MacKenzie Scott acknowledges another $2B in donations

Nov 13, 2022, 10:33 PM | Updated: Nov 14, 2022, 3:28 pm
FILE - Then-MacKenzie Bezos arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on March 4, 2018, in Beverly Hil...

FILE - Then-MacKenzie Bezos arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on March 4, 2018, in Beverly Hills, Calif. The megadonor and novelist announced almost $2 billion in donations to 343 organizations in a short blog post Monday, Nov, 14, 2022, emphasizing her interest in supporting people from underserved communities. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Megadonor and novelist MacKenzie Scott announced almost $2 billion in donations to 343 organizations in a short blog post Monday, emphasizing her interest in supporting people from underserved communities.

In her first post in nearly eight months, Scott showcased her donations to numerous funds as a “great resource” for giving. “They pool donations and spread them across a diverse group of smaller organizations working toward a common cause,” she wrote. “The funds we picked look for teams with lived experience in the issues they’re addressing.”

Scott also repeated a promise first made in December last year to release a database of the organizations to which she’s donated.

Her new list of donations includes several that have been previously announced, including $85 million to the Girl Scouts of the USA last month, $39 million to Junior Achievement USA in August, and $123 million to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America in May. In Monday’s post, however, no donation amounts were listed.

Phil Buchanan, president of The Center for Effective Philanthropy, said Scott’s recent gifts continue to show how well avoiding the traditional “top-down, donor-knows-best” philanthropic style can work.

Scott’s focus on donations to pooled funds allow her to support smaller organizations doing good work in specific areas.

“If you’re trying to reach a very small organization in a particular community and you’re a larger donor, it’s wise to find an intermediary,” said Buchanan, whose organization plans, on Tuesday, to release a research report on the impact of Scott’s giving from the summer of 2020 through the summer of 2021.

The Center for Effective Philanthropy studied tens of thousands of donations in that time frame and found that the median grant was $100,000. In that same period, the median grant from Scott was $8 million.

“That’s a whole other order of magnitude,” Buchanan said.

Ana Conner, co-director of Third Wave Fund, which received a $3 million grant from Scott to support its work for youth-led, gender justice, said that the donation will help groups that “fall through the cracks of philanthropy.”

“We are the bridge between those groups and big donors and big philanthropy,” said Conner. “By amplifying what funds do, she is making a great call to action to wealthy donors to see what it could look like to fund community groups.”

Lauren Janus, chief operating officer at philanthropic advisory firm Phila Giving, praised Scott for suggesting other donors give to funds led by people with lived experience in the communities in which they work.

“Philanthropy doesn’t have to be the way that it’s always been. It doesn’t have to be these typically white men in these high towers doling out gifts to the deserving and the grateful nonprofits below them,” Janus said. “It can be a real partnership. And in fact, it can be even where the is a relationship where the funder is just kind of a sidekick, is supporting this amazing nonprofit and really fading into the background.”

The ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Scott vaulted to philanthropic fame in 2019 when she pledged to give away the majority of her wealth and then dropped $5.8 billion in donations by the end of 2020.

The announcement Monday brought the amount she’s said she’s given to around $14 billion to some 1,500 organizations.

Bezos said in an interview with CNN published Monday that he would give away the majority of his wealth in his lifetime, though he didn’t specify how.

Forbes estimates Scott’s net worth to be $29.5 billion, a figure which has fallen since a peak in 2021.

As she has in previous posts, Scott articulated a desire to elevate the work of the organizations she supports while also trying to avoid the limelight herself. She reproduced a poem by Gwen Nell Westerman, a poet, visual artist and professor from Minnesota, that seems to speak in the voice of a person trying to repair a harm but who seems not to have tried to understand the hurt done in the first place.

Entitled “Dakota Homecoming,” the poem ends with what Westerman said was a direct quote: “We want to write an apology letter, they said, ‘Tell us what to say.'”

Westerman said she was honored Scott chose her poetry as an inspiration for her work, adding that she believes many people will recognize the sentiment in the poem.

“Not having context or not having any kind of similar lived experience and knowing something needs to be done and then putting all the work and effort on to that marginalized group or oppressed group and saying, ‘Here to help us fix it,'” she said.

Scott said Westerman’s poem, which her staff requested permission to reproduce in advance, inspires her to stop talking every time she reads it.

“I had to close my laptop for a couple of days before writing this very short post,” Scott wrote.

Beyond the speed and size of her giving, Scott’s approach to spending her money also caught the attention of other major donors and nonprofit recipients: she uses a small team of advisors led by a consultancy and typically informs nonprofits of the largest donations they have ever received through a cold call or following a nondescript email. Her gifts come with no conditions and very few reporting requirements.

Because she’s made these donations as an individual and not through a foundation, little public record exists besides announcements from the recipient organizations – not all of whom have disclosed the sums they’ve received.

Throughout the previous three years, Scott has not spoken about her philanthropy other than through her blog posts, choosing not to respond to media requests.

“I think we can all do good work at our own levels and that we can be inspired by the generosity of others like Mackenzie Scott,” Westerman said.

___

Associated Press coverage of philanthropy and non-profits receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

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MacKenzie Scott acknowledges another $2B in donations