Last year, Mackenzie Scott gave away almost $6 billion of the fortune she now controls after her divorce from Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos. To put that amount into context, the combined giving of the wealthiest donors in the U.S. totaled just under $25 billion in 2020. Scott accounted for almost a quarter of that total.
This week, Scott published a post to Medium to announce $2.74 billion in gifts that she and her current husband, Dan Jewett, just gave to more than 286 organizations. That post is worth a close read, and is the reason for this article, but first I think there’s something worth mentioning about the more than $8 billion in gifts she has given in less than a year.
Scott and her husband are unique in that while many wealthy individuals “pledge” to give away a certain amount of money over time, they are actually writing checks. For example, Scott’s ex-husband, who happens to be the wealthiest man on the planet, pledged to give away $10 billion last year.
By most counts, that would make him the top giver in 2020. Except–and I think this is important–he pledged it to his own foundation, which has, to date, only actually written checks for $761 million of that total. That’s not nothing, and I’m not criticizing anyone, but promising to give your money to a good cause isn’t the same as actually giving your money to a good cause.
If you think I’m wrong, ask the recipients of Scott’s gifts, which can, you know, do things like hire people, buy supplies, and affect change in the communities they serve. As far as I’m aware, you can’t do any of those things with a promise.
Scott isn’t promising to give away her wealth, she’s just doing it, and at a scale that no one else with her means has ever done. Not even the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which boasts a $50 billion endowment, gave away as much as Scott did in the past 15 months. (According to the Gates Foundation website, it committed $5.2 billion during that time.)
But I want to get back to that blog post because Scott is doing something more than just writing checks. It’s how and why she writes them that matters.
Because we believe that teams with experience on the front lines of challenges will know best how to put the money to good use, we encouraged them to spend it however they choose,” Scott wrote, highlighting that she believes “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.
That’s a big deal because rarely do financial gifts come with no strings attached. Not only that, Scott has made an intentional effort to make contributions to organizations that are normally overlooked by large givers.
“Because community-centered service is such a powerful catalyst and multiplier, we spent the first quarter of 2021 identifying and evaluating equity-oriented non-profit teams working in areas that have been neglected,” she says.
The combination of finding organizations that have been “neglected,” and empowering them to do what they do without the burden of conditions shows that this isn’t about making promises, it’s about making a difference. The fact that she understands the difference is pure emotional intelligence.