MacKenzie (Bezos) Scott Starts Giving With $1.7 Billion

Nonprofits focused on equity, climate change, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), and nonprofit infrastructure organizations were among those that received some of MacKenzie Scott’s $1.7-billion largesse to charities in the past year — all in unrestricted giving to provide flexibility.

Scott is among the wealthiest women in America after her divorce from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, with some estimates pegging her wealth upwards of $60 billion. She is among the signers of “The Giving Pledge,” an effort launched in 2010 by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and billionaire investor Warren Buffett to encourage the world’s wealthiest people to donate the majority of their wealth during their lifetime.

In her only other Tweet since April 2019 — which announced the dissolution of her marriage to Bezos — Scott said: “Following up on the commitment I made last year to give away the majority of my wealth in my lifetime,” with a link to her announcement. She noted that she has changed back to the middle name she grew up with, after her grandfather Scott.

Scott listed each of the 116 organizations that received a contribution in a 689-word post on Medium, explaining that they “were selected for transformative work in one of the following areas of need,” in breaking down her $1.675 billion in giving:

  • Racial equity, $586.7 million
  • Economic mobility, $399.5 million
  • Gender equity, $133 million
  • Global development, $130 million
  • Public health, $128.3 million
  • Climate change, $125 million
  • Functional democracy, $72 million
  • Empathy and bridging divides, $55 million
  • LGBTQ+ equity, $46 million

Some organizations made their own announcements, including the amount received, while others did not disclose the amount. Among the organizations that disclosed their gift amount were Tuskegee University, $20 million; Independent Sector, $6 million; The Opportunity Agenda, $4 million; and Black Girls Code, $3 million.

Independent Sector (IS) was among the organizations listed. CEO Dan Cardinali Tweeted this morning that IS “hopes “that this investment signals to other high net worth folks that investing in other infrastructure organizations is critical to a healthy sector.”

Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) CEO Antony Bugg-Levine tweeted: “So many flavors of awesome in this announcement: 1.6 billion ways to say funding 1) support leaders from communities they serve 2) without restriction 3) paid upfront 4) at a scale that matters from the start 5) with decisiveness. Your move, every other progressive funder.”

Brian Mittendorf, senior associate dean for staff, human resources, and culture at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, described Scott’s giving as “a welcome departure” from others in the high-wealth tech sector. “Rather than a big PR buildup and development of a complicated tax shelter and distribution infrastructure, she opted to find and fund worthy organizations and had the humility to empower them to use the funds in an unrestricted way. She also prioritized organizations, people and causes that are often neglected by big philanthropy,” he said.

“It’s an incredibly different and more matter-of-fact way to give than we’ve seen in some time. I also can’t escape the contrast with all the high-visibility giving by men that often pays lots of attention to perceptions and not enough to effectiveness; in contrast, she seems to have done extensive work to ensure giving to the right places while leaving publicity as an afterthought,” Mittendorf said.

By contrast, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan created a Limited Liability Company (LLC), the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI). Jeff Bezos announced a $100-million donation to Feeding America at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), and in an Instagram post earlier this year announced a commitment of $10 billion to fight climate change.

In 2018, when Scott and Bezos were still married, they announced a $2-billion Day One Fund, which would house a foundation to run preschools in low-income neighborhoods and a grant-making foundation to support charities helping the homeless.

Scott noted that 91 percent of the racial equity organizations are run by leaders of color, 100 percent of the LBGTQ+ equity organizations are run by LGBTQ+ leaders, and 83 percent of the gender equity organizations are run by women. “All of these leaders and organizations have a track record of effective management and significant impact in their fields,” she explained in her post. “I gave each a contribution and encouraged them to spend it on whatever they believe best serves their efforts. Unless organization leadership requested otherwise, all commitments were paid up front and left unrestricted to provide them with maximum flexibility.”

Scott promised to “highlight more as my giving continues in the months and years to come.”