Mackenzie Scott’s gifts now total over $14 billion to more than 1600 organizations. CEP’s ongoing “Big Gifts” study is documenting the significant impact these gifts are having on the leadership, values and work of the recipients. Given the scale of giving, the widespread impact, and the distinctive way Scott and her advisors made the gifts, we should also consider the potential effects on the social sector overall.

The social sector is too often overlooked as an essential part of U.S. society. To meet the needs of the people, American society requires its three sectors — business, governmental, and social — to be effective and balanced. The social sector needs strengthening to fulfill its vital roles alongside the economic and governmental sectors. Scott’s gifts offer the social sector, including philanthropy, an impetus to strengthen itself at a crucial stage of American history. But the sector itself must take advantage of the opportunity.

What will that take? Fundamentally, we need to work towards a widespread public understanding of the U.S. social sector as a crucial part of society. Necessary steps include developing a shared language to talk about the social sector and promoting a basic grasp of the sector’s distinctive roles. Further, we need more systematic attention to the way the three sectors interact, including the risks from business and public sector incursions into the social sector.

What can the sector, and philanthropy in particular, learn and do based on Scott’s gifts to date?

Let’s begin with re-examining what we mean when we say Scott’s gifts.  She is quite intentional in describing what she is doing as giving, not philanthropy. And she is clear that her idea of giving includes all manner of helping others with whatever resources — time, money, labor, ideas — each of us happens to have. We overlook a valuable gift if we focus only on the wealth she is sharing. Scott’s periodic Medium posts are a vital part of her giving. In them she imparts her rationale for giving, her focus on equity, her approach and criteria for selecting recipients, her philosophy for giving in a democratic society, her belief in a diversity of voices, and her reasons for relying on what she calls ‘funds.’

In her November Medium post announcing the almost $2 billion in gifts to 343 organizations she says,

Of special note is that many of the organizations are funds. For anyone similarly interested in supporting leadership of people from the communities they’re assisting, funds are a great resource. They pool donations and spread them across a diverse group of smaller organizations working toward a common cause.

Her affirmation of the values and practices of these funds, as well as her own humility raises a question for any giver, institutional or individual, about trust: Can an existing fund — a United Way or a Community Foundation or a Women’s Fund, etc. — allocate resources more effectively because of their knowledge and experience in their communities?

Read the full article about MacKenzie Scott’s gifts by Bob Hughes The Center for Effective Philanthropy.