MacKenzie Scott Gifts Help Strengthen Nonprofit Infrastructure

MacKenzie Scott Gifts Help Strengthen Nonprofit Infrastructure

Roughly 70 regional and national “infrastructure” organizations received gifts from Scott. Many of them include social- and racial-justice and equity components in their work. The Chronicle focused only on national groups for this article. Of the 53 national groups it identified, 26 either publicized how much money Scott had given them or told the Chronicle how much they had received. Those that disclosed how much they received got a total of $146 million. Contributions ranged from $2 million to $15 million. BusinessCompanies scraping for staff ahead of the holidaysIMF foresees a slight drop in global growth from pandemicIMF board confident about leader despite data-rigging claimsAmericans quit their jobs at a record pace in August

But that might be changing as MacKenzie Scott shines a very bright spotlight on those organizations’ work. Dozens of such groups received unprecedented multimillion-dollar donations in Scott’s latest round of giving with her husband, Dan Jewett. “I’ve been working for philanthropy infrastructure groups of different types for over 20 years now, and I’ve never in my career experienced a gift like this,” says David Biemesderfer, the CEO of United Philanthropy Forum, which received $3 million from Scott. Scott’s total giving to these groups is remarkable since it’s coming from an individual donor. In one fell swoop, Scott gave hundreds of millions. U.S. foundations gave $1.9 billion to infrastructure groups from 2004 to 2015, according to a study conducted by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Foundation Center.

It’s unclear whether Scott’s giving signals a new era of wealthy donors giving big to these kinds of umbrella organizations. Most donors don’t understand what these groups do or why they matter, says Kelly Fitzsimmons, the founder of Project Evident, which received $3 million from Scott and helps nonprofits and foundations measure what works. That is one of the reasons so few individuals give them large sums, she says.

“If other wealthy donors better understood the nature of this work, they would follow her lead,” Fitzsimmons says. “We’re in a corner of the nonprofit world that is just not well understood, but it’s a significant area of impact.” Yet Scott’s gifts have helped leaders at these organizations raise awareness about their work, which could increase their chances of attracting gifts from other individual donors. One wealthy donor recently told Nicholas Tedesco, the head of the National Center for Family Philanthropy — an organization that advises and educates wealthy donors about effective grant-making practices — that the donor’s family is considering an earlier grant request since it learned Scott gave the center $4 million in June.

“They very explicitly said to us that the gift will allow a grant request from us to be considered with more seriousness because of the due diligence that has been done by MacKenzie and Dan and because the family wants to know that they’re not the largest funder of the organization,” Tedesco says. Scott’s $2 million donation to Native Americans in Philanthropy, a coalition of grant makers, tribal leaders, and others who advocate for increased philanthropic support of Native American organizations, raised the group’s public profile, says CEO Erik Stegman. He was even invited to appear on “Good Morning America” to talk about Scott’s latest donations. MacKenzie Scott is practicing the kind of philanthropy nonprofits have been asking for, Stegman says — to “give up power to the organizations and communities that know best.”

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