Dec 17, 2020 - Economy & Business

Mackenzie Scott's second barrel

An illustration of Mackenzie Scott giving away money with a money gun.

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios. Photo: Jörg Carstensen/picture alliance via Getty Images

After giving away $1.7 billion to social-justice organizations this summer, Mackenzie Scott announced this week that she has given away another $4.2 billion in the past four months, in the form of "immediate support to people suffering the economic effects of the crisis".

Why it matters: Scott is rapidly upending philanthropic norms. These gifts were "unsolicited and unexpected," she writes — while she and her team certainly did their homework on potential recipients, they didn't hand out questionnaires or solicit grant proposals, and all sums were "given with full trust and no strings attached."

What's next: Scott's original list had more than 6,000 names — and that's just domestic organizations. Scott's giving could easily continue to accelerate, especially since her largesse includes nonprofits like Give Directly and RIP Medical Debt, which are largely unconstrained in terms of how much money they can put to use almost immediately.

By the numbers: Scott has given away $5.9 billion this year, which is about 10% of her net worth. She has pledged to give away substantially all of her money, and she has made it clear that she's in a hurry to do so.

  • It took Chuck Feeney some 40 years to give away his $8 billion fortune, and he was 89 years old when he finally finished the project.
  • Scott is moving much faster. She's 50 now; it's entirely realistic to expect her wealth to reach zero (or whatever she needs to live on) long before she gets to retirement age.

That would constitute an astonishing achievement. As her fellow billionaire John Arnold tells Axios, giving away all your money quickly is harder than it looks. "Human nature is to always want growth," he says, and philanthropists always need to fight that urge.

  • Many smaller philanthropists take the opposite point of view. "I want my money to appreciate so I can do something big with it," says The Philanthropy Roundtable's Howard Husock, who has invested his charitable donations in a Vanguard DAF. "I want my money to appreciate in value over my lifetime."

The bottom line: A fast spend-down rate bespeaks a fundamentally optimistic person looking at the big picture.

  • It's a sign that you believe the world is getting better, that the time of greatest need is now, and that philanthropic donations will continue to rise rather than fall overall.
  • It's also a sign of humility. If you don't think you know better than future generations how to spend your money, then you shouldn't have any kind of posthumous say in where it goes.
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