Food banks, immigrant aid associations, struggling universities discovered themselves a surprise benefactor last year, with MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos.
The one who donated to the staggering amount of $ 6 billion in 2020, has also placed no restrictions or requirements on its contributions, contrary to the usual practices of donors to charitable causes in the United States.
MacKenzie Scott’s approach has thus upset the philanthropic world, not only by the massive amount of its payments, but also because by letting organizations judge the proper use of its donations, it frees their actions from red tape.
Laura MacDonald, president of the Giving USA Foundation, a nonprofit that conducts research on philanthropic giving, says the ex-wife of the second richest man on the planet is a move of “philanthropy based on trust”.
“This can encourage other donors (…) to take more risks,” adds this specialist.
In December, Ms Scott made donations to 384 organizations, ranging from a university technological institute on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana (northwest) to a food bank in Arkansas (central) to immigrant assistance association, Immigrant Families Fund.
“This pandemic has demolished the lives of Americans who were already struggling,” wrote MacKenzie Scott.
“The economic losses and the medical consequences have been more severe for women, people of color and those living in poverty. Meanwhile, it has dramatically increased the wealth of billionaires, ”she added.
For charity activists, Ms Scott’s initiatives are likely to inspire other billionaires – including her ex-husband – to take seed.
“I hope the amount of money she is putting on the table and her intention to continue to do so is going to kick the butt of everyone who is sitting on massive wealth as we face incredible challenges and needs, ”says Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, which provides information to charitable foundations.
The former Ms. Bezos, who has held since her divorce a stake in the e-commerce giant Amazon valued at $ 58 billion, has pledged to cede a large part of her heritage to the fight against social inequalities.
It announced subsidies of about $ 1.7 billion in July and then $ 4.2 billion in December.
Contrast with her ex-husband
One of the richest women in the world, Ms Scott has enlisted a team of advisers to help her identify organizations that support those suffering from the economic impact of the pandemic and particularly fighting hunger, poverty and racial inequalities.
These organizations “have dedicated their existence to helping others, to working and volunteering, face to face and day to day, at the table or bedside of real people, in prisons, on the streets, in classrooms or hospital wards, ”the 50-year-old philanthropist wrote in a Medium article.
Her approach contrasts with that of her ex-husband Jeff Bezos. While the founder of Amazon has made a massive $ 10 billion donation to the fight against climate change – the biggest charitable contribution of 2020 – his stakes have been slower and proportionately leaner, though the his fortune is considered to be three times greater than that of his ex-wife.
The former couple could give a major boost to philanthropy in the United States, which was worth some $ 450 billion in 2019.
For Benjamin Soskis, researcher specializing in philanthropy at the Urban Institute, Ms. Scott’s initiatives are remarkable not only for their scale, but also for the speed at which funds are released.
In addition, “she insisted on giving the money and staying away,” the researcher stressed. Usually, “philanthropists often see themselves as part of the process, with multiple checks and evaluations which can be very onerous”.
At the same time, it has been criticized for an “opaque” process in the selection of beneficiaries of its subsidies, agrees the expert.
But his recklessness could set a major precedent. “No great philanthropist will be able to ignore his example.”