Arts / Faith and Humanities / People of SU

Seattle U in the News: Five ways MacKenzie Scott’s $8.5 billion commitment to social and economic justice is a model for other donors

June 16, 2021

In an essay for The Conversation, Seattle U Associate Professor of Nonprofit Leadership Elizabeth Dale, PhD, says philanthropist MacKenzie Scott is modeling five best practices for social change giving with her latest $2.7 billion in charitable giving.

Dr. Dale studies philanthropy and charitable giving, particularly among women and LGBTQ people. Following are excerpts from the essay:

The author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott announced on June 15, 2021, that she and her husband Dan Jewett had given $2.7 billion to 286 organizations, including universities, arts organizations and other nonprofits. It was her third announcement of this kind since she first publicly discussed her giving intentions in May 2019. Scott has donated about $8.5 billion to a constellation of nonprofits she calls “high-impact organizations in categories and communities that have been historically underfunded and overlooked.” She’s emphasizing racial justice, women’s rights and LGBTQ equality.

In early 2021, she emphasized arts organizations much more than in her prior funding rounds, noting that her goal was to lift up arts nonprofits that focus on diverse communities. She also supported a number of organizations like the Donors of Color Network and Native Americans in Philanthropy, which aim to grow civic engagement among communities of color and charity-research leaders like the Urban Institute and the Bridgespan Group, which has been advising her.

As a scholar of philanthropy, I believe that Scott is modeling five best practices for social change giving.

1) Don’t attach strings: All of Scott’s gifts—many in the millions or tens of millions—were made without restrictions. That’s unusual, especially for her largest donations. This hands-off approach gives nonprofits an unusual amount of freedom to innovate while equipping them to weather crises like the coronavirus pandemic.

2) Champion representation: Backing groups led by people directly affected by an issue is a common tenet of social justice giving at a time when organizations led by people of color receive less funding than white-led groups.

3) Act first, talk later: Rather than making lengthy announcements about her plans and taking years to give away large sums of money, Scott chose to distribute this money rapidly and directly.

4) Don’t obsess about scale: Many of the organizations receiving these gifts are relatively small in scale and lack widespread name recognition.

5) Leverage more than money: Philanthropy that’s intended to bring about social change inherently expresses the donor’s values, Scott acknowledged in her announcement. She continues to highlight the inequitable social structures that have put her in a position to make such significant gifts, saying “it would be better if disproportionate wealth were not concentrated in a small number of hands.”