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3 Key Recommendations for Funders Based on an Analysis of MacKenzie Scott’s Philanthropy

Date: December 1, 2022

Sarah Vaill

Vice President, Programs, Panorama Global

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Many argue that no recent act of giving has impacted the field of philanthropy more than MacKenzie Scott awarding more than $14 billion in less than two years. In addition to the breadth and amount of dollars gifted, Scott’s philanthropy has been remarkable because of its unrestricted funding and multi-year gifts, which follow the recent rise in trust-based philanthropy.

Our team at Panorama Global wanted to examine Scott’s windfall grantmaking in order to learn from it and share those insights across the philanthropy sector. Earlier this year we launched a new initiative with that goal, Collaborative Learning from Impact Philanthropy.

As we examined where and what Scott’s funding was allocated to, we found that even such generosity left certain swaths of the country with minimal Scott funding, as well as certain equity issues that remained to be funded.

Here, we’ll review some of our key findings, including a breakdown of the geographies, issue areas, and gaps Scott funded through March 2022 — and those she did not. Our analysis complements CEP’s recently released report, which yields important data such as the median budget size of organizations that received Scott grants ($8 million), the prudent uses of the funds, and the positive impact the grants have had on collaboration and innovation. Together, this crucial information offers actionable recommendations for foundations, philanthropists, and others looking to emulate and build on Scott’s transformational giving.

MacKenzie Scott’s Giving: Organizing the Data

We started by breaking down her first 1251 grants by geography, issue, and sector. While grants reached all 50 states, many states received a dearth of funds per capita compared to others. Analysis also revealed that while all states received funds, they did not always match the most pressing local social needs.

This was important because it is easy to assume that less philanthropy is needed now that Scott’s donated to X issue or in Y state. But the data confirms that we still have plenty of gaps to fill as a sector. This isn’t a critique of Scott’s giving, but rather a reinforcement of the fact that her giving should inspire, not deter, others to give.

Here is a sample set of insights about her overall giving that surfaces several gaps to which other philanthropists might turn their attention:

  • Sector grants: The civil society sector received the largest number of grants (539). The CDFI/Lenders sector — community development financial institutions and lenders such as the Chicago Community Loan Fund and the Low Income Investment Fund — received the smallest (35).
  • State grants: Scott’s grants per capita were lowest in Idaho, Utah, Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia (between 0.11 and 0.05 per 100,00 people.)
  • Census region grants: A regional breakdown of Scott’s giving shows that Scott’s grants per capita were lowest in the Midwest census region, which includes two divisions encompassing 12 states.
  • Census division grants: Narrowing in on the census divisions (smaller groups of states within the census regions), we see that while the Mountain division had a high number of grants to Native American organizations, it also had Scott’s lowest number of grants per capita of any division. The Mountain division includes Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Montana, Utah, Nevada, and Wyoming, and is part of the West region.
  • Census + sector grants: When we combine geography and sector, the lowest number of grants per capita includes:

Basic services in the Middle Atlantic and West North Central division

CDFI/Lenders in the East South Central division

Educational institutions in the East North Central and New England divisions

Philanthropic sector in the Mountain and West South Central division

Youth development in the Mountain division

What are the Gaps?

One of the six components of trust-based giving is “doing your homework.” To make that easy, our analysis provides three recommendations for where philanthropists can emulate MacKenzie Scott’s model of transformational giving, but in areas that she hasn’t yet focused on.

1. Start with underfunded regions, and understand their specific issue areas and community needs.

The states with the lowest grants per capita were Utah, West Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky, and Idaho. One could have outsized impact here, but not just by giving within the state.

The greater impact would be to identify and listen for key local issues. For example:

  • Utah + Gender: Utah has been ranked last for women’s equality in recent years, yet the state received only three Scott grants, including one to Planned Parenthood. This won’t reduce the gender wage gap, the second lowest in the nation. Organizations like the Utah Women & Leadership Project are seeking an Equal Pay Law, and philanthropic funding can help.
  • West Virginia + Healthcare: West Virginia, which ranked number one in the U.S. for the prevalence of poor physical and mental health, received two grants from Scott, both proximal to improving health outcomes — Meals on Wheels and Easterseals. However, in combatting the highest level of opioid deaths in the country, West Virginia is also supporting a growing network of vital yet under-resourced community health and addiction recovery organizations providing much needed wraparound services.
  • Indiana + Environment: Indiana received seven grants from Scott, all to basic services or youth development, but the state has the most polluted rivers and streams of any state. Look to the work of environmental justice organizations like the Hoosier Environmental Council, developing a runoff-reducing greenway along the White River, and Just Transition NWI, a partnership of local communities advocating for clean-up of coal ash contamination in Lake Michigan and Trail Creek.

