How we conducted an analysis of MacKenzie Scott's transformational giving
May 16, 2022

How we conducted an analysis of MacKenzie Scott's transformational giving

Here's how we set about analyzing the diversity, intersectionality, and geography of MacKenzie Scott's transformational giving.

As the first project of our new Collaborative Learning from Impact Philanthropy initiative, we analyzed two years of MacKenzie Scott's public grantmaking - a total of 1,251 grants for a total of $12.4 billion. The gifts are multi-year and unrestricted, placing almost no administrative burden on the recipient organizations, using elements of a trust-based philanthropy approach.

Scott’s giving has not only been transformational for many of the recipient organizations, but the large volume of grants and their concentration in certain issue areas have the potential to be transformational for key sectors as well.

Panorama Global analyzed how, what, and where Scott’s recipients are engaged in their work.

How we conducted this analysis

Our team is made up of individuals who have spent their careers in philanthropy and non-profits working to create social change. Given our collective decades of experience, we were interested, as practitioners, in understanding more about who was getting grants from MacKenzie Scott, and what impact these grants would have on sectors and organizations.  

We also strongly believe that there are many good organizations working to solve hard problems and we want to see philanthropic funds flow quickly and seamlessly to these organizations. We hope that by taking a closer look at Scott’s grantmaking, other funders will better understand her impact, and want to learn from, and emulate, her example.

It was from this perspective that we set out to analyze how, what and where Scott had made grants. Given that she had transparently shared a list of grants she had made via four Medium posts over a 22-month period, this seemed like it would be a relatively straightforward analysis.

In our first review of the data, we aimed to use well-established taxonomies (from the Foundation Directory Online by Candid and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) to categorize her grants. However, the diversity of the organizations funded by Scott, including many focused on justice and equity issues, did not align with the macro-level categories that these databases track.

We ultimately decided to categorize each of the 1,251 grants by “geography,” “issue,” and “sector.”

Geography

The geographic categorization was the most straightforward: What country is the grant recipient headquartered in? Approximately 86% of the grants went to organizations in the United States focused on domestic issues. However, some of these were based in the U.S. but had programming in multiple other countries, leading us to identify 184 organizations that had a global reach, with grants made to recipients in 30 countries.  

Issue

The second way we categorized the grants was by assigning each to an issue area, an exercise that seemed relatively straightforward, until we tried to do it. We found that many of the organizations Scott had granted to belied simple categorization.  

Many funded organizations have an intersectional approach to their work, given the social determinants underlying many issues - i.e., gender being connected to health, criminal justice reform connected to civic engagement, youth development connected to economic mobility, immigration connected to racial justice.  

Therefore, we determined how to categorize organizations by applying a ‘primary purpose test’ for each organization, selecting one primary issue area outlined in the organization’s vision, mission and impact statements.  

This required extensive review of websites and other public materials to ensure the primary purpose test held up against multiple documents expressing an organization’s priorities. After this research, there was often robust debate around the best characterization. We recognize and acknowledge a degree of subjectivity to this effort.

We ultimately identified 24 issue categories that the 1,251 grants fell in to, with organizations in six issue areas receiving more than 90 grants (Youth, Education, Health, Poverty Alleviation, Arts & Culture and Housing). There were also issue areas with fewer than 10 grants (such as Journalism, Faith, Aging and Entrepreneurship). We found it notable that grants touched on these areas despite the heavy concentration in other areas – we will be interested to see if those categories grow over time.  

Sector

The third area for categorization we call “sector.” We recognize that all of the grants could be characterized as social sector but wanted to better understand the types of organizations that had been funded. We ultimately grouped the grants into six sectors: Civil Society, Youth Development, Basic Services, Philanthropic, Education Institutions and CDFI/Lenders.

The Civil Society sector is the largest in number of grants (538) and includes organizations focused on a wide range of issues, as detailed earlier. The Philanthropic sector might also be characterized by some as fitting under Civil Society, but we felt the 148 grants merited a sector of their own. These organizations play a range of roles, from grant-makers to improving the philanthropic community overall to groups supporting population-specific donors.

One interesting aspect of Scott’s giving is her gifts to what we are calling “networked affiliate” organizations, such as United Way, Goodwill, Feeding America, Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCA/YWCA. These organizations primarily fell into the Youth Development and Basic Services sectors.

The final two sectors are Scott’s smallest areas of giving but would represent a major portfolio for most philanthropists. She gave 7% of her grants to Education Institutions, including schools, universities, and scholarships. (Note that we distinguished between these institutions and other organizations that support education-related policy and training and categorized those as Civil Society). Scott made 35 grants to Community Development Finance Institutions or other lenders; again, these might be categorized as Civil Society, but were unique and distinct enough that we believed merited their own category.

In addition

  • This analysis is based on the number of grants (1,251) Scott made public via Medium posts between July 2020 and March 2022.  
  • The total number of organizations is slightly fewer (1,240), as Scott gave multiple gifts to 11 organizations.
  • The total dollar amount, $12.4 billion, is based on the amounts disclosed by Scott in the Medium posts.
  • Scott does not provide the grant amount for each organization. While some organizations have chosen to make this amount publicly available, many have not, therefore we have not analyzed dollar amounts.
  • We recognize that Scott may have made gifts that were not publicized via her Medium posts.

Finally, we recognize the degree of subjectivity to this evaluation, but believe the total analysis is indicative of the breadth and reach of Scott’s funding and is an important contribution to the discussion around Scott’s giving.

Looking ahead

We look forward to continuing to analyze Scott’s gifts as she publishes future Medium posts. In her December 2022 post, Scott promised to share a database of grants she has made. We look forward to seeing that when it is available.

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