MacKenzie Scott, the author and philanthropist, says she has given away more than $4 billion in the last four months.
"This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling," Scott wrote in a post on Medium announcing the donations. "Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color, and for people living in poverty. Meanwhile, it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires."
Scott is the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos; she was a part of the company's founding and Amazon's first accountant. According to Forbes, Scott is the third-richest woman in the world, estimating her worth at $55.1 billion after her most recent donations.
In their divorce last year, Scott received a 4% stake in Amazon – then valued at $37 billion. Amid the stock market's pandemic boom, those shares would now be worth about $62 billion, though it's not clear how much of the fortune she has sold.
The gifts are to 384 organizations in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico – all are unrestricted gifts, with no strings attached.
The organizations, which she lists in her post, include those that fulfill basic needs, such as food banks and emergency relief funds. Others target longer-term problems, she says – "systemic inequities that have been deepened by the crisis: debt relief, employment training, credit and financial services for under-resourced communities, education for historically marginalized and underserved people, civil rights advocacy groups, and legal defense funds that take on institutional discrimination."
A number of the organizations are community development financial institutions — mission-driven financial institutions that benefit underserved communities. Morgan State University, a historically Black university in Baltimore, said it had received $40 million. Scott also made gifts to 43 YMCA associations and the YMCA of the USA – donations for which the national organization's CEO said they were grateful as Ys have been facing financial hardship during the pandemic.
Melissa Berman, CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, told Bloomberg that Scott's nearly $6 billion in donations this year "has to be one of the biggest annual distributions by a living individual" to working charities.
Scott signed the Giving Pledge last year, promising to give the majority of her wealth to philanthropy. Bezos, who has not signed the pledge, earlier this year committed $10 billion to fight climate change.
In July, Scott announced she had given away nearly $1.7 billion to a number of causes, including historically black colleges and universities and women's and LGBTQ equity organizations. Howard University received $40 million, which it said was the largest gift from a single donor in the school's history.
For this round of donations, Scott said she asked her team of advisers to help her figure out how to give more money away faster to provide immediate support to people suffering economically during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her advisers whittled a list of 6,490 organizations down to 822 for further research before selecting the 384 to receive funds now.
"They took a data-driven approach to identifying organizations with strong leadership teams and results, with special attention to those operating in communities facing high projected food insecurity, high measures of racial inequity, high local poverty rates, and low access to philanthropic capital," she said.
"We do this research and deeper diligence not only to identify organizations with high potential for impact, but also to pave the way for unsolicited and unexpected gifts given with full trust and no strings attached."
Some point out that in a different America, Scott wouldn't have billions of dollars to give away – instead, more of that wealth would be paid in taxes that could benefit all Americans, and in higher wages to Amazon employees who could use the money directly.
Anand Giridharadas, author of the book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, said in a tweet, which has since been removed, that it was "union-busting and tax avoidance that made the fortune possible."
As well as praising a billionaire for giving money to HBCUs, Giridharadas said rank-and-file Amazon workers should be praised for their contribution to the company's success: "Let us salute some folks barely holding on, running up and down warehouse aisles, whose wages did this."
Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, wrote at CommonDreams that while Scott is a newcomer on the billionaire-giving scene, she is doing it better than others in her cohort.
"She still has a long way to go in her stated intention of giving away all the wealth. But she's now made two bold moves, putting to shame the other 650 U.S. billionaires who haven't figured out comparable ways to boldly share," he said.
"During a pandemic when US billionaire wealth has increased $1 trillion since March, other billionaires should draw inspiration from her approach to move funds to urgent needs, to historically marginalized groups, to share decision-making with non-wealthy people, and to avoid warehousing funds in private legacy foundations."