MacKenzie Scott rewrites the future of grants

Why didn’t MacKenzie Scott give OUR worthy cause a ton of money suddenly out of the blue?

A. Her team did due diligence. “Out of the blue” was never in the algorithm. They hunted. They chose carefully. They quietly requested proof. They winnowed.

B. There is NO easy fundraising. Your cause being MacKenzie’s new best friend is unlikely times infinity.

C. Even if you DID somehow attract MacKenzie’s compassion: Drenching you with 100 times your annual budget would be, in most cases, a recipe for disaster. You don’t have the right board. You don’t have a sharp vision. You don’t have the stretch-plans necessary. Which means MacKensie Scott (& associates) might as well have come to your front door and pissed millions down the nearest storm drain. It will take hours. It will do no lasting good. At least it will smell of money.

How do we tap into MacKenzie Scott’s billions?

A client asked this a few days ago (and wasn’t the first to broach the subject; you gotta wonder, after all):

How do we attract MacKenzie Scott’s philanthropic favor?

Absolutely no idea.

Something I can say is this: Celebrate her initiative. She’s doing something original and needed. She may in fact have established a new, less burdensome, standard for other funders.

Call it the MacKenzie Scott rule: You’ve done good. Your charity has room to grow. We’ve given you a colonoscopy. Now, here’s some serious money to help propel fresh growth. No paperwork required. No need to report back. We already trust you, your work, your leadership. Go forth and prosper.


That’s a revolutionary approach.

The starting gun for many grantors is this: “We don’t trust you. Prove yourself … as our wandering whims demand.”

Let’s look at community foundations (CFs) in America. I’ve worked with a dozen or so. While that doesn’t make me any kind of expert … I can honestly say I’ve used many of their rest rooms.

And on occasion I’ve seen how grant-sausage gets made.

It’s typically a deliberate, thoughtful (overly-thoughtful, if anything), balanced, fair by the standards of the times (there’s some praying that goes on).

Is there bias? You betcha. No one escapes the times we live in, the blinders we wear (my hand’s raised high), the hierarchy, the patriarchy, the power structures that infest. The best news in philanthropy, in my view, is the rise since 2017-ish of a bold opposition to the status quo.


Why the “MacKenzie Scott rule” matters

Community foundations are fiscally conservative. They have to be … legally. They were founded to “do good in the community in perpetuity.” I.e., to NEVER go out of business.

So they place careful bets … in limited amounts.

And they are corseted by rules. The rules are there to prevent wastage (i.e., giving money to causes that fail). The rules ask your NGO to prove itself … in detail and repeatedly.

I can ask you, for instance, about the diversity makeup of your board because I, the funder, hold the purse-strings. I can invade your privacy 5 other different ways … because I, the funder, hold the purse strings.

Now, at the low end of granting ($5K, $10K and such; spare change for a long-established CF), the paperwork obligations are light enough.

But when you get into SERIOUS money, into TRANSFORMATIVE grants, then the oversight becomes deep, invasive, a knock on the door at 4 AM. Serious staff give your cause the thrice-over. The reporting requirements are burdensome. All in the name of protecting the CF from an oopsie.

It’s not wrong.

It’s just old and out of step, maybe?

MacKenzie Scott, thank you: your approach may have introduced a new model other funders can now tenderly follow. At least it’s something different … for a change. And the times they are a-changin’.

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Dear Reader: This is an excerpt from Tom Ahern’s e-newsletter. Did you miss crucial back issues of this how-to e-news? Immediately available! Just GO here. (And scroll down just a bit to sign up for Tom’s revenue-boosting tips and insights. In your inbox regularly. It’s free.)

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