$4 billion in four months: MacKenzie Scott’s unprecedented pace of philanthropy


Alliance magazine


MacKenzie Scott is giving away her fortune at a pace not often seen in the philanthropy world. She has donated more than $4 billion in four months, after announcing $1.7 billion in gifts in July.

Following her divorce from Amazon co-founder Jeff Bezos in 2019, Scott found herself among the world’s richest billionaires – and her net worth has only grown. In the last year and a half, Scott’s worth has grown from $35.6 billion to $60.7 billion – a 70 per cent increase largely linked to the surging worth of Amazon stock amid the pandemic.

However, Scott, who signed the Giving Pledge last year, is working fast to make sure some of that wealth goes back to those who are suffering the most from the pandemic and its impact.

‘This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling,’ she wrote in a post on Medium. ‘Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color and for people living in poverty. Meanwhile, it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires.’

Scott has focused her giving on trying to impact structural injustices through the almost 400 organisations she’s chosen to fund in this announcement, which include everything from institutions to higher education, including historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), to food banks throughout America. Scott and her advisors focused her giving on groups and organisations ‘operating in communities facing high projected food insecurity, high measures of racial inequity, high local poverty rates, and low access to philanthropic capital.’

Alliance Executive Editor Charles Keidan, writing about Scott’s giving on Twitter, said, ‘This makes her a champion of an approach to philanthropy rooted in social, economic and racial justice. She’s not alone in that of course, but it’s still quite unusual in philanthropy circles.’

Scott’s approach to philanthropy is also noteworthy for its commitment to good funding practice. Instead of asking non-profits to adhere to ‘burdensome reporting requirements’ or rely on fundraising – two things that Scott says are chronically diverting non-profits from their work – she provided funding with no strings attached.

We ‘welcomed them to spend the funding on whatever they believe best serves their efforts. They were told that the entire commitment would be paid upfront and left unrestricted in order to provide them with maximum flexibility,’ Scott wrote.

Scott’s philanthropic giving in 2020 so far has amounted to almost $6 billion this year – putting her among the most generous philanthropists this year. Chuck Collins, director of the Charity Reform Initiative at the Institute for Policy Studies, said to the New York Times that, at least in terms of publicly announced grants, he could think of no one who had given away more this year. For context, the Gates Foundation, by many measures the biggest and most influential foundation in the world, gave away $5.1 billion in direct grant support in 2019.

Yet even given the amount of funding she has been able to disburse this year, Scott finishes her statement with a note of how far there is to go – and also hope, writing: ‘Though I’m far from completing my pledge, this year of giving began with exposure to leaders from historically marginalized groups fighting inequities, and ended with exposure to thousands of organizations working to alleviate suffering for those hardest hit by the pandemic. Witnessing the determination, creativity, and compassion of people in a crisis has been inspiring.

‘If you’re craving a way to use your time, voice, or money to help others at the end of this difficult year, I highly recommend a gift to one of the thousands of organizations doing remarkable work all across the country. Every one of them could benefit from more resources to share with the communities they’re serving. And the hope you feed with your gift is likely to feed your own.’

Tagged in: Funding practice

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