Aug 15, 2012
The Sun is Setting on Atlantic Philanthropies
Last week, The New York Times profiled Charles Feeney, founder of Duty Free Shoppers, for his last act of philanthropy: giving away $1.5 billion over the next four years. As highlighted in the article, Feeney established and managed to run the group of foundations known as Atlantic Philanthropies anonymously for 15 years and quietly funded social justice efforts including ending armed conflicts in South Africa and in Northern Ireland, marriage-equality campaigns, and health care reform in the United States.
Feeney is an ardent advocate of “giving while living”. He believes money is best spent on urgent problems that require attention now, before they become even more expensive to solve later. Now, Atlantic Philanthropies and their grantees are preparing for 2020 when the philanthropies will shut off the lights and close their doors forever.
Feeney is not the first philanthropist to choose to “sunset” (spend down his assets) instead of allowing his philanthropies to exist in perpetuity. The Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society is compiling a growing list of foundations (over 50) that have or are actively spending down.
The Philanthropy Roundtable suggests that sunsetting can be an effective means of upholding donor intent. The Roundtable’s president Adam Meyerson recently opined in the Wall Street Journal on the risks philanthropists face in allowing their foundations to exist in perpetuity.
“When a foundation is set up to dribble out its funds in perpetuity, there is a high risk it will eventually drift into projects the donor did not believe in . . . . ‘Giving while living’ is his way to make certain his funds support causes he believes in. The Feeney method is not the only way to avoid having charitable gifts go to the wrong places, but he is absolutely right to be wary. One of the great scandals in modern philanthropy is that trustees and staff of grant-making institutions all too often pay little attention to the principles governing their founders’ charitable giving.”
Meyerson highlights guidelines that donors of all sizes should follow to safeguard their giving. They include having a clearly defined charitable mission for others to follow, giving generously while alive, and recruiting trustees and staff who share your fundamental principles. (Click here for the Roundtable’s recent guidebook on the subject).
ACR, a project of The Philanthropy Roundtable, is supportive of efforts that maximize the impact of philanthropic assets while protecting the intentions of donors. For more resources on the issue of spending down, please visit the spend-down v. perpetuity section of the Roundtable’s online Resource Library: http://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/topic/donor_intent/spend_down_vs_perpetuity
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