After criticism about a lack of transparency, billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott reversed course and said she’ll share details about her latest round of gifts.
In a Medium post Friday, Scott said she plans to release the information in the year to come, and to create a website with a searchable database of grants. Scott, one of the world’s wealthiest women, has announced more than $8.5 billion in grants to hundreds of nonprofits across the country since her 2019 divorce from Amazon
founder Jeff Bezos.
She released an update on her 2021 giving on Wednesday, but didn’t reveal which groups received funding or how much money she had given out. Scott said she left “dollar signs” out of her update because she wanted media coverage to focus on the groups working on the causes she supports. She said she would let the groups that received her funding speak for themselves if they chose.
Scott also called for a broader definition of philanthropy — one that means more than just ultra-wealthy people doling out billions of dollars.
The lack of detail in Scott’s latest announcement provoked criticism from some philanthropy experts, who said that public scrutiny is one of the few checks against the power and influence of elite philanthropists. Others noted that charitable donations are typically tax-deductible, so all U.S. taxpayers have an interest in knowing where her money goes.
“She’s undermining norms of transparency and accountability for a good cause, but plenty of other donors would be interested in doing a similar amount of undermining those norms without her noble intent,” said Ben Soskis, a senior research associate at the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, after Scott declined to reveal details in her initial announcement.
Soskis, who studies the history of philanthropy, praised Scott’s subsequent update promising to share details.
“I hope this is an important moment in terms of establishing norms for the transparency commitments of living donors,” Soskis said on Twitter
“We’re at a moment where they could go in several directions, including toward real opacity. I hope @mackenziescott will help move them in the other direction.”