MacKenzie Scott doubles planned nonprofit gifts — here's how much she's given away so far

FILE - MacKenzie Scott attends the 2018 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on March 4, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

Billionaire philanthropist and author MacKenzie Scott announced this week that she’s giving $640 million to 361 small nonprofits that responded to an open call for applications.

Scott's organization Yield Giving gave more than double what Scott had initially pledged to give away in the first round through the application process. 

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Since she began giving away billions in 2019, Scott and her team have researched and selected organizations without an application process and provided them with large, unrestricted gifts.

Here’s what to know:

Who is MacKenzie Scott?

Scott is a philanthropist, author and the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, to whom she was married for 25 years. As part of their divorce in 2019, she received a 4% stake in the online retailer, according to Forbes

In 2019, Scott signed the Giving Pledge, a movement of philanthropists who promise to give the majority of their wealth to charitable causes, either during their lifetimes or in their wills.

"We each come by the gifts we have to offer by an infinite series of influences and lucky breaks we can never fully understand," Scott wrote in 2019. "In addition to whatever assets life has nurtured in me, I have a disproportionate amount of money to share. My approach to philanthropy will continue to be thoughtful. It will take time and effort and care. But I won’t wait. And I will keep at it until the safe is empty."

Scott has given away $16.5 billion from her fortune so far. 

Initially, she publicized the gifts in online blog posts, sometimes naming the organizations and sometimes not. 

She launched a database of her giving in December 2022, under the name Yield Giving.

MacKenzie Scott’s Yield Giving donates millions

Last year, Scott launched an "open call" for nonprofits that the billionaire philanthropist could fund.

The open call asked for applications from nonprofits who are community-led with missions "to advance the voices and opportunities of individuals and families of meager or modest means," Yield Giving said on its website.

Only nonprofits with annual budgets between $1 and $5 million were eligible to apply.

The awardees were selected through a multilayer process, where applicants scored fellow applicants and then the top organizations were reviewed by a panel of outside experts.

In a brief note on her website, Scott wrote she was grateful to Lever for Change, the organization that managed the open call, and the evaluators for "their roles in creating this pathway to support for people working to improve access to foundational resources in their communities. They are vital agents of change."

Some 6,353 nonprofits applied for the $1 million grants when applications opened.

The 279 nonprofits that received top scores from an external review panel were awarded $2 million, while 82 organizations in a second tier received $1 million each.

"The donor team decided to expand the awardee pool and the award amount," said Lever for Change, which specializes in running philanthropic prize awards.

The increase in both the award amount and the number of organizations who were selected is "a pleasant surprise," said Elisha Smith Arrillaga, vice president at The Center for Effective Philanthropy. She is interested to learn more about the applicants' experience of the process and whether Scott continues to use this process going forward.

Competitions like Scott's open call can help organizations who do not have connections with a specific funder get considered, said Renee Karibi-Whyte, senior vice president, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

"One of the best things about prize philanthropy is that it surfaces people and organizations and institutions that otherwise wouldn’t have access to the people in the power centers and the funding," she said. Her organization also advises funders who run competitive grants or philanthropic prize competitions to phase the application to diminish the burden of applying on any organization that is eliminated early.

Megan Peterson, executive director of the Minnesota-based nonprofit, Gender Justice, said the application was a rare opportunity to get noticed by Scott.

"Having seen the types of work that she has supported in the past, we did feel like, ‘Oh, if only she knew that we were out here racking up wins,’" said Peterson.

Her organization has won lawsuits recently around access to emergency contraception and the rights of trans youth to play sports. They plan to use the funds to expand their work into North Dakota. Peterson said the funds must be used for tax exempt purposes but otherwise come with no restrictions or reporting requirements — just like Scott's previous grants.

"I think she’s really helping to set a new path for philanthropy broadly, which is with that philosophy of: Find people doing good work and give them resources and then get out of the way," Peterson said of Scott. "I am grateful for not just the support individually, but the way in which I think she is having an impact on philanthropy broadly."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.