Since mid-2020, MacKenzie Scott has made charitable donations totaling close to $8.6 billion across more than 780 nonprofit organizations and universities — a philanthropic tsunami announced not with launch events or ribbon cutting, but with three blog posts. The organization I belong to, IDinsight, was one of those fortunate enough to be on the most recent list; the Center for Effective Philanthropy is another. And we are both in good company among hundreds of other organizations working to make the world a better place.

More remarkable than the amount of grantmaking, however, has been Scott’s departure from the paper- and process-heavy norms of strategic philanthropy. This has caused those in the foundation and nonprofit sector, as well as the philanthropy peanut gallery, to reflect on whether her example offers a new and improved way to support organizations that are doing good.

The differences are easy to spot. Scott has not developed the sort of priorities, goals, and grantmaking strategies that shape the work of most staffed foundations. She’s described her giving as intended to benefit “organizations having major impact on a variety of causes,” informed by a conviction that “people who have experience with inequities are the ones best equipped to design solutions.”

Rather than setting up philanthropic infrastructure, Scott has asked a small number of advisors to conduct due diligence without burdening potential grant recipients. In fact, organizations being considered for funding often aren’t even made aware they’re even under consideration before the phone call giving them the good news. No proposals, no relationship-building, no waiting for the emails from program officers, no disappointments when the funding doesn’t come through. Contrast this with foundations that typically spend 10 percent or more of their annual budgets on personnel and administrative expenses, deploying program staff to fend off cold calls, review customized grant proposals, conduct site visits, and oversee active grants.

In many cases, the amount of support provided is far greater than a typical foundation grant, and most organizations have reported that the grant is the single-largest in their history – sometimes by severalfold. (A recent survey by Bloomberg provides more details.) The funding is unrestricted, too, providing grantees with maximum flexibility for use of the funds while keeping reporting requirements streamlined to the bare bones. Again, this represents a departure from project grants that are closely monitored by foundations’ program staff.

Read the full article about MacKenzie Scott's philanthropy by Ruth Levine at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.