That was investor and donor Liesel Pritzker’s straightforward answer to the question of what giving done right looks like to her when my colleague Grace Nicolette asked — as she does all our guests — at the end of an interview for our Giving Done Right podcast last fall.
Although Pritzker’s response didn’t immediately strike me as the most moving of the 18 guests we’ve asked that same question over two seasons, it became my favorite, hands down: both because it’s right, and because nuance is in such scarce supply lately.
We look, too often, for the easy answers. To be sure, some things are powerfully clear. There is no nuance, to me, for example, about the ways too many in the Republican party are seeking to undermine our democracy, sow division, or deny the efficacy of vaccines.
But, on so many other fronts, we’re too quick to embrace the seemingly easy answers, to take an accusatory stance, or to push aside the uncomfortable truth that, in most things, there are shades of gray. Nuance allows us to avoid the simplistic binaries that I worry increasingly characterize not just our broader societal discussions but also our conversations within Philanthrolandia.
I was thinking about this in the wake of the hubbub last month over MacKenzie Scott’s decision to refrain from listing the recipients of her latest round of gifts as she had done previously. When some, myself included, suggested her previous level of transparency would be better, it prompted in other quarters swift outrage that any aspect of Scott’s pathbreaking approach would be criticized (even as Scott herself responded thoughtfully on Twitter with reassurances about her commitment to transparency).
One nonprofit leader lamented the “naysayers,” seeming to say that it’s not possible to both praise Scott for the unrestricted, massive gifts she has made or her focus on equity and also suggest that more transparency is preferable. Others conflated the sentiment that more transparency is helpful from an effectiveness point of view with a desire to impose new regulations on donors — not something I, for one, would favor.
Another commentator argued on Inside Philanthropy that critique of Scott was sexist and seemed to suggest that Scott’s ex-husband receives better press (I don’t think so) — as if Scott wasn’t clearly the hands-down most praised mega-donor in the world (in the media and among nonprofits) since she started her giving in 2020. Indeed, Inside Philanthropy itself named her its “philanthropist of the year” in 2021 and 2020, noting “nobody is changing the game like MacKenzie Scott is.”
For the record, I (like just about every other nonprofit leader I know) am a huge fan of massive, unrestricted gifts with simple reporting requirements — and I find Scott’s approach to be inspiring in many ways. Indeed, CEP has been a recipient, last year, of a gift from Scott that our Board of Directors has designated for strategic opportunities we’d otherwise be unable to consider. It’s a game-changer for us. One of the reasons I want her to be as transparent as possible about how she’s giving and who she’s giving to is that I think it will inspire other major donors — to give more, to give in an unrestricted way, to give with an emphasis on supporting those closest to communities, to give with a focus on equity!
Given the scale of Scott’s giving, it’s reasonable — and important — to discuss and even study her approach. I imagine she’d agree — and that this is indeed why she made gifts to CEP and a slew of other organizations exploring questions of philanthropic effectiveness. I don’t know of a conscientious donor — or person — who wants only to hear praise.
Read the full article about elevating the conversation by Phil Buchanan at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.