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Hear About What’s Going On Today Before It’s Gone Tomorrow

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At this year’s Fall Conference in Seattle, we’re holding 14 separate breakouts on a range of topics from storytelling to program/communications collaboration to using data effectively. The post below is another in our ongoing series highlighting the topics these breakouts will cover.

Most foundations have the luxury of time to tell their stories. But for The Atlantic Philanthropies, the clock is ticking.  It plans to spend itself out of existence by 2020. That leaves it with only a few years to tell its full story–and in ways that it hopes encourages others to continue work it is doing today. During the session titled, Serving, Creating and Sharing Legacy: Lessons from a Young and Time-Limited Foundation, panelists will discuss how the foundation is approaching that task and what it hopes to accomplish.

The decision to go out of business, and earn Atlantic the distinction as the largest foundation in history to do so, is an outgrowth of founder Chuck Feeney’s belief in “giving while living.” Although the foundation’s giving was kept anonymous for much of its history — it was founded in 1984 —  it came out of anonymity in 2001.  Most recently, Atlantic and Feeney have been more vocal in telling their stories in order to inspire other wealthy individuals to consider “giving while living” and to share lessons learned with the broader philanthropic community. To date, the foundation has granted over $6.2 billion globally in efforts to advance human rights, improve the lives of vulnerable populations, and promote education, science and public health.

Among the ways the Atlantic story is capturing the public attention is a mid-September piece in Forbes,“Chuck Feeney: The Billionaire Who Is Trying To Go Broke,” which discussed the history of the foundation and the reasons for the spend-down.  Feeney told Forbes that one of the lessons he wants to pass on to today’s philanthropists is: “Don’t wait to give your money away when you’re old or, even worse, dead. Instead, make substantial donations while you still have the energy, connections and influence to make waves.” Or as Feeney himself says, “People who have money have an obligation.”

The question then, is how best to fulfill that obligation. Session organizer, Edith Asibey, chief communications officer for The Atlantic Philanthropies, says, “we now ask ourselves ‘what is our legacy?’ It’s a question that applies to us as individuals and to the organizations we work for.  I am eager to learn from our peers about their experiences with it.”

During the session, audience members will have a chance to hear from and ask questions of Atlantic’s President and Chief Executive Officer Christopher G. Oechsli, and two consultants who are working with Atlantic — Tony Proscio and Thaler Pekar — about the strategies the foundation is using to share lessons of its limited life and what it wants to achieve before it closes down.  Asibey will moderate the session.

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