How MacKenzie Scott Shook Up Philanthropic World By Donating Billions

I am copying the headline and article from this article in NDTV and using it to highlight below key points for donors I interact with. There is a drastic need for change in outlook of many Indian donors. Parts in blue are highlighted for emphasis, at places bold. Later on underlined for additional emphasis.

And you do not even need this level of wealth to donate for good causes. Any upper middle class family has enough surplus money and most of the time they do not even know what to do with it but will not donate.

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MacKenzie Scott unlocked a staggering sum of nearly $6 billion in charitable gifts last year, and unlike many other large donors did not attach any restrictions or even naming rights requirements.

WorldAgence France-PresseUpdated: January 31, 2021 9:11 am IST

Washington: Food banks, immigrant rights groups, and struggling colleges across the US discovered a surprise benefactor last year as billions of dollars flowed into organizations hurting during the pandemic from MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Scott unlocked a staggering sum of nearly $6 billion in charitable gifts last year, and unlike many other large donors did not attach any restrictions or even naming rights requirements.

The approach has shaken up the philanthropic world, not only with the size of her gifts, but without the limits and accounting requirements of many large foundations or donors.

Laura MacDonald, board chair of the Giving USA Foundation, a nonprofit which conducts research on philanthropic giving, said Scott’s approach is part of a movement of “trust-based philanthropy” which does away with some of the red tape imposed by many donors.

MacDonald said Scott’s approach moved beyond the “Big Brother” approach of some donors and the venture capital mindset which permeates much of the business world.

“Trust-based philanthropy has catapulted to the top of the list of taking points” in the philanthropic world as a result of Scott’s initiative, MacDonald said.

“This may embolden other donors to try something and take more risks.”

In December, Scott’s latest funding round included 384 organizations ranging from Blackfeet Community College in Montana to the Arkansas Food Bank to the Immigrant Families Fund.

“This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling,” Scott wrote in a blog post.

“Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color, and for people living in poverty. Meanwhile, it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires.”

– Lots to celebrate –

Philanthropy activists say Scott’s actions are likely to make other billionaires — including her ex-husband — take notice.

“There is a ton to celebrate about her philanthropy,” said Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, which provides research data to foundations and other charitable donors.

“I would hope that the sheer amount of money she is getting out the door and her intention to continue to do so is a kick in the pants to all those sitting on tremendous wealth at time of unbelievable challenge and need.”

Scott, whose Amazon stake acquired in her divorce settlement is estimated at some $58 billion, pledged to give away the majority of her wealth to fight social inequity.

She announced grants of some $1.7 billion last July and another $4.2 billion in December.

She enlisted a team of advisors to help identify organizations to aid those suffering from the economic toll of the pandemic, focusing on those working to combat hunger, poverty and racial inequity.

While her ex-husband Bezos has donated $10 billion to fight climate change — the largest charitable gift of 2020 — and additional amounts to other causes, his giving has been slower and proportionately smaller, given that his fortune is worth more than three times hers.

The former couple could offer a major boost to philanthropy in the US, which represented some $450 billion in donations from Americans in 2019.

– Speed and scale –

Benjamin Soskis, senior research associate at the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute, said Scott’s actions are remarkable not only for their scale but the speed in delivering the funds.

“The pandemic has amplified an imperative in getting money out the door as fast as possible,” Soskis said.

Additionally, Scott has broken with much of philanthropic tradition by eliminating onerous restrictions and limits, which can complicate matters for organizations scrambling to cope with the pandemic.

“She has emphasized giving money and getting out of the way,” Soskis said.

“Philanthropists often see themselves as part of the process, with multiple checks and evaluations and metrics which can be really burdensome.”

One potential critique of Scott’s approach is her “opaque” process in which she has selected grant recipients, Soskis said.

“She is operating in a realm of absolute discretion that is not accountable to anyone,” he said.

Still, Soskis said her actions set an important precedent which could be a positive force for philanthropy.

“We shouldn’t underestimate the role MacKenzie Scott plays in establishing a new norm for philanthropic giving,” Soskis said.

“Any major philanthropist has to confront the example that she has set.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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The crowd funding of Karan Johar and Amitabh Bachchan

This is not a new retort of mine except that after having said it the nth time around I thought this should be recorded.

I was at an evening event at the US Consulate where over the course of discussions I met this lady who wanted to know what I did and on learning of my involvement with environmental activism was very appreciative and grateful that somebody in the city does this. It was maybe a first instance for her that at a networking event she had met somebody with such a vocation. She was a businesswoman running two successful businesses.

The conversation proceed further which is when the discussion came to where it usually does in such conversations. She wanted to know how such activities sustain themselves.

I told her how doing activism is a difficult path. About how I had over the past few years significantly reduced my participation for want of resources and was focusing more on my personal needs and profession.

About how one hopes and relies that the citizens at large all of whom benefit from activism – whether saving the mangrove forests or improving the walking infrastructure of the city – would at sometime respond with volunteering their time or giving small donations to sustain expenses. And then I added about how the public are so singularly disappointing in extending any support.

And bang as could be predicted came the standard grouse that one never knows how the money will be used and it is difficult to trust NGOs.

I gave her the analogy of Bollywood and how the same people never demand their money back if a movie from the Bollywood stable turns out to be an utter waste of their time and money. That their money value has been completely destroyed (and time value) is not as much a matter of concern to people as giving money to an NGO. I gave the example of Walking Project where the most nominal amount of Rs. 365 is an annual individual membership. It translates to Rupees one a day, something the poorest can also subscribe to.

But in one year to the Project we are still not able to get memberships in this bracket. Whereas people spend any multiple of that amount on multiplex, on movie tickets and all other associated expenditures. Yes, I understand that people want to be happy and entertained and our willing to be pay for it but does not something like a Walking Project not bring any value to their life and should they not have any interest in making even a small contribution?

Is there no happiness in enjoying a great walking environment in your city? And will you not do even a little bit to support a group of people who get on with it? Much as you would support Karan and Amitabh to entertain you (which can be of quite dubious quality a number of times)

Millions of people are more than willing to make their contributions from Rs. 50 to 500 towards supporting Karan Johar and Amitabh Bachchan, which is what sustains their ventures. These gentlemen do not put money from their pockets, which can end up being the case a lot of times in NGO work.

It is this large hearted public support which enables Mr. Johar and Mr. Bachchan to add to their stables of bungalows and cars, while Walking Project or mangroves with which I have been associated for more than a decade cannot even afford a full time project manager and a peon.

I think the example struck a very strong chord and the lady immediately realised what she had been doing with her money all along and Walking Project got a small donation.

She did not know me from before the evening and so was justified in her skepticism but this entry is not about her, it is about the abject lack of community service and philanthropy in the Indian middle class. It is about how they can and do crowd fund Bollywood and hundreds of similar activities but will not support community activities.

There must be 10,000 people who know me personally or my work in the past decade and no one (very few exceptions) has every bothered to engage in a kind gesture. Lokhandwala Complex where I have been housed for the past two decades presents a desolate dreary desert for any such goodwill. It is a complex  of the wealthy and few of them who commit actually make a donation, not to speak about those who skillfully evade any such discussion.

The 300 acres of mangroves here (which were completely responsible for saving the complex from the flood of 2005) of which a 100 acres I was clearly able to save in the first half of the last decade , the saving of the Lokhandwala Lake in 1999 by and me and numerous other activities are clearly not as valuable as what Mr. Johar and Bachchan have to offer and need to be continuously justified.