$4.2 billion. With a “b.” That was the amount splashed across major news outlet headlines and press releases of hundreds of organizations throughout December – and many organizations are still counting. While COVID spurred the desire among so many to give in this time of need – and to give generously – Billionaire MacKenzie Scott stands out from the crowd in the sheer largess of the billions she gave away to charities as 2020 drew to a close.
Since September, Scott’s philanthropy has been on hyperdrive, with the latest round of giving benefiting at least 384 organizations. This comes on top of the $1.7 billion she invested in nonprofits in July 2020, bringing her publicly announced total of charitable giving to nearly $6 billion in a single year.
Most experts concur – no single person has given away such a large amount of money to charities and done so as quickly as Scott has done.
The Giving Pledge
Scott is one of the ultra-wealthy with a social conscience who has signed the Giving Pledge, a commitment from the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to use the majority of their wealth to support philanthropic causes during their lifetimes. Scott is among 216 pledgers from two dozen countries who signed the pledge. She did so just one month after her high-profile divorce from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos finalized in April 2019, making her one of the richest women in the world. The divorce settlement was worth $38 billion.
To that extent, Scott has been very public with her philanthropy from the outset, finding resonance with the purpose of the Giving Pledge itself – holding other members of the uber-wealthy class accountable for joining in and giving back.
But Scott isn’t just public about her philanthropy; she’s frequently profound and wonderfully eloquent in expounding upon it. For example, in commenting on the signing of the Pledge, Scott wrote, “We each come by the gifts we have to offer by an infinite series of influences and lucky breaks we can never fully understand. In addition to whatever assets life has nurtured in me, I have a disproportionate amount of wealth to share…and I will keep at it until the safe is empty.”
Scott has deftly utilized her blog to continue her narrative of philanthropy. Her December grants announcement came via her blog on Medium, where she began by reflecting on the isolation of 2020 and by quoting Emily Dickinson. After all, Scott is also an award-winning novelist. But in addition to wonderful prose, the self-reflection and understanding of her own privilege consistently emerge as a theme. In July’s blog of grant updates, Scott wrote, “I’m posting an update today because my own reflection after recent events revealed a privilege I’d been overlooking: the attention I can call to organizations and leaders driving change.”
Scott’s desire to give back goes well beyond her own desire and capacity to do so. The events in the U.S. in 2020 served as a call to action to Scott and catapulted her intentions in signing the Giving Pledge.
“Like many, I watched the first half of 2020 with a mixture of heartbreak and horror,” said Scott. “Life will never stop finding fresh ways to expose inequities in our systems, or waking us up to the fact that a civilization this imbalanced is not only unjust, but also unstable.” Scott went on in this same blog to underscore that addressing inequities of every sort are at the core of how she thinks about philanthropy and that the solutions to these inequities are best addressed by organizations and individuals who have actually experienced them.
Scott’s first round of grants in July underscored a “nothing about us without us” approach, providing funds to racial, gender and LGBTQ+ equity groups that Scott emphasized were led by people with lived experiences in each of these areas.
As the year progressed, it became clear to everyone, including Scott and her team of advisors, that the economic impacts of the prolonged pandemic were serving to exacerbate the inequities in society. Scott, again expressing her innate capacity for honesty and accountability, put it succinctly, “This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling. Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color and for people living in poverty,” she wrote. But she did not stop in merely stating the obvious. “Meanwhile, it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires,” she continued—billionaires, including her.
In fact, over 2020, Scott’s own wealth grew by $23.6 billion according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index, with a net worth of $60.7 billion and holding the rank of 18th wealthiest person in the world. Like her ex-husband, the source of Scott’s wealth is primarily from Amazon, which since the start of the pandemic has experienced explosive performance. In 2020, Amazon’s stock performance had a 73.5 percent return year-to-date, nearly five times the performance of the S&P 500 over the same time period, according to reporting by Motley Fool.
Notwithstanding the financial winds in her own sails, Scott saw the very inequities she set out to address initially through her philanthropy becoming even worse as a result of the pandemic - and she moved into action.
Scott’s unprecedented grantmaking in December was designed to address both immediate basic needs of vulnerable populations, doubling down on her grants from July that supported organizations addressing what she called, “Long-term systemic inequities that have deepened the crisis.”
As she did in July, Scott listed the organizations that received grants. The nearly 400 grantees in July were diligently culled from nearly 6,500 on an original list. Many grantees are familiar to most Americans – over 40 food banks and Meals on Wheels programs to address food insecurity, which has reached a crisis point in so many communities across the U.S. YMCAs and YWCAs. Nearly four dozen Goodwill organizations. United Ways, community foundations and other entities hosting COVID-19 relief funds. And over 20 Easterseals affiliates from coast to coast.
Less familiar perhaps, but critical in seeking systemic solutions to inequity, are investments in Native American organizations like the Institute of American Indian Arts, a stone’s throw from my own home here in Santa Fe, N. M., or the National Urban Indian Family Coalition. There is also my friend Ana Marie Argilagos’ Hispanics in Philanthropy, as well as the National Women’s Law Center and RIP Medical Debt. There is also Lambda Legal, the NAACP and the Southern Partners Fund. There are also innovative wealth building organizations like Community Vision Capital and Consulting and the Community Reinvestment Fund.
Multifaceted. Diverse. Strategic. And fast. And let me underscore… fast.
With no time to waste, with her heart on her sleeve and with a depth of purpose rarely witnessed or expressed, Scott has quickly become the philanthropist of note in the U.S. All her grants made in 2020 can be found in her blog site mackenzie-scott.medium.com.
While you’re there, take the time to read her fabulous prose with purpose.