MacKenzie Scott blazes a new path

Mark PetersenStrategy

Articles that claim there’s a new way to do philanthropy merit some examination since traditional models aren’t perfect. So I was drawn to The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s recent cover spread on MacKenzie Scott whose divorce from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos suddenly put her in the driver’s seat of a $60 billion settlement. In 2020 she gave $5.7 billion in unrestricted, one-time donations to over 500 nonprofits.

Four hallmarks of her emerging strategy are described below:

  • Discreet: She eschews publicity and aside from 3 blog posts on Medium, she hasn’t publicly communicated her intentions or a created a website for potential recipients to seek funding. This approach is critiqued for its lack of transparency and can be frustrating to charities, but it is remarkable in its unconventionality.
  • Unrestricted: Scott states in her July 2020 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.”
  • Proactive: In her December 2020 post, she describes her advisors’ research on 6,490 potential partners leading to the final list of 384. She states, “The team sought suggestions and perspective from hundreds of field experts, funders, and non-profit leaders and volunteers with decades of experience. We leveraged this collective knowledge base in a collaboration that included hundreds of emails and phone interviews, and thousands of pages of data analysis on community needs, program outcomes, and each non-profit’s capacity to absorb and make effective use of funding.” Scott is not giving blindly or recklessly, and instead has invested considerable effort into selecting those organizations that best fit her agenda.
  • Humble: Scott is convinced that “people who have experience with inequities are the ones best equipped to design solutions.” Chuck Collins states in the Chronicle, “She’s obviously modeling and acting out of a different view and basically saying, ‘You’re the experts; I trust you to go forward here.’”

What do you think of this approach?