Scott Strikes Again With $2.74 Billion In Unrestricted Grants

MacKenzie Scott this morning announced a third round of grants to nonprofits, this time totaling almost $2.74 billion to 286 organizations. A major thrust of this round of grants was established sector infrastructure groups.

Scott, a philanthropist and author whose fortune comes via her divorce from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has an estimated net worth in the neighborhood of $50 billion. Last year, she gave away about $5.8 billion to 500 organizations in two rounds of funding that also were announced via Medium, first in July, and again in December. In all, the three rounds of grants totaled an estimated $8.556 billion to 786 organizations — but the focus, she said, should not be on her or the amounts given.

“Putting large donors at the center of stories on social progress is a distortion of their role,” Scott wrote in a post on Medium titled, “Seeding by Ceding.” She and her husband, Dan Jewett, along with “a constellation of researchers and administrators and advisors” are “attempting to give away a fortune that was enabled by systems in need of change,” she wrote.

“Because community-centered service is such a powerful catalyst and multiplier, we spent the first quarter of 2021 identifying and evaluating equity-oriented nonprofit teams working in areas that have been neglected,” Scott wrote via Medium.

This round followed many of the same patterns as the first two rounds. It’s a transformative gift — for many the largest ever received — that’s unrestricted and was on the down low until Scott’s public announcement.

Many of the grants again were awarded to equity-focused nonprofits, those that serve underserved communities, and again, colleges and universities. This time around, there were a number of mainstream nonprofit infrastructure organizations, including BoardSource; Candid; Center for Effective Philanthropy; National Council of Nonprofits; NGOsource, which is a project of TechSoup and the Council on Foundations (CoF); NTEN; TechSoup Global, and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, among others.

Candid received an unrestricted, one-time gift of $15 million. President Bradford K. Smith, who previously headed a foundation, said he understands why initially the name of the donor was not disclosed. While his reaction was “professional,” Smith said: “I wouldn’t be truthful if not saying it was emotional.”

The organization was contacted by email “by someone who works with them,” he said, and later a phone call was scheduled. He estimated it was perhaps eight to nine days between the initial contact to the announcement.

“I think this sort of turns traditional grantmaking on its head. You don’t apply, don’t reach out, don’t fill out complex forms, no theories of change,” said Smith, who previously ran The Foundation Center before it merged with GuideStar to form Candid in early 2019. “It’s a vindication of what the mission of an organization like Candid is. They don’t throw money away, they do their research,” he said.

The timing is perfect for Candid’s 2030 plan since Smith is retiring this year and a new CEO is expected by the fall. The plan will strengthen and create more standardized searchable information about the entire nonprofit sector to simplify the process of transparency and grantmaking, he said.

Smith believes examples of why they might have been targeted by Scott is Candid’s near immediate tracking of pandemic giving and donation along with data after the George Floyd killing. “Just 48 hours after people retreated to their Zoom rooms, the website had real-time pledges and grants for COVID relief,” he said.

“Grateful for the tremendous trust that MacKenzie and Dan have in our work does not even begin to describe how we are feeling today,” National Council of Nonprofits President and CEO Tim Delaney said via a statement. “Their unrestricted grant will allow us to strengthen our efforts to champion, connect, and inform nonprofits across the country,” he said.

Delaney said the National Council and its partners led advocacy initiatives that brought more than $50 billion in new federal relief funding to protect nonprofit missions and jobs so services could continue to be delivered. “Tens of thousands of nonprofits turned to us for trusted information on how to access much-needed financial relief, how to be part of the effort to ensure everyone in our communities is vaccinated, and other pressing issues,” he said.

“The crises are not yet fully behind us,” he said. “The policy action in the coming months will be in the states, and our network will be there, ensuring decision-makers understand the economic and social importance of a strong nonprofit sector.”

For Homeboy Industries, the $20-million gift comes during the quiet phase of a $120-million comprehensive campaign. The Los Angeles-based social enterprise typically raises and spends $25 million annually, focusing on mentoring and getting people out of the gang lifestyle.

Scott’s gift likely will go toward helping more people but also add new programming, according to CEO Tom Vozzo, and a catalytic gift for the campaign. “We’ve been thinking about this for a while: How we can have more of an impact, our board and management team has been thinking about it,” Vozzo said. “We don’t have transitional housing now, we provide all the services of re-entry but that,” he said. 

About a quarter of Homeboy’s donations are restricted gifts and Vozzo said the unrestricted nature of Scott’s gift is helpful because of the flexibility of providing wraparound services for re-entry under one roof. “Because you have so many folks dealing different types of services we provide,” he said, sometimes it’s necessary to have more programs that address domestic violence, other times it could be mental health, sexual abuse, or education.

“It takes your breath away, the size of this gift,” Vozzo said. “Money doesn’t help solve problems but money does help solve problems of the poor. Well used and help out a lot of people.