Tech Bros Should Take a Page out of MacKenzie Scott’s Book

Gabrielle Fitzgerald
4 min readDec 5, 2022

Over the past few weeks, the news has been dominated by tech bros behaving badly, with the implosion of Sam Bankman-Fried’s (SBF) FTX and Elon Musk running Twitter in to the ground.

But while we were distracted, a press-shy novelist continued to transform the world of philanthropy and improve the lives of millions.

While Musk hasn’t been known for his philanthropy, a big part of SBF’s shtick was that he got into crypto in order to give away his fortune. Meanwhile, another tech bro looked pretty good in comparison, as Jeff Bezos garnered headlines announcing a $100m gift to Dolly Parton now and plans to give away the rest of his $124b fortune over the course of his lifetime.

Pre-implosion, SBF gave millions to “effective altruism” causes, such as preserving the world for future generations to come. And while Bezos has made several headline-making gifts over the years, neither he nor the company he founded, Amazon, are known for generous philanthropy. In a recent interview with CNN, he spoke about how hard it is to give away money.

These headline-grabbing stories distract from the fact that women in philanthropy have been quietly building real impact.

The same day the CNN interview aired, Bezos’s former wife–and aforementioned press-shy novelist–MacKenzie Scott, announced via a Medium post that she had given away another $2b, bringing the total of her publicly announced philanthropy to nearly $15b in just two years.

And she kicked off her announcement not with a broadcast interview or even a press release, but with a poem. Scott’s philanthropy stands out not just for the scale of her giving, but for the breadth and diversity of entities she is giving her fortune to.

My organization, Panorama Global, has been tracking the types and focus areas of groups who received gifts from Scott, which we published in an infographic earlier this year. At the time, we found that the vast majority of her gifts were to U.S.-based organizations, and that the highest number of gifts had gone to organizations focused on youth, health and education.

Infographic breaking down MacKenzie Scott’s first 1,251 grants by sector. Civil Society: 43% (539 grants); Youth Development: 21% (268 grants); Basic Services: 14% (170 grants); Philanthropic: 12% (147 grants); Education Institutions: 7% (92 grants); CDFI/Lenders: 3% (35 grants)
Infographic showing MacKenzie Scott’s transformational giving: An in-depth review and analysis of Scott’s giving shows the sectors, issues, and geographies that were the beneficiaries of the 1,251 grants that Scott announced via four Medium posts over the past two years.

What we know about the latest round of Scott’s giving

Those trends continued in the latest round of grants. This time, 91% of the funding went to U.S. organizations reaching populations in at least 45 states. Outside of the U.S., India received the most grants, but organizations in Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil, as well as Uganda, Kenya, and South Africa, received gifts as well.

In the U.S., Scott once again focused on major national organizations and a subset of their affiliates that support youth development, with more than one-third of this round of grants going to groups like Big Brothers Big Sisters, Girl Scouts and Junior Achievement. These built on more than 200 earlier grants to the YMCA/YWCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, and others.

For the first time, Scott focused directly on the place where young people spend most of their time — in school. She provided gifts to 49 school districts or charter schools, and three other gifts to support teacher training. This focus contrasts with her earlier rounds of education-related giving, when she supported higher education institutions, including 25 Historically Black Colleges and Universities, seven Tribal Colleges and eight equity-driven scholarship funds, as well as non-profit organizations supporting students.

The latest list includes another first for Scott: grants to health legacy foundations. These foundations, which are created when a non-profit health institution becomes a for-profit health entity, are designed to serve the communities where they are based. Scott’s grants in this category went to organizations in Alaska, Maine, and 15 places in between, and these funds will be on-granted to local groups.

Scott’s recent round of grants follows her increasing focus on marginalized communities. She supported 25 groups who work with refugees and immigrants, almost double her previous gifts in this area. Another 26 grants went to affiliates of the Urban League, an organization focused on civil rights and urban advocacy. There were also numerous additional gifts to organizations who focus on disability and LGBTQ+ rights, and several gifts that represented new areas for Scott, such as worker’s rights and access to clean water.

Quietly transforming philanthropy

In a recent survey of Scott’s previous grant recipients, the Center for Effective Philanthropy found that for 88% of respondents, the gift from Scott was the largest they had ever received. And two-thirds of the organizations reported that the grant would provide significant financial stability for years to come.

While it was not announced publicly, word also started circulating that Scott’s team had informed earlier grant recipients that an annual report would no longer be required — something that is as unprecedented in philanthropic circles as the speed and breadth of her gifts. While Scott had previously been hailed for practicing “trust-based philanthropy,” the removal of a reporting requirement takes the concept to a new level.

The media coverage of tech bros and their down-the-road philanthropy misses the forest for the trees.

Because while Bezos was pledging to give away his Amazon fortune, and Bankman-Fried was losing his, and Musk was burning through his investment with every tweet, MacKenzie Scott quietly planted another $2B worth of seeds that will benefit thousands, if not millions, of lives across the globe.

Learn more about Panorama’s Collaborative Learning from Impact Philanthropy initiative.

Panorama: Accelerate. Catalyze. Empower