Women have long been the driving force behind charitable giving in many households, but today, their philanthropic efforts are notably on the rise. One of the most recent and salient examples is MacKenzie Scott, a philanthropist, novelist, and billionaire businesswoman who divorced Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in 2019. Over the past year, Scott donated over $8.5 billion in three rounds of charitable giving, putting her in the record books with the largest distribution by a living individual to working charities.
In the last four months of 2020, she gave away $4 billion to 384 nonprofit organizations; in her most recent round, she gave $2.7 billion to 286 groups.
The charities and causes selected by Scott closely reflected her personal values, with funds directed to communities facing high food insecurity, racial inequity, high poverty rates, and low access to philanthropic capital.
Women Lead on Giving, but Are Underserved on Advice
MacKenzie Scott’s wealth level may be rarefied, but more women are making philanthropic decisions than ever before. Despite myths to the contrary, women donate more than men, after adjusting for income and wealth gaps. On average, women give away almost twice as much of their wealth as men (3.5% vs. 1.8%, respectively).1
Yet, only 14% of women have spoken with a financial advisor about their charitable giving.2 And a recent survey shows that women tend to give with their hearts, as opposed to having a strategic plan. As a result, when it comes to advanced charitable planning, women may be unaware of strategies that can maximize their giving and tax benefits (e.g., donating non-cash assets). Having a plan in place for your charitable giving is essential. You already know why you want to give, but your financial advisor can walk you through the range of options for how and when (Display).
Maximize Your Impact
Though we may not all have MacKenzie Scott’s fortune, her bold decision-making is inspiring and empowering. How do you begin to fund your favorites? Keep these principles in mind:
- To bring about change, let your values guide your giving. Your giving can be as intentional as MacKenzie Scott’s—identify organizations whose missions align with your values and formulate a plan for getting them the funding they need.
- Determine your capacity to give. Your asset allocation, age, and spending are key drivers in calculating your “core capital.” Resources earmarked for charity may already be part of your lifestyle budget, or it might make more sense to source them from “surplus” capital.
- Seek out a charitable vehicle that will support your goals. If features such as ease, flexibility, and anonymity are important, a donor-advised fund (DAF) could be a good fit; if you’re looking to contribute substantial time and money, and establish a lasting legacy, a private foundation may be appropriate.
How Did MacKenzie Scott Do It? Fast and Focused
Scott didn’t set up her own philanthropic foundation—she assembled a team to research and identify nonprofit organizations. For the December 2020 tranche, the team started by evaluating 6,490 organizations, with only 6% ultimately receiving gifts. For the most recent round of giving, her team spent the first quarter of 2021 researching equity-oriented nonprofits in underfunded areas. They used a data-driven approach with a focus on strong leadership and high ROI.
Gifts were made to the organizations directly, using donor-advised funds to receive and liquidate Scott’s stock holdings. All of the gifts were unrestricted, meaning the recipients can use the money how they choose.
No other philanthropist has given away so much, so rapidly, without their own foundation—and with no strings attached. Your giving can be as intentional as MacKenzie Scott’s if you put your values front and center. Ultimately, following your north star will allow you to be just as bold, brave, and decisive.
- Jennifer Ostberg
- Director—Wealth Strategies Group
- Beata Kirr
- Co-Head—Investment Strategies
1Forbes, The Rise of Female Philanthropists – And the Three Big Bets They Make.
2Women and Giving. Fidelity Charitable, 2021.