The scale, speed, and innovative approach of Mackenzie Scott’s giving is unprecedented. It should energize dialog and actions among givers of all sorts, ideally moving the field toward learning and improvement. In a previous post, I highlighted the potential impact of Scott’s approach on the social sector overall. With the recent announcement of her pivot from “quiet research” to an “open call,” we have the opportunity to assess what has changed (or not) in her way of giving. We also can learn from the design of her open call. And finally, we can learn from the circumstances that foster Scott’s ability to make a significant pivot in her giving, and gain insight into why making such a pivot is so challenging for the vast majority of organized philanthropy.

What changed?

Relationships between funders and recipients can be divided into two stages: the application, review and selection process in the first place and, once a gift is made, reporting and monitoring. Scott describes alternative ways to conduct the first stage as “two pathways for information about organizations to reach us”: “quiet research” and “open call.” They are quite different. The second stage remains the same in both of Scott’s approaches, giving recipients maximum flexibility in how a gift is used and minimal reporting responsibilities.

The two pathways assign different roles and responsibilities to Scott’s advisors and to recipient organizations. In quiet research there is no application — Scott’s team conducts the entire review and selection process, minimizing work of the organizational recipients, and often coming as a surprise to the recipient organization when they find out they are receiving a grant from Scott. In the open call, Scott’s team designs the process, but the work — completing the application, following the rules, reviewing the applications — is primarily the responsibility of the organizations themselves.

The latter represents a more traditional approach to grantmaking, but Scott’s values and aims are consistent throughout both approaches. In each approach she brings a perspective that respects the recipients, though this respect is conveyed differently in the quiet versus open process. One is to minimize the work applicants must do to receive a gift by using available information and eschewing applications altogether. The other is to deeply involve the leaders of organizations in the process, structuring it so that the applicants and people with deep field knowledge and experience have crucial roles in decision-making. The two pathways reflect these alternatives, implicitly acknowledging they are incompatible approaches.

Scott calls the recipients of the open call “community changemakers,” and she wants these actors to be the focus of the second approach, as both participants in decisions and the beneficiaries of the gifts. In effect, the pivot to the open call shifted the responsibility for the selection process from her team (staff, consultants, etc.) to community changemakers. The open call gives the involved organizations and communities extensive influence in the selection process, it also provides much more transparency than quiet research.

Read the full article about MacKenzie Scott’s pivot to ‘open call’ philanthropy by Bob Hughes at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.