By now you’ve likely heard that MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Jeff Bezos, gave away nearly $6 Billion in 2020 — helping about 500 nonprofits in the US. Her most recent round of giving (in mid-December) helped 384 of those organizations, with grants equaling $4,158,500,000. Most, if not all, of the grants were a total surprise to the recipients.
A few decades earlier, Joan Kroc, the widow of Ray Kroc (founder of McDonald’s Corp.) gave away well over $3 Billion in a way that the New York Times later called “fast and super-sized”. Most of her early giving was done anonymously, and she had a policy of not giving to anyone who solicited her.
Agnes Gund, a billionaire who has donated at least $200 million to nonprofits working in the arts and social justice, sold her prized Lichtenstein painting for $165 million in 2017 specifically to create the “Art for Justice Fund” which focuses on prison reform. For reasons you’ll see in her new film, “Aggie”, the New York Times asked in 2018 if the quiet, powerful, thoughtful Gund wasn’t “…the Last Good Rich Person”.
And then there’s Dolly Parton, who New York Magazine recently called “The reigning savior of Christmas and 2020”. She put $1M into the development of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine — without any solicitation from the researchers involved — and has given hundreds of millions of dollars over the last several decades to help.
Axios, in their annual “Philanthropy Deep Dive,” discusses how philanthropy is evolving in myriad ways, with sections titled “The end of philanthropic micromanagement”, “COVID-19 spurs generosity among holders of donor-advised funds” and “The data-driven approach: GiveWell”.
It feels like times are changing in philanthropy. The idea that “The Ask” is the way that all solicitations must happen might not be sacrosanct after all (check out the fun story at the beginning of my book, Philanthropy Revolution).
All of the mega-donors above have something in common — they all bucked the traditional system of giving (oh, yes, and they’re all women). Fast, quietly and strategically seem to be the main sentiments shared by these donors. They buck the system so much that MacKenzie Scott’s donations have been pooh-poohed by legacy philanthropy pundits, who are wringing their hands over the speed of Scott’s grant-giving process. Some questioned if there even was a process — or any type of strategy — involved. (Makes me wonder — would that question have been asked if it wasn’t a woman making the grants? Hmmm…) To suggest that Scott wasn’t “strategic” and “moved too quickly” is, IMHO, ridiculous. However, to allay the concerns of the naysayers, please note that Scott worked with many “advisors” (as opposed to staff) including the Bridgespan Group — one of the most highly regarded philanthropic consulting groups in the world. She also focused on what was needed and what was right, instead of protocol and “rules of the game”.
Seeing how the pandemic and much of 2020 has wreaked havoc on our world, and put hundreds of thousands of nonprofits into the fight of their lives, MacKenzie Scott knew it was critical to provide financial help fast. She also knew that the traditional methods of grantmaking didn’t work in this climate, so the grants were given without applications or conditions. The New York Times article may say it best: “In the course of a few months, Ms. Scott has turned traditional philanthropy on its head”.
Yes, it has, and as they say, “You go, girl!”.
I’m thrilled to share my first book, Philanthropy Revolution, with the world. I’m lifting the lid on our charitable sector with an authentic account that describes exactly how outdated the sector has become and why it’s at risk of collapse. Get your copy here.