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MacKenzie Scott donates $2.7 billion, blasts wealth gap

MacKenzie Scott in 2018
MacKenzie Scott has shaken up the philanthropic world with the scale and speed of her donations.
(Evan Agostini / Invision/Associated Press)

MacKenzie Scott, the billionaire philanthropist and Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife, has given $2.7 billion to a variety of charities, she wrote in a blog post Tuesday, bringing the total of her donations since her first giving spree in July 2020 to $8.5 billion.

Scott, 51, shook up the philanthropy world last year with the pace and magnitude of her giving. This time she gave to 286 organizations from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre to racial equity funds in philanthropy and journalism. This is her first time announcing donations since she remarried to Dan Jewett, a Seattle science teacher.

“Me, Dan, a constellation of researchers and administrators and advisors — we are all attempting to give away a fortune that was enabled by systems in need of change,” Scott wrote in the post. “We are governed by a humbling belief that 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.”

Private philanthropy leaves arts institutions at the mercy of patrons. It’s time to increase public funding for the arts.

The world’s 500 richest people added $1.8 trillion to their combined net worth last year, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The gains were particularly pronounced in the U.S. and especially among tech titans, including Bezos, the richest person in the world.

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Scott, who ended up with a 4% stake in Amazon.com Inc. following her divorce, is worth almost $60 billion. That’s even after her rapid giving that’s already made her one of the most consequential philanthropists in the world.

Last year she likely set a record for the largest annual distribution by a living person. Scott has been lauded by experts and philanthropy critics alike not only for the speed and scope of her gifts, but also for what organizations she’s giving to — smaller ones typically overlooked by big donors — and for the no-strings-attached that come with her gifts.

“It’s important to note that she has also just written checks to these organizations, leaving her own interests to the side and giving up power to the organizations she’s funding,” said Erik Stegman, executive director of Native Americans in Philanthropy, one of the handful of Native American organizations Scott gave to in this round.

Eduardo Vilaro, chief executive officer of Ballet Hispanico, another group that received money from Scott in this latest batch, also said the unrestricted nature was important for his organization. Vilaro said the donation is slightly larger than their annual operating budget and the biggest it’s received in its more than 50-year history. He was made aware of the gift about a month ago when he received a call out of the blue from one of Scott’s representatives.

“’Mr. Vilaro, we love what you and the organization are doing,” he remembers the person saying. ‘We would like to bestow this gift to you.’” Vilaro was referring to the Bridgespan Group, a philanthropic consultant Scott is working with to do her giving, to follow up.

Still, Scott has her critics.

The seeming randomness of how she chooses organizations isn’t good, said Maribel Morey, a historian of philanthropy and executive director at the Miami Institute for the Social Sciences. Morey said she wishes Scott would be more transparent about how she picks recipients, especially given the significance of the donations.

“The public deserves to know how and why certain organizations are getting funding,” Morey said.

Bezos, who is worth $196 billion, has increased his own giving since their split. He committed $10 billion to fight climate change last year and has so far donated $791 million of that. He’s also planning on going to space for the first time next month.


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