MacKenzie Scott's Grants: Large, Unrestricted, and Often Unexpected
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by Ruth McCambridge
So far, MacKenzie Scott has donated almost $6 billion in gifts. And while that rate is breaking records, Scott needs her giving machine to work faster, because the stock she holds in Amazon has rocketed in value from $23.6 billion this year to $60.7 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Thus, after giving away an astounding $6 billion, she is a little more than $37 billion richer.
Scott has focused largely on basic needs and justice issues in this last round of giving:
After my post in July, I asked a team of advisors to help me accelerate my 2020 giving through immediate support to people suffering the economic effects of the crisis. They took a data-driven approach to identifying organizations with strong leadership teams and results, with special attention to those operating in communities facing high projected food insecurity, high measures of racial inequity, high local poverty rates, and low access to philanthropic capital.
The result over the last four months has been $4,158,500,000 in gifts to 384 organizations across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington DC. Some are filling basic needs: food banks, emergency relief funds, and support services for those most vulnerable. Others are addressing long-term systemic inequities that have been deepened by the crisis: debt relief, employment training, credit and financial services for under-resourced communities, education for historically marginalized and underserved people, civil rights advocacy groups, and legal defense funds that take on institutional discrimination.
Specifically, she said, grants to date have been focused on nonprofits "operating in communities facing high projected food insecurity, high measures of racial inequity, high local poverty rates, and low access to philanthropic capital."
But the list is an eclectic mix of educational institutions, like tribal colleges and historically Black colleges and universities; those serving basic human needs, such as food programs and United Ways; and those capitalizing new community-based businesses like Coastal Enterprises in Maine, which received $10 million—approximately the scale of its annual budget. RIP Medical Debt received $50 million for its national work to eliminate medical debt. In Oregon and Washington, Craft3, a community development loan fund received $10 million.
Scott is a member of the Giving Pledge, writing at the point of signing, "I have a disproportionate amount of money to share. My approach to philanthropy will continue to be thoughtful. It will take time and effort and care. But I won't wait. And I will keep at it until the safe is empty." But as mentioned previously the pace of those gifts may appear close to outlandish even in this gilded age.
The sheer numbers are themselves impressive, but the giving style is also a model that reflects respect and faith. In short, she writes, "We can select organizations to assist—and get out of their way."
We do (this) research and deeper diligence not only to identify organizations with high potential for impact, but also to pave the way for unsolicited and unexpected gifts given with full trust and no strings attached. Because our research is data-driven and rigorous, our giving process can be human and soft. Not only are non-profits chronically underfunded, they are also chronically diverted from their work by fundraising, and by burdensome reporting requirements that donors often place on them.…
We shared each of our gift decisions with program leaders for the first time over the phone, and 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. The responses from people who took the calls often included personal stories and tears. These were non-profit veterans from all backgrounds and backstories, talking to us from cars and cabins and COVID-packed houses all over the country—a retired army general, the president of a tribal college recalling her first teaching job on her reservation, a loan fund founder sitting in the makeshift workspace between her washer and dryer from which she had launched her initiative years ago. Their stories and tears invariably made me and my teammates cry.