We all know that wealthy people can and do give more money to charity than the rest of us, but MacKenzie Scott – the former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos – is rewriting the rules about big dollar giving.
Here’s what she just did that made the charitable world sit up and take notice. We’ll also explain how it’s benefiting the local South Florida community, and what you can learn from her new way of supporting important charitable causes.
How she gives – fast and with impact
MacKenzie Scott has made clear that she wants to give money away. A lot of money.
Scott received an estimated $38 billion in her divorce from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. That sum has since ballooned to over $60 billion after this year’s run-up in Amazon shares. Just after her divorce, Scott made clear that she intended to use some of that wealth for philanthropy, by signing the Giving Pledge, the commitment to give away at least half of her money over her lifetime.
But what surprised everyone is the speed with which she’s implemented her charitable vision. She’s given away almost $6 billion in recent months – about $1 billion per month, possibly the largest charitable giving spree by a single person in one year – ever.
Instead of creating her own foundation, or sticking her name on a building, Scott went a different route. Her gifts were directed at almost 400 community-based non-profits across the US, focusing for the most part on helping struggling lower-income people including those hit hard by the COVID pandemic.
“This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling,” wrote Scott when revealing her gifts. “Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color, and for people living in poverty,” she said.
Many of her gifts targeted grass-roots community organizations across the country like YMCAs, Goodwill Industries, United Way, and more than a dozen historically Black colleges and universities, as well as community and technical colleges and schools serving Native Americans, women, urban, and rural students.
And unlike many existing giving programs, she is giving away the money with no strings attached, eschewing conditions that could bog down or tie the hands of under-staffed local charities. In essence, she simply praised them for doing a good job so far, and gave them money to go do more of it.
How it’s helping South Florida
Thanks to Scott’s donations, several South Florida charities will have more money to direct to most-needy local residents, an incredibly timely gift as many local groups report unprecedented need and diminishing resources.
Recipients include local outposts of Meals on Wheels, United Way, YWCA South Florida and Easterseals, according to local newspaper the Sun-Sentinel. Some of those groups said Scott’s gifts are the largest donations they have ever received, with much of the money directed toward basic needs like food, shelter, and education for lower-income residents.
What you can learn from Mackenzie Scott about charitable giving
Tap the experts. Scott reportedly used a team of advisers to identify the neediest non-profits, selecting for leadership, proven impact, and diversity. You don’t need billions to have your own team of experts. Your own squad of philanthropy pros is available to you simply by working with your own local Community Foundation or a Charitable Donor-Advised Fund, like those offered by Schwab or Fidelity, among others. They can help you pick the best charities based on your interests and values, and link you up with screening tools like Candid (formerly GuideStar), Charity Navigator, GiveWell and Give.org, among others.
Make an impact. Scott made an impact by giving to well-established charities with hands-on experience and strong networks in local communities. In fact, charitable giving experts recommend making fewer, larger gifts rather than many small gifts to make the greatest impact. If you are over 70 ½, you may find it more tax-efficient to make gifts directly from your IRA. Can’t afford a monetary gift? Don’t let that hold you back. Nothing is more valuable than your time and expertise, so talk to groups you support about volunteering.
Give efficiently. Scott got funds into the hands of needy charities quickly, efficiently, and without publicity or fuss by routing at least some of her gifts through a donor-advised fund (reportedly Fidelity Charitable, the nation’s top grantmaker, which distributed $7.3 billion to charities in 2019). When you use a donor-advised fund, your gifts still qualify for great tax-deductions, but the pros step in to simplify record-keeping and getting your check into the hands of the right people. Another advantage? They can provide some privacy regarding the amounts and recipients of your individual gifts, saving you from getting buried under mounds of unwanted future charitable solicitations.