How to give away money

While Amazon founder Jeff Bezos uses the obscene wealth he has squeezed out of the labor of his employees before getting rid of them to indulge his whims of flying into space and building megayachts while avoiding paying taxes, his ex-wife Mackenzie Scott is using her share of his ill-gotten gains that she obtained in her divorce to try and do a little good.

The American novelist and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott said on Tuesday she had given a further $2.7bn (£1.9bn) to 286 organisations.

Scott, who was formerly married to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, issued a statement regarding distribution of the latest tranche of her $57bn fortune.

It was the third round of announcements Scott has made regarding her philanthropy, which rivals the largest of foundations. In 2020, she made two similar surprise announcements and donated about $6bn to causes including Covid relief, gender equity, historically Black colleges and universities and other schools.

In a post on Medium on Tuesday, Scott said she had “felt stuck” over how to articulate her purpose.

“I want to de-emphasize privileged voices and cede focus to others, yet I know some media stories will focus on wealth,” she wrote. “The headline I would wish for this post is ‘286 Teams Empowering Voices the World Needs to Hear’.

“People struggling against inequities deserve center stage in stories about change they are creating. This is equally – perhaps especially – true when their work is funded by wealth. Any wealth is a product of a collective effort that included them. The social structures that inflate wealth present obstacles to them. And despite those obstacles, they are providing solutions that benefit us all.”

Scott, 51, said a number of “high-impact organisations in categories and communities that have been historically underfunded and overlooked” were among recipients of a total disbursement of $2.739bn.

The organisations included local arts groups and institutions, including the Motown Museum, and groups working in education.

With more than 700 million people globally still living in extreme poverty, Scott wrote, her team “prioritised organisations with local teams, leaders of color and a specific focus on empowering women and girls”.

Beneficiaries included organisations staffed by “people who have spent years successfully advancing humanitarian aims, often without knowing whether there will be any money in their bank accounts in two months.

“What do we think they might do with more cash on hand than they expected? Buy needed supplies. Find new creative ways to help. Hire a few extra team members they know they can pay for the next five years. Buy chairs for them. Stop having to work every weekend. Get some sleep.”

She wants to not have people work every weekend? Enable them to get some sleep? No wonder she divorced Bezos. His entire business model is based on driving his employees into the ground.

The list of organizations she has funded and the reasoning behind it is given in her post. I know that she can be criticized. There will be those who feel that she is merely giving away money that was obtained under cruel conditions. But at least it is better than not giving it away. And she is giving most of the money to smaller, needier, organizations that are at the forefront of dealing with important social issues, not already wealthy universities and museums and galleries where the glitterati hang out.

Elizabeth J. Dale writes that Scott is modeling five best practices for social change giving for other wealthy people who might be thinking of donating money.

  1. Don’t attach strings

    All of Scott’s gifts – many in the millions or tens of millions – were made without restrictions. That’s unusual, especially for her largest donations.

  2. Champion representation

    In Scott’s initial round of giving, she highlighted organizations whose leaders represented the communities they served, such as the Movement for Black Lives and Latino Justice, which are run by leaders of color, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center.

    Scott emphasized her philosophy in this latest round of funding, writing: “people working to build power from within communities are the agents of change.” Organizations like Esperanza Peace and Justice Center and Solidaire, which work at the intersections of multiple identity groups, embody this principle.

  3. Act first, talk later

    Rather than making lengthy announcements about her plans and taking years to give away large sums of money, Scott chose to distribute this money rapidly and directly.

  4. Don’t obsess about scale

    Many of the organizations receiving these gifts are relatively small in scale and lack widespread name recognition. The multiracial justice group Forward Together and the Campaign for Female Education, a global aid group often called CAMFED, for example, until recently operated on annual budgets of $5.5 million or less, while the Millennial Action Project had an even smaller budget.

  5. Leverage more than money

    And like the many women donors I’ve interviewed and studied, she is using her position as one of the world’s wealthiest women to amplify the voices of the leaders and groups she supports. Her goal is to encourage others to give, join or volunteer to support those same causes.

At the very least, Scott does not seem to seek to have her name put on buildings, unlike the despicable Sacklers and some other so-called philanthropists.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    Still virtue-signalling attention-seeking. Chuck Feeney gave away his billions *in secret*. That’s a better example.

  2. Reginald Selkirk says

    She wrote that she and her husband, Dan Jewett, a teacher, and “a constellation of researchers and administrators and advisers” were “all attempting to give away a fortune that was enabled by systems in need of change.

    “In this effort, we are governed by a humbling belief that it would be better if disproportionate wealth were not concentrated in a small number of hands, and that the solutions are best designed and implemented by others.

    Not virtue-signalling or attention-seeking. Realizes that the system is broken.

  3. brucegee1962 says

    If she is focusing on low-profile organizations, then getting them named in articles like this one is its own gift that costs no money. That is something that can’t be achieved with secret gifts.
    I assume that philanthropy has trend-setters and fads just like any other human activity. Where the biggest herd animal goes, others will follow.

  4. Marshall says

    #1 I think it’s important to set an example to other wealthy people, which requires public attention.

  5. says

    Scott focused on amplification and immediacy, not self-glorification and media attention.

    Most wealthy people who “donate to charity” give it to organizations and systems that perpetuate white supremacy. Loudly giving $5 million to Harvard is about making yourself look good. Quietly giving $5 million to an HBCU that the donor never attended would accomplish a lot more.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    @brucegee1962, 3: good work -- you’ve changed my mind. I’m persuaded this is a better way. Thanks!

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