MacKenzie Scott, 50, split from Amazon head Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, in the fall of 2018 around the time of his affair with Lauren Sanchez. We heard some of the sordid details in early 2019. As part of their divorce settlement in April, 2019, MacKenzie received around $36 billion, much of it in Amazon stock. MacKenzie has signed the Giving Pledge, vowing to give away at least half of her fortune to charity, although it’s likely she’ll give away almost all of it. This summer she donated $1.7 a whopping billion to 117 charities. MacKenzie has just announced that she’s given an additional $4.2 billion to 384 organizations. She had the help of a team to figure out where the money could make the most difference. We know about this as she wrote a powerful essay for Medium describing the process. The part that got me choked up is when she wrote about grateful recipients crying and sharing their personal stories about their work. She’s put a lot of thought and work into these issues. Her immense wealth is going to make a difference to so many people:
After my post in July, I asked a team of advisors to help me accelerate my 2020 giving through immediate support to people suffering the economic effects of the crisis. They took a data-driven approach to identifying organizations with strong leadership teams and results, with special attention to those operating in communities facing high projected food insecurity, high measures of racial inequity, high local poverty rates, and low access to philanthropic capital.
The result over the last four months has been $4,158,500,000 in gifts to 384 organizations across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C. Some are filling basic needs: food banks, emergency relief funds, and support services for those most vulnerable. Others are addressing long-term systemic inequities that have been deepened by the crisis: debt relief, employment training, credit and financial services for under-resourced communities, education for historically marginalized and underserved people, civil rights advocacy groups, and legal defense funds that take on institutional discrimination.
To select these 384, 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. We looked at 6,490 organizations, and undertook deeper research into 822. We put 438 of these on hold for now due to insufficient evidence of impact, unproven management teams, or to allow for further inquiry about specific issues such as treatment of community members or employees. We won’t always learn about a concern inside an organization, but when we do, we’ll take extra time to evaluate. We’ll never eliminate every risk through our analysis, but we’ll eliminate many. Then we can select organizations to assist — and get out of their way.
We do this research and deeper diligence not only to identify organizations with high potential for impact, but also to pave the way for unsolicited and unexpected gifts given with full trust and no strings attached. Because our research is data-driven and rigorous, our giving process can be human and soft. Not only are non-profits chronically underfunded, they are also chronically diverted from their work by fundraising, and by burdensome reporting requirements that donors often place on them. These 384 carefully selected teams have dedicated their lives to helping others, working and volunteering and serving real people face-to-face at bedsides and tables, in prisons and courtrooms and classrooms, on streets and hospital wards and hotlines and frontlines of all types and sizes, day after day after day. They help by delivering vital services, and also through the profound encouragement felt each time a person is seen, valued, and trusted by another human being. This kind of encouragement has a special power when it comes from a stranger, and it works its magic on everyone. We shared each of our gift decisions with program leaders for the first time over the phone, and welcomed them to spend the funding on whatever they believe best serves their efforts. They were told that the entire commitment would be paid upfront and left unrestricted in order to provide them with maximum flexibility. The responses from people who took the calls often included personal stories and tears. These were non-profit veterans from all backgrounds and backstories, talking to us from cars and cabins and COVID-packed houses all over the country — a retired army general, the president of a tribal college recalling her first teaching job on her reservation, a loan fund founder sitting in the makeshift workspace between her washer and dryer from which she had launched her initiative years ago. Their stories and tears invariably made me and my teammates cry.
This was quite moving and you can tell she’s a writer. I love that they gave away the money without any stipulations for the charities. MacKenzie also linked the charities at the bottom of her post so readers can learn more and help. What an incredible person she is. As painful as it must have been to go through a divorce and to split her family up (she and Jeff have four children, three sons and a daughter), she’s changed countless lives with her charity work. She’s done so much more than her ex husband, who hasn’t done much at all. She’s really found her life’s purpose and is going to leave such a legacy. Maybe this will help Jeff realize that he needs to do more and stop hoarding his wealth.
Photos credit: Avalon.red and Getty