, as those businesses began to be sold, Atlantic stepped up its grantmaking, and any anonymity around that giving became both a practical and ethical challenge. In 1997, with his identity as the donor behind Atlantic about to become part of the public record due to the sale of DFS to European conglomerate Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, Feeney was unmasked by the New York Times.
Feeney and the leadership of the foundation subsequently made the decision to invest its entire endowment in philanthropic causes and to sunset its operations by the end of 2020 as part of Feeney's efforts to promote an approach to philanthropy he dubbed "giving while living" — making large, concentrated, high-impact donations and setting a hard deadline for giving away the bulk of his fortune. At its busiest, Atlantic employed more than three hundred people and operated ten global offices across seven time zones. According to the foundation, the 2020 sunset date added urgency and discipline to its grantmaking while also affording it the time needed to document its history, reflect on its wins and failures, and articulate a blueprint for other philanthropies to follow.
"We ask that you celebrate and support what our grantee colleagues have achieved and are working to achieve," said Atlantic president and CEO Christopher G. Oechsli. "Celebrate and pursue the possibilities to improve things as they are. Recognize the power and duty of privilege to respond intelligently, with empathy and with some sense of urgency to the myriad of human needs. Take note that change for the better is not only possible, it is our shared human imperative. The effort is worthy and deeply satisfying and besides, as Chuck says, 'Giving while living is more fun than giving while dead.'"