MacKenzie Scott donates $640 million, more than doubling her planned gifts to nonprofit applicants

FILE - Billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party, March 4, 2018, in Beverly Hills, Calif. Scott announced Tuesday, March 19, 2024 she would give $640 million to more than 360 organizations in response to an application process she launched last year. The award is more than double the amount that she initially promised in an “open call” for applications. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

FILE – Billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party, March 4, 2018, in Beverly Hills, Calif. Scott announced Tuesday, March 19, 2024 she would give $640 million to more than 360 organizations in response to an application process she launched last year. The award is more than double the amount that she initially promised in an “open call” for applications. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

Billionaire philanthropist and author MacKenzie Scott announced Tuesday she is giving $640 million to 361 small nonprofits that responded to an open call for applications.

Yield Giving’s first round of donations is more than double what Scott had initially pledged to give away through the application process. Since she began giving away billions in 2019, Scott and her team have researched and selected organizations without an application process and provided them with large, unrestricted gifts.

In a brief note on her website, Scott wrote she was grateful to Lever for Change, the organization that managed the open call, and the evaluators for “their roles in creating this pathway to support for people working to improve access to foundational resources in their communities. They are vital agents of change.”

The increase in both the award amount and the number of organizations who were selected is “a pleasant surprise,” said Elisha Smith Arrillaga, vice president at The Center for Effective Philanthropy. She is interested to learn more about the applicants’ experience of the process and whether Scott continues to use this process going forward.

Some 6,353 nonprofits applied to the $1 million grants when applications opened.

“The donor team decided to expand the awardee pool and the award amount,” said Lever for Change, which specializes in running philanthropic prize awards.

The 279 nonprofits that received top scores from an external review panel were awarded $2 million, while 82 organizations in a second tier received $1 million each.

Competitions like Scott’s open call can help organizations who do not have connections with a specific funder get considered, said Renee Karibi-Whyte, senior vice president, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

“One of the best things about prize philanthropy is that it surfaces people and organizations and institutions that otherwise wouldn’t have access to the people in the power centers and the funding,” she said. Her organization also advises funders who run competitive grants or philanthropic prize competitions to phase the application to diminish the burden of applying on any organization that is eliminated early.

Megan Peterson, executive director of the Minnesota-based nonprofit, Gender Justice, said the application was a rare opportunity to get noticed by Scott.

“Having seen the types of work that she has supported in the past, we did feel like, ‘Oh, if only she knew that we were out here racking up wins,’” said Peterson.

Her organization has won lawsuits recently around access to emergency contraception and the rights of trans youth to play sports. They plan to use the funds to expand their work into North Dakota. Peterson said the funds must be used for tax exempt purposes but otherwise come with no restrictions or reporting requirements — just like Scott’s previous grants.

“I think she’s really helping to set a new path for philanthropy broadly, which is with that philosophy of: Find people doing good work and give them resources and then get out of the way,” Peterson said of Scott. “I am grateful for not just the support individually, but the way in which I think she is having an impact on philanthropy broadly.”

The open call asked for applications from nonprofits who are community-led with missions “to advance the voices and opportunities of individuals and families of meager or modest means,” Yield Giving said on its website. Only nonprofits with annual budgets between $1 and $5 million were eligible to apply.

The awardees were selected through a multilayer process, where applicants scored fellow applicants and then the top organizations were reviewed by a panel of outside experts.

Scott has given away $16.5 billion from the fortune she came into after divorcing Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Initially, she publicized the gifts in online blog posts, sometimes naming the organizations and sometimes not. She launched a database of her giving in December 2022, under the name Yield Giving.

In an essay reflecting on the website, she wrote, “Information from other people – other givers, my team, the nonprofit teams I’ve been giving to – has been enormously helpful to me. If more information about these gifts can be helpful to anyone, I want to share it.”

Smith Arrillaga, of CEP, said it was important that Scott is, “continuing to honor her commitment in terms of giving away her wealth, even though she’s thinking, changing and tweaking the ‘how’ of how it’s done and she’s still trying to go with the spirit of what she committed to.”

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