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Melinda French Gates and MacKenzie Scott know that philanthropy has its limits. That’s why they want to measure generosity by more than money

February 3, 2022, 2:31 PM UTC
Melinda Gates in July 2021.
Aurelien Meunier—Getty Images

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! The Cuomo scandal takes down Jeff Zucker, a potential Supreme Court pick writes her first D.C. Circuit opinion, and Melinda French Gates and MacKenzie Scott have one more thing in common. Have a thoughtful Thursday.

– Partners in philanthropy.  Yesterday morning, we shared the news that Melinda French Gates had updated her Giving Pledge. Now, the promise to give away the bulk of her fortune no longer specifies that it will go to the Gates Foundation, which she founded with her now ex-husband Bill Gates two decades ago. Instead, the Wall Street Journal reports, her philanthropy will be “spread … among philanthropic endeavors.”

For those who follow the world of billionaire philanthropy, this was pretty big news—a major change to how one of the world’s wealthiest women (her fortune is currently measured around $11 billion) plans to use her resources over her lifetime. But even more interesting was the new letter French Gates posted on the Giving Pledge website—and its parallels to another recent missive from one of her peers.

In December, MacKenzie Scott shared an update on the distribution of her own wealth in which she also offered her perspective on the concept of philanthropy as a whole. For years, she didn’t identify with the term “philanthropist,” she wrote, because it recalled to her “financially wealthy people who believed they knew best how to solve other people’s problems.” Instead, she believed that philanthropy should account for all kinds of giving from people of all levels of means, whether that’s writing multi-million-dollar checks or volunteering time and support.

French Gates echoed much of the same sentiment in the letter she posted yesterday. “It’s important to acknowledge that giving away money your family will never need is not an especially noble act,” she wrote. “There’s no question in my mind that the real standard for generosity is set by the people who give even when it means going without. That’s why, as part of this pledge, I commit to doing more than writing checks.”

While Scott closely guards her privacy and has not given any interviews since she began her giving spree in 2020, we do know that she and French Gates are colleagues and friends; the pair collaborated on the Equality Can’t Wait challenge, which awarded $40 million to ideas to advance women’s power and influence, and French Gates wrote about Scott for the Time 100 list. A recent story in Puck News reported that French Gates, who has been in the public eye for longer, has advised Scott as she set up her philanthropic team.

French Gates and Scott share an experience that few can comprehend. The division of one of the world’s biggest fortunes—and the unsolicited public attention that follows—can’t be easy to navigate. Maybe each woman came to these conclusions about the limits of traditional philanthropy on her own, or maybe these are conversations they’ve had together. Either way, it’s refreshing to know that two of the world’s wealthiest women understand that money can equal power—but it isn’t everything.

Emma Hinchliffe

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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-Actor Lily James on playing Pamela Anderson in the new Hulu series Pam & Tommy

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