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Analyzing MacKenzie Scott’s Giving

Harvard study examines $10 billion in grants – none to evangelical groups

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MacKenzie Scott is following through on her pledge to give away her wealth. So far, she’s donated some $16.5 billion to more than 1,900 nonprofit groups.

She says her goals are increasing economic mobility and helping disenfranchised people, and she documents her giving on the website Yield Giving. But philanthropy researchers wanted to know more about what drives her choices. Now, a Harvard study has examined $10 billion worth of her grants.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported on what they found.

Each year brings new gifts. Education and human services remain priorities, but recipients of her gifts in these categories vary year by year. For example, in 2020 she gave more than $500 million to 23 historically black colleges and universities, but she didn’t repeat that pattern in following years.

In 2023, she announced major gifts to health-care organizations that serve underserved communities, including the J.C. Lewis Primary Healthcare Center in Savannah, Georgia.

Those who try to read Scott’s mind soon give up. As the Chronicle reported: “About one-third of Scott’s grantees are part of national networks such as Communities in SchoolsEastersealsGirl ScoutsMeals on Wheels, and Planned Parenthood. Yet in 2023, none of the recipient organizations were affiliates, according to the Harvard research.”

She supports religious groups, but religion is not a priority. We reported in 2021 that Scott had donated to religious organizations serving Christians, Muslims, and Jews. But researchers found that religion was one of “Scott’s Least Favorite Causes,” ranked by her giving.

Scott has given to progressive religious groups that focus on racial equality, LGBTQ issues, and others. No evangelical nonprofits appear among the Christian groups she has funded, but it’s not clear any have applied for gifts.

A search for “Christian” at Yield Giving generates 36 results, but most of these refer to YMCA groups in various cities.

Scott gave $25 million to Omaha-based Mercy Housing, a $45 million nonprofit developing affordable housing that was founded and led by nuns for its first three decades.

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Habitat for Humanity and its chapters also received a 2022 gift of $436 million. The group was founded in 1965 by Christian laypeople Linda and Millard Fuller and promoted by former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalyn.

Big Christian relief groups like World Vision and Compassion don’t show up on Scott’s searchable list of recipients.

Scott previously supported Repairers of the Breach, a group led Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II that focuses on “how our society treats the poor, women, LGBTQ people, children, workers, immigrants, communities of color, and the sick.”

Among her past religious recipients are Muslim and Jewish groups, including:

  • Muslim Advocates,which works in courts, legislatures, and communities to halt bigotry against Muslims.
  • HIAS, founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in 1881 to assist Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe, now Jews fleeing persecution worldwide.

“She gives to an unusually large range of groups and causes.”

Researchers from Harvard’s Business School and Kennedy School of Government were able to track down IRS information on 1,200 of the groups. They found that Scott has given to groups around the world and in all 50 U.S. states, in recent years favoring states in the South.

She has emphasized groups that serve and/or are run by minorities, women, or other vulnerable populations. In 2022, Scott’s giving to housing efforts “grew exponentially,” reported the Chronicle.

In 2023, she gave $25 million each to Upstream USA, an $80 million nonprofit that works to reduce unplanned pregnancies, and Year Up, a $179 million job-training organization.

Scott, the former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is working hard to fulfill her pledge to give away her $60 billion fortune after signing the Giving Pledge. Developed by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, the pledge is “a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to giving back.”

Unlike some major donors, who impose guidelines on groups they support, Scott says the gifts, made with her husband Dan Jewett, are no-strings-attached. “Because we believe that teams with experience on the front lines of challenges will know best how to put the money to good use, we encouraged them to spend it however they choose.”

In her post, entitled “Seeding by Ceding,” Scott said she wants to “de-emphasize privileged voices and cede focus to others.”

Main photo: Mackenzie Scott / Photo via X

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Steve Rabey

Steve Rabey is a veteran author and journalist who has published more than 50 books and 2,000 articles about religion, spirituality, and culture. He was an instructor at Fuller and Denver seminaries and the U.S. Air Force Academy. He and his wife Lois live in Colorado.