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To Boldly Give: Learning from the Impact of MacKenzie Scott’s Gifts to LGBTQ Organizations

Date: August 24, 2023

Tessa Juste

LGBTQ Movement Building and Policy Researcher, Movement Advancement Project (MAP)

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MacKenzie Scott’s unprecedented giving since 2019 has spurred many conversations on the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors. What impact has her giving had on organizations, their ability to accomplish their goals, and their ability to fundraise? Will her giving shape the future of philanthropy in the United States?

Building on the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s (CEP) 2022 report, Giving Big: The Impact of Large, Unrestricted Gifts on Nonprofits, which examined the experiences of a broad swath of recipients, we at the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) sought to understand how her giving has impacted organizations focused on LGBTQ issues. Especially as LGBTQ communities across the country are facing unprecedented legislative, social, and physical attacks, we find that Scott’s gifts have allowed LGBTQ-focused organizations to increase capacity, respond creatively, and build for the future.

A Pivotal Moment for LGBTQ Organizations

In our new report, Unrestricted and Unprecedented: The Impact of MacKenzie Scott’s Large Gifts on LGBTQ Organizations, we find that large unrestricted gifts empower LGBTQ organizations to pursue new and significant opportunities that have the potential to broaden the movement’s impact. These findings should be understood in light of the current context LGBTQ communities are facing. Across the country LGBTQ people are under siege from a targeted and coordinated campaign to undermine equality and ultimately erase us from public life, as outlined in MAP’s report series, Under Fire: The War on LGBTQ People in America. More than 725 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in 2023 alone, many of them targeting transgender children.

This is a pivotal moment to invest effectively in the organizations working to douse the flames of the attacks on LGBTQ people overall, and transgender people specifically. The speed, quantity, breadth, and vitriol of these attacks have been increasing since 2019, and yet a recent analysis of foundation giving from 2021 shows that for every $100 foundations gave, LGBTQ organizations received 28 cents, or 0.28 percent of the total funds. Too much is at stake for this deficit to persist. This wave of attacks is having adverse effects on the LGBTQ community and reverberates throughout society. In the midst of a hostile political climate, MAP’s Unrestricted and Unprecedented report finds that MacKenzie Scott’s large gifts to LGBTQ organizations demonstrates how bold giving can increase the movement’s impact.

The Impact of MacKenzie Scott’s Big Gifts 

Between 2020 and 2022 MacKenzie Scott gave $163 million to the 28 LGBTQ-focused organizations included in MAP’s report. (Public information was not available for an additional seven LGBTQ organizations that received Scott gifts.) The majority of these gifts (39 percent) were between $1-2 million, with $1 million as the lowest gift level and the highest gift being $34 million.

MAP’s survey and analysis show that the unrestricted nature of Scott’s gifts has allowed organizations to plan for the future as well as broaden their impact and capacity in this current moment. LGBTQ organizations that received Scott gifts utilized this flexibility to make critical investments in their staff and operational capacity, expand programing, and increase long-term financial stability.

For example, nearly two thirds of the organizations that MAP surveyed (65 percent) were able to increase staff salaries or benefits and a significant majority (59 percent) were able to hire new staff. Well over half of organizations (59 percent) were able to expand vital existing programs and more than one-third were able to start a new program. Nearly half of the organizations (47 percent) invested in diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. More than one-third (35 percent) were able to increase their fiscal stability by establishing cash reserves.

These data indicate a significant impact on the ability of LGBTQ organizations to both move forward and fight back at a time when it is direly needed. Additional philanthropy of this type could be deeply transformative for organizations’ capacity to advocate for and serve LGBTQ people nationwide.

One of our survey participants reported, “The support from the MacKenzie Scott gift has allowed to invest in our long-term sustainability, specifically allowing us to weather a potential recession… Her contribution has also raised profile among high net-worth donors and institutions and opened new funding doors for us.”

Along those lines, nearly half of LGBTQ organizations surveyed reported that fundraising became easier because of receiving Scott’s gifts. Organization leaders reported they were able to revise their fundraising strategies, invest in fundraising infrastructure, and capitalize on their raised profile among high net-worth funders. Together with the organizations who reported no effect on fundraising either way, more than 4 in 5 LGBTQ organizations had no negative fundraising effects attributed to Scott gifts, which aligns with the findings from CEP’s broader sample. Concerns that this type of giving would stymie the work of nonprofits are not being borne out by the groups who received these gifts.

Notably, MAP’s research showed that for LGBTQ organizations, gift size was more closely related to budget size than it was for recipients broadly. Additionally, while the median gifts to LGBTQ organizations was $3 million, the median gift for the CEP’s sample was $8 million. From this we can surmise that there is room to expand giving to LGBTQ organizations. It is also a reminder of the importance of identifying and filling funding gaps as they pertain to organizations serving marginalized communities.

Now is the Time for a Both/And Approach

Our research provides a glimpse of what is possible when LGBTQ movement organizations are the beneficiaries of large and unrestricted gifts. In this climate of hostility toward LGBTQ people, it is critical to ensure that gifts to LGBTQ organizations are maximally effective, with unrestricted gifts allowing organizations to allocate funds where they are most needed. LGBTQ nonprofit recipients of Scott’s gifts have made it clear that the flexibility and opportunity afforded by these gifts was significant, and the large and unrestricted nature of the gifts has broadly failed to presage a negative impact on their other fundraising efforts.

When looking at the gap between the scope of gifts given to LGBTQ organizations and gifts given to nonprofit organizations in general, it may be tempting to consider achieving parity by shifting support from one recipient to another, but the reality is that the work undertaken by nonprofits is interconnected. Just as the attacks on LGBTQ communities in the current political landscape are intrinsically interconnected with the attacks on democracy, historically accurate education in schools, and abortion access.

A primary takeaway for funders from MAP’s Unrestricted and Unprecedented report is this both/and approach: Do not shift your giving away from other types of organizations, but also give more boldly to LGBTQ organizations to close the gap. Funders can and should place trust in LGBTQ movement organizations to know how best to broaden their impact for the good of the intersecting communities they serve.

Tessa Juste is the LGBTQ movement building and policy researcher at the Movement Advancement Project (MAP). Find her on LinkedIn and find out more about MAP here.

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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