Everyone Is Asking About How To Apply To MacKenzie Scott

Mother Jones illustration; Jörg Carstensen/Getty

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

Much has been written about the extraordinary grantmaking of businesswoman MacKenzie Scott. With a net worth of $65.3 billion, much more giving is expected.

Scott is a member of the Giving Pledge. When she signed the pledge, she said, “I have a disproportionate amount of money to share. My approach to philanthropy will continue to be thoughtful. It will take time and effort, and care. But I won’t wait. And I will keep at it until the safe is empty.” Despite its name, the pledge is not legally binding.

The Nonprofit Quarterly’s editor, Ruth McCambridge, wrote this terrific background piece, and Time Magazine published this one, which describes the experiences of nonprofit CEOs who have received her largesse.

Here’s What We Know About How to Apply

Three LAPA clients have received MacKenzie Scott funds in the millions. Here’s what we know:

  1. Many of the nonprofits that received an award had a strong pre-existing relationship with Scott.
  2. Yet, for many other nonprofits, the award came without warning. The awards are usually unrestricted, and the nonprofits simply received notice by email.
  3. MacKenzie Scott seems to be nonresponsive to traditional approaches (i.e., application processes) and operates much more like a Donor-Advised Fund (DAFs). As you probably know, DAFs are not public entities, so there’s no application process unless the donor decides to make the process public, which Scott has not chosen to do. A DAF is not a private foundation, nor does it operate as such. There are no required distributions as of yet, although there is proposed legislation to change that.
  4. Scott’s funding operation has no known address—or even a website.

The point is that she’s more likely to find you if you fall within her funding priorities. Even if you had her mailing address, I doubt it would matter.

At her blog, she refers to a “team of advisers” rather than a large, dedicated staff. Her team of advisors helps her give her wealth away faster. She writes that her team’s focus has been on “identifying organizations with strong leadership teams and results. Her priorities are 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.” She describes the advisors here on her Medium blog. You can subscribe to her blog to receive her future posts.

  1. Scott works on who to give her funding to with The Bridgespan Group, a national nonprofit organization that advises charities and philanthropies, including prominent philanthropists like Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg. Bridgespan will not take calls or interviews about their clients. It is unclear if the team of advisors to which she refers is one and the same as The Bridgespan Group, but many of us in the fundraising world believe it to be so.

What’s to Come?

Scott has now given away about $8.6 billion to 786 recipients since she announced her first gifts in July 2020. And because Amazon’s stock price keeps climbing, she has even more to give than when she started.

If she keeps up her current pace and frequency, she should be making another 220 or so charitable organizations more financially robust by the end of this year.

Here are my projections of what nonprofits might expect to see in terms of her future funding—I’d bet my bottom dollar on them:

  • Equity-oriented nonprofits working in areas that have been neglected will get more support, including some truly transformative gifts.
  • High-impact nonprofits in categories and communities that have been historically underfunded and overlooked will take priority.
  • Scott is a firm believer that higher education is a proven pathway to opportunity, so 2- and 4-year institutions successfully educating students who come from communities that have been chronically underserved will receive significant funding.
  • Scott is concerned about discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, so nonprofits bridging divides through interfaith support and collaboration will benefit.
  • Smaller arts organizations will be funded because they benefit artists and audiences from culturally rich regions and identity groups that donors often overlook.

What’s been your experience in cultivating or receiving funds from MacKenzie Scott? Please let us know in the comments below.

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