The Chronicle of Philanthropy: Groups That Serve Nonprofits Weigh Disclosing How Much MacKenzie Scott Gave Them
The Chronicle of Philanthropy – October 5, 2021
By Maria Di Mento
Organizations that act as the unseen pipes and wiring of the charitable world are in an unfamiliar place: the limelight. These organizations build up the nonprofit world, act as advocates, and often tout the importance of transparency. Yet many are struggling with the question of whether to disclose the amount of the historically large donations they’ve received from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott.
Scott gave multimillion donations to roughly 70 of these groups — local, regional, and national ones — in her most recent round of giving, announced in June. The Chronicle identified 53 of those 70 groups as national organizations. Twenty-six of those either publicized how much money Scott and her husband, Dan Jewett, gave them or they told the Chronicle how much they received. The gifts range from $2 million to $15 million each and total $146 million. The remaining 27 groups declined to say how much they received or did not respond to the Chronicle’s request for information.
Asha Curran, who leads GivingTuesday, which received $7 million from Scott, says her organization’s policy is to release news unless it could hurt someone. She was somewhat concerned peer organizations might see sharing news of the gift as bragging, but she knew no one was going to be harmed by the disclosure. Curran says there are broader issues at work that might explain why groups instinctively are reticent to announce the amount Scott gave them.
When nonprofits hold back information, it’s often because they approach their work with a scarcity mind-set, which is rooted in fear, Curran says.
“We’ve been taught to look at giving as this very finite pie that everybody is scrambling for their piece of,” Curran says. “Generosity is not a pie. It is an infinite pool, and the more it is dipped into, the more it will regenerate.”
Still, some groups say they have good reasons for not disclosing how much Scott gave them.
Patricia Eng, CEO of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, says her organization at first held off publicizing the amount of Scott’s donation because her team had received too many calls from people who wanted to be associated with the donation, often in ways that didn’t sit right with the nonprofit.
“All kinds of people are coming out of the woodwork, including investment brokers, and asking how much we got and how they can help,” Eng says. “They want a piece of it in some ways, so out of something good comes a lot of caution.”
The calls have been “intense,” says Erik Stegman, who leads Native Americans in Philanthropy, which received $2 million from Scott. Consultants, finance types, and others have inundated his group and some of the other beneficiaries with calls and requests to connect on social media. He says that should be expected.
“Even if they don’t want a piece of it, there’s this kind of glitz and glamour around this that people want to be attached to, so we’ve really kept a skeptical eye on it.” Stegman says. “We’ve been largely staying the course with our Native partners and the folks who have already been helping us with our internal work.”
Other organizations say they are waiting to disclose how much Scott gave them because they want to figure out how to communicate their plans for the money. They want to tell their donors in a way that doesn’t cause them to pull back from supporting the groups — and also spurs them to think bigger. Ashindi Maxton, who leads the Donors of Color Network, which has not yet announced how much it received from Scott, says she and her team are in discussions with the network’s board about how to talk to members about the gift.
“There’s an art to making sure that it’s incentivizing for them,” Maxton says. “There’s a thousand ways to spend this much money instantly and well, but there is a narrow path to spending it transformatively.” The key, she says, is to communicate with donors in a way that changes their sense of what’s possible. “What we want is to really motivate them.”
Some infrastructure groups have no plans to disclose the gifts until their tax forms are filed. For example, Satonya Fair, president and CEO of Peak Grantmaking, a membership organization of grant managers, told the Chronicle in an email that while her nonprofit promotes transparency and includes it in the six organizational values it uses to guides its operations, her team plans to wait until the group’s 2021 tax forms are released to speak openly about the gifts.
“We have concerns about how foundations are viewing these funds and whether that perception of our financial needs are impacting their decision to fund our work,” Fair wrote. “I am learning that even amazing acts of kindness and generosity have consequences, whether positive or negative is still to be determined.”