Food banks, immigrant groups and colleges across the United States discovered a surprising benefactor last year when billions of dollars flowed to organizations damaged during the pandemic by MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Scott unlocked a staggering $ 6 billion in charity donations last year, and unlike many other major donors, did not attach any restrictions or even naming requirements.
The approach has shaken up the philanthropic world, not only with the size of her gifts but without the limitations and accounting requirements of many large foundations or donors.
Laura MacDonald, chair of the Giving USA Foundation, a nonprofit that conducts research on philanthropic giving, said Scott’s strategy is part of a “trust-based philanthropy” movement that eliminates some of the bureaucracy from many donors.
MacDonald said that Scott’s approach went beyond the “Big Brother” method of some donors and the venture capital thinking that permeates much of the business world.
“Trust-based philanthropy has catapulted to the top of the list of talking points” in the philanthropic world as a result of Scott’s initiative, MacDonald said.
“This can stimulate other donors to try something and take more risks.”
In December, Scott’s latest round of funding included 384 organizations, ranging from Blackfeet Community College of Montana to Arkansas Food Bank to the Immigrant Families Fund.
“This pandemic has been a devastating ball in the American lives that are already struggling,” Scott wrote in a blog post.
“Economic losses and health outcomes have been worse for women, for people of color and for people living in poverty. At the same time, it has significantly increased the wealth of billionaires.”
Lots to celebrate
Philanthropy activists say Scott’s actions are likely to make other billionaires – including her ex-husband – notice.
“There is a lot to celebrate about her philanthropy,” said Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, which provides research data to foundations and other charities.
“I hope that the large amount of money she gets out the door and her intention to continue to do so is a kick in the pants to everyone who sits on an enormous wealth in a time of incredible challenge and need.”
Scott, whose Amazon stake acquired in her divorce is estimated at about $ 58 billion, promised to give away the majority of his fortune to fight social injustice.
She announced contributions of about $ 1.7 billion in July and another $ 4.2 billion in December.
She hired a team of advisers to help identify organizations to help those suffering from the pandemic’s financial burden, focusing on those working to combat hunger, poverty and racial inequality.
While her ex-husband Bezos has donated $ 10 billion to fight climate change – the biggest charity donation in 2020 – and additional amounts to other causes, he has given more slowly and proportionately less, given that his fortune is worth more than three times hers.
The former couple was able to offer a major boost to philanthropy in the United States, which represented about $ 450 billion in donations from Americans in 2019.
Speed and scale
Benjamin Soskis, senior research assistant at the Center for Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute, said Scott’s actions are remarkable not only for their scope but for the speed with which the funds are delivered.
“The pandemic has reinforced a demand to get money out the door as quickly as possible,” Soskis said.
In addition, Scott has broken with much of the philanthropic tradition by eliminating cumbersome constraints and boundaries, which can complicate things for organizations that climb to cope with the pandemic.
“She has emphasized giving money and getting out of the way,” Soskis said.
“Philanthropists often see themselves as part of the process, with several checks and evaluations and measures that can be really burdensome.”
A potential criticism of Scott’s approach is her “opaque” process in which she has chosen beneficiaries, Soskis said.
“She works in a sphere of absolute discretion that is not responsible for anyone,” he said.
Nevertheless, Soskis said that her actions create an important precedent that can be a positive force for philanthropy.
“We should not underestimate the role MacKenzie Scott plays in creating a new norm for philanthropic giving,” Soskis said.
“Every major philanthropist must confront the example she has set.”