Tech news
Monday, Apr 19, 2021

MacKenzie Scott redefines charitable giving for the ultra-rich

MacKenzie Scott redefines charitable giving for the ultra-rich

MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is worth about $60 billion. She pledged to give away substantially all of that money after she gained autonomy over her own wealth. Judging by her first 116 grants, she's doing so in a refreshingly radical - and humble - manner. Her giving is based in "respect for people who are doing the work."

Alms for the needy was the starter charity. It was succeeded by professionalized philanthropy - a baroque edifice of foundations and perpetuities and strategies and naming rights and social impact metrics.

  • Scott's giving suggests a new model, one more focused on the value of giving itself, and where the giver does not try to influence the actions of the grant recipients.

"People who have experience with inequities are the ones best equipped to design solutions," writes Scott.

  • In practice what that means is that she trusts them to know what best to do with her money, instead of doling it out only within a complex framework of grant proposals and quarterly reports and two-year re-evaluations.

How it works
When Scott chooses a cause, she just gives them cash. No schedules, no promises, no strings. (Jack Dorsey's #startsmall initiative is similar, if smaller.)

By the numbers
Scott has given $587 million to racial equity organizations, 91% of which are run by leaders of color. $46 million went to LGBTQ+ equity organizations all of which are run by LGBTQ+ leaders.

  • She gave $133 million to gender equity organizations, 83% of which are run by women.

The philanthro-industrial complex did help: Scott was advised in her giving by Bridgespan Group, one of the largest big-philanthropy advisors. But their job was clearly just to identify worthy recipients - and then get out of the way.

The easy way to give away hundreds of millions or billions of dollars is to funnel the cash into architecture or endowments, rather than trying to get it directly to those who need it. Scott has avoided that.

  • "There has been too much emphasis on thinking about the future," says Benjamin Soskis, a philanthropy researcher at the Urban Institute. Scott's giving, instead, is based in "respect for people who are doing the work." And that feels new.

Scott is only getting started in her philanthropy, and the $1.7 billion she's given away so far is extremely impressive. Still, her net worth has managed to increase by $25 billion this year alone, thanks to the rise in Amazon's share price.


Related Articles