Forbes, Buffett Honor UCSF’s No. 1 Donor

Chuck Feeney views a model of the UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay at its groundbreaking ceremony in October 2010. Photo courtesy of The Atlantic Philanthropies

By Claire Conway on June 24, 2014

Chuck Feeney, after decades of anonymous and stealth philanthropy, has been caught in the spotlight by earning a Forbes 400 Lifetime Achievement Award.

In presenting the award, billionaire Warren Buffett referred to Feeney as his hero, and Bill Gates’ hero as well. “He should be everybody’s hero,” Buffett remarked.

Feeney, through his philanthropic arm The Atlantic Philanthropies, is UCSF’s single greatest benefactor, giving more than a quarter of a billion dollars over the years. Proof of his epic generosity is visible most prominently at Mission Bay, where he has provided indispensable support to state-of-the-art buildings and created the environment for the remarkable science that goes on within them.

“Chuck’s approach to giving is based on backing great people in achieving demonstrable outcomes. As he has noted, ‘you should think of your philanthropic efforts as a business – out to achieve a demonstrable result,’” said Feeney’s business partner, Steve Denning, who accepted the honor on his behalf.

Feeney’s deep and wide investment in UCSF is evidence of his confidence in UCSF’s ability to deliver on its promise as a world-class bioscience center.

His most recent gift to UCSF has been to Global Health Sciences, enabling UCSF to build Mission Hall, which will house its global health researchers, scientists, and students under the same roof for the first time. The building opens this fall.

Feeney also has given generously to the building of the Smith Cardiovascular Research Building, Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building, and the UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay, which opens its doors in 2015. 

“Chuck Feeney is an extraordinary human being – a visionary, a humanitarian, and a pragmatist,” said Interim Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS. “These traits have made him an indispensable partner in our evolution as a global health science hub. We are thrilled that he is being recognized for the magnitude of his remarkable generosity around the world.”

Committed to “giving while living,” Feeney transferred nearly all his and his family’s assets to The Atlantic Philanthropies with the intent to give it all away during his lifetime. For the first 15 years, Feeney swore The Atlantic Philanthropies staff to secrecy and gave anonymously, until he was outed by Forbes Magazine. By 2016, Atlantic Philanthropies will close its books, having emptied its $7.5 billion coffers into the promising causes Feeney has carefully chosen over the years.

“Chuck Feeney has changed the face of philanthropy,” said Hawgood. “Giving while living substantially increases the value of a gift both emotionally and financially. The working relationship we have with Chuck has been a source of inspiration for us all, personally and professionally.”