Why This Influential Philanthropist Went All In For Health at UCSF

Philanthropist Chuck Feeney recently gave $100 million to University of California San Francisco in support of its new Mission Bay hospitals. The gift will support medical research into diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Multiple Sclerosis, and will provide support to UCSF's Sandler Neurosciences Center

Related: The Sandler Way: Where Big Philanthropy Meets the Art of Common Sense

The gift will also support scholarships for students at UCSF's schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy.

This isn't the first time Feeney has given big to UCSF either. Back in 2009, he made a $125 million matching gift also in support of UCSF health. This latest gift brings Feeney's total giving at UCSF to at least $394 million. And get this, Feeney isn't even an alum of the school.

What's going on here?

Well, for one, it might be useful to know a little bit about Feeney. Born to Irish-American parents in New Jersey, Feeney went on to attend Cornell and later served in the U.S. Air Force. Feeney went on to co-foundDuty Free Shoppers.

Everyone's heard of Duty Free in airports but in the philanthropic world you've likely heard of another one of Feeney's ventures: Atlantic Philanthropies. We've written about Atlantic Philanthropies before, and their billions in grantmaking they've done since their founding.

According to Forbes, in 1984, Feeney secretly transferred his 38.75% ownership of Duty Free into what eventually became Atlantic Philanthropies. Atlantic plans on closing its doors in 2016, and when it does an estimated $7.5 billion would have gone to charity.

Atlantic has given around the world in areas such as education, human rights, science and healthcare. The outfit recently gave 25 million euros towards education, parenting programs, and improvements to dementia care in Northern Ireland.

But Feeney hasn't just made an impact with his money but as a leader. He coined the term Giving While Living, a mindset which is said to have influenced Gates and Buffett in starting the Giving Pledge. Indeed, last year, Buffett spoke at Feeney's Forbes 400 Lifetime Achievement for Philanthropy ceremony. Oh, and in case you're wondering, Feeney is also a Giving Pledge signatory.

These days, Feeney isn't on the Forbes Billionaire list anymore, but this has been totally by design. What we're seeing here is a massive spend down and Feeney once said that he wants the last check he writes to bounce. There's a sense of urgency with Feeney's philanthropy that makes this story interesting.

Of course, even for someone who makes it their mission to give away all their money in their lifetime, there's still a question of where it's going to go. It might be useful then, to reiterate one of our IP higher ed lessons; so while it's true that Feeney isn't an alum, he's been involved with UCSF for years.

A $50 million gift from Atlantic Philanthropies helped build the UCSF Cardiovascular Research Institute (CVRI), which is part of the new UCSF Mission Bay campus. Overall, Atlantic Philanthropies has contributed $270 million so far to the making of Mission Bay.

As we often say, past giving can predict future giving, particularly in this case when Feeney has been involved with UCSF's Mission Bay enterprise for a while now. It makes sense that a donor might want to see a project through. UCSF set a $600 million philanthropy goal for the $1.5 billion hospitals project. Feeney by himself has cut a pretty big chunk into this this goal.

By the way, despite all of the love that Feeney has shown UCSF, Feeney's alma mater Cornell has received nearly $1 billion from Atlantic Philanthropies. But ultimately, the takeway here is about what philanthropy might look like when a donor goes all in with his money, deeply influencing others along the way.