Feeney, Charles E.
By Jennifer D. Medema
Graduate Student, Grand Valley State University (Fall, 2005)
Charles Feeney is an Irish-American businessman who secretly gave away over 500 million dollars to charity. The airport gift shop business he co-founded with Robert Miller, Duty Free Shoppers, Ltd. (DFS) earned him millions, but in 1984 he turned over his thirty-nine percent stake in the business to a charitable foundation he created, Atlantic Philanthropies. It was his intent to keep his altruism a secret and he did so by incorporating his foundation in Bermuda, and attaching confidentiality agreements and “vows of secrecy” to his foundation’s grants. Not even his business partner realized the full extent of his philanthropy. It was not until 1997 when DFS was sold did the extent of his charitable giving come to light. That sale netted his foundation 1.6 billion dollars (Conlin, Hempel, Polek and Grover 2003).
Charles Feeney was born in 1931 and grew up in a middle class suburb of Elizabeth, New Jersey. He worked his way through college at Cornell University selling sandwiches door-to-door to fraternities. Even after he became prosperous he lived modestly, and is legendary among friends for his frugality. Flying coach, meeting for lunch in coffee shops and his fifteen-dollar watches are well known examples of his conservative lifestyle (Conlin et al). He has five grown children who have each received modest sums from their father. Feeney’s worth today is estimated at just 1.5 million, however his foundation as of December of 2004 had an asset base of 4.3 billion (Atlantic Philanthropies).
In addition to the programs supported by his foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, Charles Feeney maintains a strong interest in the birth country of his parents, Ireland. He is both an Irish and American citizen and one of his interests has been supporting the work of the Irish political movement Sein Fein that seeks national self determination and lasting peace in Ireland. Feeney was part of a small group of Irish Americans that acted as intermediaries between Sinn Fein and the Clinton administration and he provided the “financial clout” and underwrote an office for the political group in Washington D.C. (Adler).
Ties to the Philanthropic Sector
Atlantic Philanthropies was formed in 1982. Initially their programs focused on Higher Education, Pre-Collegiate Education and the Nonprofit Sector. In brief these program goals centered on improving institutional research capabilities, expanding access to the disadvantage, improving technology and training leaders. For many years that focus served the interests of the foundation but more recently the foundation has decided to phase out those programs and concentrate their investments in Ageing, Disadvantaged Children & Youth, Population Health, and Reconciliation & Human Rights. The geographical range of grants provided will be limited to the United States, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Viet Nam and Bermuda.
Key Related Ideas
Ageism is bias against a person or group on the grounds of age. When that bias is the primary motivation behind acts of discrimination against that person or group, then those acts constitute age discrimination (Wikipedia).
Anonymous Philanthropy is an idea with biblical roots, from Jewish philosopher Maimonides and his “Eight Levels of Charity” that bestows high honor on giving without recognition and St. Paul the apostle who discerned between giving (an act) and charity (an attitude). Anonymous giving accounts for less than ten percent of donations over one million (Gibson 2001).
Sein Fein is a political party in Ireland that supports the unification of Ireland. It maintains its independence from the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Generally speaking members of the IRA and Sein Fein are Roman Catholic by religion.
Spend down is the practice of “sunsetting” or spending down assets within a specified time frame.
Important People Related to the Topic
These are some other generous donors who have shunned the spotlight and prefer to remain anonymous regarding their charitable works. (Conlin et al.)
- Fred Eychaner (c. 1944 -), founder of Newsweb Corp., also shuns the spotlight of charity circles but has given over $73 million to Chicago area causes.
- George Kaiser (1943 -), the son of WW II refugees, made his fortune in oil and banking and has given close to 300 million to anti-poverty programs but refuses public accolades.
- Maurice “Chico” Sabbah (1929-2006) pledged 100 million to fund the first Non Orthodox Jewish boarding school. His giving was in secret until the tragedy of September 11 put his fortune at risk.
Related Nonprofit Organizations
- Amnesty International (AI) is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights. AI’s mission is to undertake research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of the rights to physical and mental integrity, freedom of conscience and expression, and freedom from discrimination, within the context of its work to promote all human rights. Charles Feeney has given this organization support (www.amnesty.org/).
- Atlantic Philanthropies defines their purpose as “To bring about lasting changes in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people” (www.atlanticphilanthropies.org/).
- Irish Hospice Foundation is a not-for-profit organization that promotes the hospice philosophy and supports the development of hospice care. They support the idea that no one should have to face death without appropriate care and support and this includes supporting family members that are affected. Feeney’s foundation has given this organization some funding (www.hospice-foundation.ie/).
The mission of The Aspen Institute, at www.aspeninstitute.org/, is to foster enlightened leadership and open-minded dialogue. Through seminars, policy programs, conferences and leadership development initiatives, the Institute and its international partners seek to promote nonpartisan inquiry and an appreciation for timeless values.
The Institute of Governance, Public Policy and Social Research, at www.governance.qub.ac.uk/, is an interdisciplinary research center that brings together practitioners and researchers in the field of public policy and governance from Queen's University in Belfast, Ireland, other universities throughout the world and the wider policy community.
The Ravazzin Center For Social Work Research In Aging, at www.fordham.edu/Academics/Colleges__Graduate_S/
Research_Centers_and/Ravazzin_Center_for_/, is affiliated with Fordham University in Tarrytown, NY. The Center’s mission is to enable social workers to meet the needs of an aging society through development and dissemination of empirically based knowledge that will further the understanding of aging and strengthen the role of social work. The Center’s focus is on changing roles for social work in a changing service environment. The agency conducts research that will help further understanding of aging and strengthen the role of social work in our aging society.
Bibliography and Internet Sources
Adler, Jerry. "He gave at the office." Newsweek, 3 February 1997, 34-37. Accessed 29 November 2005. www.proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.gvsu.edu:2048/pqdweb?did=10951844&Fmt=2&clientId=17837&RQT=309&VName=PQD.
Gibson, Eric. "Giving without giving a darn who gets the credit." Wall Street Journal. 3 August 2001, sec. W.13. In ProQuest [database online]. Accessed 30 November 2005. Available from Grand Valley State University Libraries.
Conlin, Michelle, Jessi Hempel, David Polek, and Ron Grover. "The secret givers; These big-time contributors try to share their wealth while shunning the spotlight." Business Week. December 2003, 86-90. In ProQuest [database online]. Accessed 30 November 2005. Available from Grand Valley State University Libraries.
Wikipedia. Ageism. Accessed 30 November 2005. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ageism.
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