MacKenzie Strikes Again

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

Launched on March 21, 2023, the $250 million MacKenzie Scott “Yield Giving Open Call” is an initiative focused on elevating organizations working with people and in places experiencing the greatest need in the United States: communities, individuals, and families with access to the fewest foundational resources and opportunities. The registration period is now open.

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You probably won’t recognize most of the names on the list of the top 50 mega-philanthropists.

MacKenzie Scott’s name, though, immediately rings a bell and puts a smile on the face of those of us serving in the non-profit sector.

Ironically, she is not on that list, unlike her ex-husband.

Yet we love her for the special sensitivity she shows us, and her latest “strike,” an announcement to give away $250 million in funding to small nonprofits, is no exception.

To date, her giving has yielded over $14 billion to 1,600+ nonprofits to use as they see fit for the benefit of others. A complete list of the nonprofits she’s given to can be seen here.

About the Open Call

In her own words, the new “Open Call” initiative seeks “community-led, community-focused organizations whose explicit purpose is to advance the voices and opportunities of individuals and families of meager or modest means, and groups who have met with discrimination and other systemic obstacles. Organizations best suited to this initiative will enable individuals and families to achieve substantive improvement in their well-being through foundational resources. This includes, for instance, organizations providing access to health care, stable and affordable housing, education and job training, support for sustained employment, asset ownership, civic engagement, and other pathways. They may also be engaged in data collection and communication to amplify the voices of people and communities struggling against inequities.”

Community-led, community-focused nonprofit organizations from across the United States and U.S. territories are invited to apply and “share the impact they have had on the abilities of individuals and families in their communities to achieve substantive improvement in their well-being.”

Of note, this is the first time Ms. Scott is seeking direct input from nonprofits. Her team previously researched potential non-profit awardees without disclosing the details of their review. Her gifts were only made public when nonprofits announced them — that is, until she released the list of who received the awards in order to improve transparency around her giving.

Applicants will be evaluated on a predetermined scoring process that aims to reduce assessment bias. The scoring rubric focuses on equity, track record, community leadership, and team capacity.

Nonprofits must have an annual operating budget of at least $1 million and no more than $5 million for at least two of the last four fiscal years to be eligible to apply.

The name MacKenzie gave her current philanthropy program is Yield Giving. She states: “Yield Giving is named after a belief in adding value by giving up control.”

The Yield Giving Open Call “is being managed by Lever for Change, a nonprofit that leverages its networks to find and fund solutions to the world’s greatest challenges, including racial inequity, gender inequality, lack of economic development, and climate change.”

Complete details about the application process including FAQ, the organizational readiness tool, the timeline, scoring process, rules, and the evaluation panel are all available at this link.

Timeline & Review Process

Interested organizations must register to apply before 4 p.m. U.S. Central Time on Friday, May 5, 2023. Complete applications are due before 4 p.m. U.S. Central Time on Monday, June 12, 2023.

After applications are submitted, they will undergo an “Administrative Review” as well as a “Participatory Review” by other applicants. Then, in the fall of 2023, “up to 1,000 finalists top-rated by their peers will advance to a second round of review.”  The second round will be conducted by “an external Evaluation Panel recruited for experience relevant to this cause.” In other words, a team of donors that will select from among the organizations recommended by their peers and announce 250 awardees in early 2024. Each awardee will receive an unrestricted operating gift of $1 million.

Two Boons

While an application is required to be considered for the $1 million unrestricted gifts (and ten hours is the estimated time it will take to complete the form), no financial or narrative reporting is required after receiving the award. Scott does her due diligence up front and then trusts the nonprofit to make the best decision on how the money is spent.

In addition, applicants may receive a $500 donor-advised fund contribution, but only if they participate in scoring the submissions of five fellow applicants and complete those assessments satisfactorily.

Some worry that this new initiative will be the fundraising equivalent of the Oklahoma land rush and that smaller nonprofits should not get their hopes up. They consider Ms. Scott more of an exhibitionist than a philanthropist.

I however am not among them. I applaud Ms. Scott’s generosity, openness, and earnestness. She is listening to us and adapting her giving.

Laurence A. Pagnoni is the author of Fundraising 401: Masterclasses in Nonprofit Fundraising That Would Make Peter Drucker Proud, a work praised for masterfully leading readers through a series of revelations equipping them to deal effectively with the tough circumstances faced, sooner or later, by non-profit fundraising professionals. He is a husband, a father to two teenage boys, and editor of the LAPA Fundraising blog.

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