Philanthropy has a new champion. Her name is MacKenzie Scott.
Recently, Scott announced that in her relatively short time in philanthropy, she’s given $1.7 billion to 116 nonprofits. Many of the organizations are devoted to equity, and those organizations are largely led by women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people.
While the amount represents a tiny fraction of her estimated $62 billion net worth, it was how and where she gave that caught my eye. Scott employs the most fundamental, essential good philanthropic practices to advance equity, namely racial equity, in her grantmaking.
Philanthropists often equate money with knowledge, but they don’t necessarily have anything to do with one another. At least when it comes to giving it away. The importance of lived experience cannot be overstated and presuming one understands another’s life and plight can be harmful. Let’s be honest: the vast majority of wealth holders in this country are white. They don’t understand the communities they’re trying to serve better than the people who live there. Suggesting otherwise is outrageous.
With respect to the communities she wishes to support and help, Scott engaged a team of non-profit advisors with “key representation from historically marginalized race, gender, and sexual identity groups.” Kudos to her for not overlooking the communities and recognizing the value and importance of seeking out those voices and listening.
As a donor, I place great emphasis on nonprofit leadership. So does Scott—she gave to leaders and organizations with proven records of “effective management and significant impact in their fields.” And in giving unrestricted funding, Scott is recognizing the knowledge, approaches and talents of the leaders and organizations.
I was moved to see Scott give eight figure gifts to six historically black colleges and universities: Howard University, Hampton University, Spelman College, Tuskegee University, Xavier University of Louisiana, and Morehouse College. The racial wealth gap in this country extends to higher education donations, where future members of our communities are being educated. Scott reminds those of great wealth—don’t overlook HBCUs. In doing so, she’s supporting system change, rather than maintaining the status quo.
MacKenzie Scott may be new to philanthropy. But she has jumped to the head of the class in a way that advances equity. She’s taking risks, being bold and listening to the people she’s funding. At the same time, Scott makes it known humility is not always the best course of action as she acknowledges “the attention I can call to organizations and leaders driving change.”
We’re in the throes of viral pandemic, systemic racism, and a warming climate with ever increasing natural disasters. Through her actions and framing of her donations, Scott has boldly issued a rallying call to all people of wealth. Now is the time to step up and cede power to communities so they may play an active role in determining their futures.
The question that lingers, will others match her equitable approach to funding?