Author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott ’s announcement of a $4.2-billion charitable donation not only places her as a top donor in the U.S., but also sets a new standard of philanthropy: giving strategically and quickly, experts say.
Scott, 50, ex-wife of Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos , announced on Tuesday that she has given away more than $4 billion to 384 organizations in the last four months. Many of the organizations are focused on basic needs, including Covid-19 relief programs.
“This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling,” Scott wrote in a post on Medium Tuesday. “Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color, and for people living in poverty.”
In July, Scott disclosed that she had donated $1.7 billion after pledging to give the majority of her wealth back to social-good causes in 2019. She has an estimated net worth of nearly $60 billion.
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“We talk a lot about giving while living, giving money away quickly, not letting it sit in endowments, but this is really an unprecedented speed in my knowledge and experience,” says Jeannie Sager , director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
Sager says it’s difficult to compare Scott’s donations with other gifts, since most gifts represent one donation to one organization, or to a handful of organizations. By comparison, the Gates Foundation gave away $5.1 billion in 2019.
“Only the very largest foundations will give away anything near $4 billion in a year, much less $6 billion in six months,” Sager says.
Traditionally, women philanthropists tend to give anonymously, the Women’s Philanthropy Institute research shows. “Scott explicitly lists all the causes she supports—a balance between basic needs and systematic change—based on research and data. She’s really leading the way as a woman philanthropist,” Sager says.
“I hope this becomes the best practice, setting a standard and modeling behavior for others to follow.”
Scott did not specify the amount she donated to each organization, but some of the recipients quickly celebrated their grants after her announcement. Goodwill Industries International, which provides a breadth of services that range from job training and placement to housing and child care, and YMCA of the USA each received $20 million.
Several historically-black colleges and universities received their largest single-donor gift in history, according to their news releases. Those include Texas’s Prairie View A&M University, which received $50 million; Virginia ’s Norfolk State University, with a $40 million grant; and Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, with a $20 million grant.
Scott, who could not be immediately reached for comment, said she will share her wealth “until the safe is empty.”
“In addition to whatever assets life has nurtured in me, I have a disproportionate amount of money to share. My approach to philanthropy will continue to be thoughtful,” she wrote when she signed the Giving Pledge in 2019.