2. Look for opportunities to support philanthropic sector entities based in the South that will regrant

Scott showed deep support of philanthropic sector entities. She gave grants to 147 re-granting funds through March 2022. However, in the South, philanthropic sector grants per capita were less than one-third of the next-lowest region, the Midwest. Without including organizations in DC (many of which are national in scope), Scott’s first 1,251 gifts only included ten philanthropic sector organizations in the South.

Using philanthropic re-granting funds as a vehicle allows donors to mitigate risk and maximize effectiveness by pooling funds with others. This places trust and power into the hands of staff that have local expertise, lived experience, longevity, and relationships with a wide spectrum of community partners. A place-based re-granting fund in the South can provide key data on the pressing issues for local frontline communities and move money flexibly to where it is needed most, often becoming its recipients’ first institutional funder.

A local presence also allows many re-granting funds to show up with more than money—providing coordinating, capacity-building, or advocacy efforts with other local partners. Consider the Fund for Southern Communities, supporting social change organizations in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, and the Black Girls Dream Fund, a collaborative that funded 71 local southern organizations in its first year.

3. Consider some of the big issue areas Scott has not yet funded

Six issue areas received more than 90 grants each through March 2022: youth, education, health, poverty alleviation, arts and culture, and housing. However, while Scott’s initial 1,251 grants were spread across 24 different issues, she did not cover certain key social issues at scale or with deep local penetration, particularly with regard to voting and democracy. These areas have huge potential for impact from local, trust-based giving:

  • Democracy and voting rights: Support for democratic processes like redistricting, ensuring free and safe elections, and removing barriers to voting all contribute to a representative democracy in which communities gain power, self-determination, and decision-making. See the Brennan Center for Justice and Funders Committee for Civic Participation, among others, to learn about key funding needs and opportunities.
  • Community organizing and voter education: Studies by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy demonstrated a tremendous $115 return in community benefits from every dollar invested in local policy advocacy and civic engagement efforts. A secondary result is that local organizations become trusted messengers, making them highly effective at providing voter education and delivering voter turnout, especially among low-propensity voters. Discover and support under-resourced community organizing entities through social justice funds, community foundations, and organizations with strong state organizing networks like the Movement Voter Project.
  • Local U.S. women’s funds: Local women’s funds raise and invest resources into underrepresented communities through resonant solutions led by women and gender-expansive people working at the intersection of racial and gender justice — two areas persistently and paradoxically underserved by philanthropy and politics. Nearly 90 percent of place-based women’s funds in the U.S. identify as having an intentional racial justice focus within the organization’s grantmaking or programming, and fully half are led by women of color, compared to 7.5 percent of foundations. You will find a local women’s fund in 33 states across the U.S, and in Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Or you can join a collaborative fund like Panorama Global’s own Ascend Fund, which builds diverse women’s political power, representation, and leadership by funding and connecting national candidate training organizations, as well as mobilizing state partner coalitions in Michigan, Mississippi, and Washington.

Final Thoughts

Our analysis is a reminder that no organization, region, or issue area is “funded” because of a single funder’s generosity, even a donor on the scale of MacKenzie Scott. Instead, Scott’s example illuminates a way forward for all funders to identify local and community-based organizations and needs, and use unrestricted funding, multi-year gifts, and speedy disbursements to transform dollars gifted into systems and lives changed.

Sarah Vaill is Vice President of Programs at Panorama Global She leads the Collaborative Learning from Impact Philanthropy initiative, drawing on nearly 30 years of experience pursuing systems change, inclusion, equity, and justice through philanthropy and nonprofit advocacy. Panorama Global is a social impact nonprofit that empowers changemakers through radical collaboration. Find Panorama on Twitter at @panoramateam and on LinkedIn.

Editor’s Note: CEP publishes a range of perspectives. The views expressed here are those of the authors, not necessarily those of CEP.

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