Editor’s Note: The following opinion piece by Jeannie Infante Sager, Director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, explores the implications of recent philanthropic giving from MacKenzie Scott.
MacKenzie Scott’s recent round of donations brings her total giving to more than $12 billion, benefitting 1,257 nonprofit organizations since 2020. With 60% of her gifts supporting women-led organizations, this is a transformational moment for the visibility of women’s roles in philanthropy and is redefining what it means to give.
Scott’s titular philosophy of “Helping Any of Us Can Help Us All” and previous writings touch on the broader definition of philanthropy, sharing an “all in” approach the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) has noted across other women’s giving efforts. With this “all in” mindset, she embraces what has traditionally been known as the 5 T’s of philanthropy: Time, Talent, Treasure, Ties and Testimony. Scott’s approach embraces an expanded definition to incorporate the values of Transparency and Trust. Through these efforts, she brings a new perspective to philanthropic giving that could prove not only transformational for individual organizations, but to the greater lens through which we evaluate philanthropic giving.
All In On Giving
From the start, Scott has made clear her intention to go “all in” with her Giving Pledge, which she’s described as giving away the entirety of her wealth “until the safe is empty.” The scale of Scott’s giving alone is unprecedented – were it not for her giving in 2020, total individual giving would have gone down that year, and we may observe a similar trend for 2021. The visibility her gifts bring to both women’s philanthropy and the nonprofit organizations she supports, such as the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, provides an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the need for expanded services to support women’s and girls’ causes.
WPI’s research has shown that when women give to women’s and girls’ organizations, it creates a level of awareness to encourage others to give that extends to both men and women donors. In short, giving begets giving. This bodes well for drawing attention to the lack of resources (less than 2% of overall charitable giving) generally available to groups supporting women’s and girls’ causes. Scott’s essays also provide a window into her philanthropic journey that welcome those who may feel like outsiders for not having as much “treasure” to give. Knowing that women tend to give in more ways than just financial contributions, she calls out the myriad ways people can give.
In her March 2022 announcement, Scott reinforces her philosophy that “when we help one group, we often help them all.” She’s not alone, as our research shows that people give to women’s and girl’s causes because they believe it is an effective way to influence widespread societal change. Scott’s focus on underrepresented and marginalized groups is a call to action to other donors to diversify their giving, highlighting the benefits of supporting specific groups as a way of lifting up all communities.
Transparency as Best Practice
The level of transparency Scott brings to her efforts and giving philosophy provides a best practice approach that both demonstrates accountability and provides inspiration to others looking to give. While she has tried to keep the attention specifically on the organizations rather than herself or the amount of financial contributions to each organization, she has shared plans to develop a comprehensive website to track her giving, which will provide a searchable database of gifts and insight into her giving team’s process. After receiving some backlash for a perceived lack of transparency in a December 8, 2021 article, her responsiveness suggests her plans for balancing more transparency with the needs of the recipient organizations were already in the works as part of her overall giving strategy.
Placing Trust in Those Who Know Their Work
Scott’s approach has also centered on an openness to trusting the work the individual nonprofit recipients are doing with minimal input from her or her giving team. This is part of her strategy to build “a portfolio of organizations that supports the ability of all people to participate in solutions.” By diversifying her giving across a range of organizations, she demonstrates trust in the varied experiences of those impacted and their valuable work finding shared solutions.
Scott also gives with few or no restrictions, allowing the organizations to manage the funding as they see fit, a departure from status quo large-scale giving. The founder of Rise Up, a recipient of one of these gifts, calls this trust “transformational,” allowing organizations to “shift from a mind-set of scarcity and competition to one of abundance and possibility by freeing us from the traditional constraints of philanthropic bureaucracy.” While Scott’s giving team takes a data-driven approach to selecting organizations with strong, diverse leadership teams and demonstrated results, once that selection has been made, the gifts are left to the organizations to use in the ways that best serve their programs.
Shaping the Future of Giving
MacKenzie Scott’s “all in” approach, including her belief in transparency and trust as essential elements of philanthropy, reinforces a new standard of what transformational, impact-focused giving can look like. This approach encourages others to give to causes they care about in their own backyards. Donations, whether financial or non-financial, from individuals remains the best way to give back.
One way donors are creating impact and scale with their giving is by joining giving circles. Our research shows that members of these communities tend to give more, give more strategically and proactively, give to a wider array of organizations, volunteer more, and are more likely to engage in civic activity. This model of collective giving is a great way to start or expand your philanthropic journey and is an attainable example of being “all in.” When we approach giving from the perspective that “helping any of us can help us all,” we can appreciate the meaningful impact that all individuals are capable of. Knowing this, what ways can you take the “all in” approach in your community?
Jeannie Infante Sager is the director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI), which is housed under the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy in Indianapolis, Indiana. Leading WPI’s efforts to translate research to practice, she works closely with WPI’s national advisory council and serves on the executive leadership team for the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. She is an associate professor with the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and teaches with The Fund Raising School. Nationally, she serves as chair-elect for the Indiana University Alumni Association’s board of managers and on the advisory council for WOC – Women of Color in Fundraising and Philanthropy. In service to women and girls, Jeannie is on the board of directors for Girls Inc. of Greater Indiana and Women for Change Indiana.