MacKenzie Scott, the reclusive billionaire who has in three years donated upwards of $14 billion to more than 1,600 nonprofits, may start accepting applications from would-be recipients. Eventually.
On Wednesday, Scott’s team published a long-promised website with details about her philanthropy, including a database of the donations she has made since 2020. More surprisingly, the operation (which the website calls “Yield Giving”) also announced that Scott will allow nonprofits to formally apply for her gifts in the future, through what it calls an “open-call process.” That process will include an online application, the website says, but it doesn’t yet provide specifics on timing, simply saying it is “upcoming.”
However long it takes to become reality, the promised application process marks an intriguing strategy shift for Scott—and an apparent response to some of the criticisms she has faced. While non-profits and philanthropic experts alike have praised Scott’s generosity—and the massive scale and speed of her giving, as well as the unrestricted nature of her donations—the secrecy around her process and lack of communication have created some frustrations even among her recipients, as a Fortune feature in March reported.
Scott is currently worth about $21.2 billion, according to Bloomberg. After divorcing the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, she signed the Giving Pledge in 2019, promising to give away the bulk of her share of the Amazon fortune. She has swiftly followed through, and by 2021 had become the third most generous U.S. philanthropist on paper. (In practical terms, she’s even more impressive: Last year’s second-biggest donor to charity, Elon Musk, directed his $5.7 billion donation in Tesla shares to his personal foundation, reaping a tax benefit without distributing much of the money to charity, tax records show.)
Scott’s operations have been largely shrouded in secrecy: A writer who calls herself “a private person,” she and her team refuse all interview requests. She has until now announced her donations, and named the nonprofits she’s funding, through reflective, literary essays posted twice a year on Medium. In December 2021, Scott briefly tried to withdraw even further from the limelight, and announced that she would let her recipients announce her gifts themselves. But two days later, after widespread criticism over this diminished transparency, Scott backpedaled—and promised that her team was developing an online database of her gifts. The website unveiled this week is the result.
Yield Giving’s website also appears to address another criticism that Fortune highlighted in our reporting earlier this year: Scott’s lack of availability to those with good reason to seek her money, and the difficulties this lack of accessibility can cause for those she’s trying to help. For example, at national organizations with many affiliates across the country, she has funded some affiliates but not others—without asking those nonprofits for input—occasionally creating internal difficulties and confusion for her recipients.
“It was really difficult to know what their criteria was—and sure, I’d love to be able to provide input,” Rey Saldaña, CEO of Communities in Schools, told Fortune earlier this year. His network of nonprofits in November 2021 received a surprise phone call from a member of Scott’s team, promising grants that eventually totalled $133.5 million, for the national organization and 40 of its 110 affiliates; but for the 70 other affiliates, Saldaña acknowledged, “the conversation was a difficult one. It stings to be on the outside when others in the network are receiving gifts.”
It appears that Scott is taking that kind of feedback to heart—and, as she has so often done over her relatively short philanthropic career, has quickly changed course to build a better approach. Yield Giving’s website includes a page devoted to Scott’s process, describing the “quiet research” and evaluations her team has relied upon to pick recipients. It also promises an “upcoming” open-call process “to introduce an additional pathway for information about organizations to reach us.” The open calls “will focus on one or more specific themes, geographies, and types of organizations at a time,” according to the website.
The website dropped at the end of a year in which Scott became more famous than ever, despite her shying from the spotlight, and not always for her donations. In September, she quietly filed for divorce from her second husband, a science teacher named Dan Jewett, who had briefly shared her Giving Pledge page and apparently participated in her donation process. Scott also saw her life inspire a comedy series on AppleTV+, Loot, in which Maya Rudolph plays a fictionalized billionaire divorcing her tech-founder husband and figuring out how to give away the fortune she takes from the marriage. (Rudolph’s series-finale declaration that “we are the problem; billionaires shouldn’t exist” lands like a TV-pithy version of Scott’s first essay about her donations: “There’s no question in my mind that anyone’s personal wealth is the product of a collective effort, and of social structures which present opportunities to some people, and obstacles to countless others.”)
However accessible the promised application process will make Scott’s team, the woman herself isn’t changing her communication strategy. Yield Giving’s website doesn’t include any sort of contact information, and a page on “Inquiries” politely discourages what must be a deluge of informal pitches from anyone who knows anyone who knows Scott.
“To maximize time for giving and ensure information reaches us at times when we are prepared to review it, we do not invite unsolicited messages suggesting candidates, including forwards from friends, family, or personal connections,” Scott’s website says. She then dampens any of our hopes that she might reconsider all those press interview requests: “In order to cede focus to the organizations we’re supporting, we choose not to participate in events or media stories.”
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