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The Center for Effective Philanthropy’s (CEP) new report, Giving Big: The Impact of Large, Unrestricted Gifts on Nonprofits, offers a range of insights regarding the short-term impacts on organizations benefitting from MacKenzie Scott’s philanthropic efforts. The scope and scale of Ms. Scott’s giving (in the vicinity of $13 billion so far), both in the aggregate and relative to other gifts to the same organizations, have generated huge interest.
Much of the public commentary about her giving — praise as well as questions and critique — has consisted of anecdote and speculation, due in part to limited transparency about the rationale for selecting recipients and process of making the grants. This new research from CEP provides an opportunity to draw conclusions based on the experiences and voices of many nonprofit leaders, collected in surveys and interviews with executive directors who received one of the first three rounds of these gifts.
As a leader of learning and evaluation in the private foundation space, I offer a few reflections on the findings from this first phase of the research as they relate to learning from our work at the Barr Foundation. I also share hopes for what and how we might continue to learn about the longer-term effects of this giving. My reflections are guided by CEP’s three primary study questions from the report:
1. Do nonprofits believe this gift has increased their impact? In what ways?
The answer is a fairly predictable “yes” — a large majority of leaders reported that the funds furthered their organization’s mission and strengthened their financial and organizational capability for the long term.
2. How did these nonprofits allocate the grant? And why?
Many nonprofit leaders described ways they are now able to invest in their own talent and infrastructure. Many used the funds to address well-known challenges in the social sector such as equitable compensation (62 percent) and reserves to build financial stability and resilience (73 percent). Interestingly, a majority also reported that they will advance their mission by investing in evaluation and measurement (58 percent), an area that is often not supported by other philanthropic dollars.
3. Have the nonprofits experienced unintended negative consequences? What have been the downsides of receiving this gift, if any?
Due to the deep gratitude typically expressed by the leaders and the positive changes they felt they were able to make, it isn’t too surprising that these leaders offered little in the way of criticism.
In the end, large, unrestricted gifts with minimal reporting requirements are a dream come true for many nonprofits. Given the incredibly hard, frequently undervalued, and exhausting but essential work that they do every day, it seems the absolute least that philanthropy can offer.
Read the full article about lessons from MacKenzie Scott’s giving by Yvonne Belanger at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.