Billionaire Charles “Chuck” Feeney is remarkable.
In a story about Feeney’s philanthropy, his legacy, and how his experience compares to that of US president-elect Donald Trump, New York Times reporter Jim Dwyer writes about the $8 billion Feeney has given away over the course of his lifetime.
The billionaire calls it “giving while living.”
Feeney signed over his entire fortune to Atlantic Philanthropies, a collection of private foundations, over three decades ago, and kept the funds growing through tech investments in companies like Facebook and Alibaba. None of the 1,000 buildings he’s funded bear his name, Dwyer points out.
“It’s more than money. It’s satisfaction that you’re achieving something that is helpful to people,” Feeney said of his giving in video posted on the Atlantic Philanthropies site.
Now in his 80s, Feeney’s left himself with about $2 million worth of wealth to live on — less than 0.001% of the $8 billion he’s given away.
All of that in itself is remarkable, to say the least, but Dwyer’s details about how Feeney lived his day-to-day life may be equally so. Feeney:
- Flew coach until he was 75 years old
- “… and carried reading materials in a plastic bag”
- Skipped luxury lunches in New York City in favour of burgers at one of the ubiquitous Upper-East-Side pubs
- Rents his home, a San Francisco apartment
For the average person, or perhaps even the average millionaire, these everyday habits aren’t so out-of-the-ordinary. But Feeney is — or was, anyway — a billionaire. Billionaires don’t have to fly coach.
His cramped aeroplane seats and casual burgers put him squarely in the company of billionaires like investor Warren Buffett, who lives in the Omaha, Nebraska house he bought for a little over $31,000 in 1958 (Buffett has has signed The Giving Pledge along with Feeney, promising to give more than half of his wealth to philanthropy and charity during his lifetime or posthumously), and Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen, who is known for packing a brown-bag lunch every day.
But they aren’t cheap. They’re frugal. Spending on things they care the most about — in Feeney’s case, philanthropic causes around higher education, public health, human rights, and scientific research — and hardly sparing a dime for the things they don’t.
“I’m not here to tell anyone what to do with their money,” Feeney said in the Atlantic Philanthropies video. “You make your money, you do what you want with it. But I think there is an obligation, certainly for the haves, to reach out and to see what they can do.”