MacKenzie Scott & the History of Challenging Philanthropy’s Status Quo

Andrew Carnegie
William Rathbone VI
Warren Buffett
Jane Addams
“Scientific Charity” cartoon
Josephine Butler
Anne-Robert Jacques Turgot
Quote from Pembroke County Guardian and Cardigan Reporter, 1905
  • Will Scott’s approach prove to be effective? There are some who argue that we should reserve judgment about Scott’s philanthropy until it is possible to know whether it proves to be effective or not. (As covered at length above, this depends largely on what you assume her goal to be and what your criteria for assessing “effectiveness” are).
  • Transparency: Many have called for more transparency about who Scott’s advisers are and what criteria they are applying in deciding who to fund. Others have pointed out that whilst Scott publishes lists of the organisations she funds, she does not specify the amounts given to each- which would be useful information in understanding the overall picture of her giving and in informing the activities of other philanthropic funders.
  • Distorting effect on the nonprofit sector: Some have argued that no matter how well-intentioned and carefully thought-out Scott’s approach to giving may be, philanthropy at this scale cannot help but have a distorting effect. Scott’s giving now makes up a significant proportion of the total philanthropic funding for US nonprofits, so the decisions she makes about who to fund (and who not to fund) have a major impact — both on the nonprofits themselves, and potentially on other funders who may be considering funding in similar areas.
  • Part of the problem, not part of the solution: Critics of big philanthropy have argued that the fact Scott is able to give at this scale should be seen not as a cause for celebration, but as further evidence of how big a problem wealth inequality is. This is by no means a new point, and from Scott’s pronouncements it would seem as though she agrees to a large extent that her level of wealth is problematic, but some would like to see her go further by supporting calls for wealth taxes, funding labor rights organizations etc.
  • Amazon wealth is tainted wealth: Plenty of critics would further argue that the fact Scott’s wealth comes from Amazon makes it particularly problematic, given the company’s well-documented history of tax avoidance and its poor record on labour rights and treatment of its employees. It is easy here to paint Scott as the passive recipient of this money, or as a heroine who has taken the money from Jeff Bezos via a divorce settlement and is now, Robin Hood-like, redistributing it to the poor. However, this is probably a mistake. For one thing, as this Marker piece details, Scott was far from being a passenger in the development and growth of Amazon (certainly in the early days, at least); and for another it is somewhat patronising to absolve Scott of any need to take into account how her wealth was created and what that might mean for the legitimacy of her efforts to do good through giving it away. All donors at this kind of scale need to contextualise their philanthropy in that way, and Scott is no different in that regard.




Rhodri Davies is a unrepentant philanthro-nerd, who likes to look at giving from as many angles as possible.

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Rhodri Davies is a unrepentant philanthro-nerd, who likes to look at giving from as many angles as possible.

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