MacKenzie Scott’s newfound secrecy dulls the influence of her unorthodox style of giving

December 9, 2021, 1:53 PM UTC
MacKenzie Scott has signed the Giving Pledge to give away her billions.
J. Merritt—Getty Images

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Rent the Runway struggles in its first earnings, the Finnish prime minister has a clubbing scandal, and MacKenzie Scott is giving away money, but isn’t saying who it’s going to. Have a great Thursday.

– Secret Scott. The world has gotten accustomed to MacKenzie Scott’s semi-regular musings about her charitable donations. The ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and novelist with a net worth of $59.6 billion has in the past written long preambles to announcements disclosing which organizations she’d selected for her latest round of giving and how much each was getting.

But on Wednesday, she only gave us an essay—no list of recipients, no dollar figure. “I’m not including here any amounts of money I’ve donated since my prior posts,” Scott wrote Wednesday. “I want to let each of these incredible teams speak for themselves first if they choose to.”

Her objective, as Emma reports here, is to deflect attention from herself and onto the organizations she’s supporting. Scott says she rejects society’s consensus that “philanthropy” is an act done only by “financially wealthy people who believed they knew best how to solve other people’s problems.”

But her strategy, while seemingly well-intentioned, is getting some blowback. Some recipient organizations will identify themselves, but that’s not guaranteed, meaning the distribution of Scott’s multibillion net worth—which she’s admirably committed to giving away—may be shielded from public view.

“It seems she really wants to step out of the limelight and I think there’s something beneficial about that in the way it gets back to the root of philanthropy,” Elizabeth Dale, associate professor of nonprofit leadership at Seattle University, told Bloomberg. “But it cloaks the transparency and the accountability that has been present in her previous announcements.”

Others worry that Scott’s peers will use the same rationale to keep their donations quiet, leaving the public clueless as to what the planet’s richest people are doing with the charitable dollars they use to claim tax deductions.

Until now, Scott’s unorthodox giving style—big gifts, handed out quickly with little notice or fanfare—has pumped fresh air into the stuffy world of philanthropy. And along the way, her gifts have spotlighted organizations—many of them women-led and Black women-led—that do community-level work and are often overlooked by bigger foundations. Scott’s strategy was so influential partly because it was so public; it will be harder for other donors to follow her example now that she’s doing her giving in secret.

Claire Zillman

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe


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