Philanthropist Mackenzie Scott made national headlines this June when she announced her most recent slate of high-impact, large-scale donations, amounting to more than $2.7 billion given to hundreds of groups. Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, donated to 286 organizations with a diverse array of causes, including racial justice, higher education and the arts.
Scott has ditched old rules of philanthropy, attempting to give away her fortune of nearly $59 billion faster than others. This recent announcement marks her third mass donation in less than a year. As recently as July 2020, Scott gave $1.7 billion to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), along with donations to other groups.
Mackenzie Scott’s and Robert F. Smith’s Shared Commitment to the Giving Pledge
In 2019, Scott signed onto the Giving Pledge, which encourages billionaires to give away at least half of her fortune to charity. The Giving Pledge was created by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates in 2010 to push their peers to distribute their wealth.
One of the Giving Pledge’s notable signatories is philanthropist Robert F. Smith, the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners. “I will never forget that my path was paved by my parents, grandparents and generations of African Americans whose names I will never know,” Smith wrote upon joining in 2017. “I am privileged to join the Giving Pledge with a commitment to invest half my net worth—during my lifetime—to causes that support equality of opportunity for African Americans, as well as causes that cultivate ecological protection to ensure a livable planet for future generations.”
Supporting Diversity and Strength in the Arts
In a blog post announcing her most recent donations, Scott emphasized the meaningful impact of arts organizations, such as ones she donated to, stating “arts and cultural institutions can strengthen communities by transforming spaces, fostering empathy, reflecting community identity, advancing economic mobility, improving academic outcomes, lowering crime rates, and improving mental health.”
One of the arts-focused recipients of Scott’s most recent donations was the Sphinx Organization, a Michigan-based nonprofit built to transform lives through the power of diversity in music. Its programs include the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra, an all Black and Latino orchestra composed of top musicians from around the country and Sphinx Performance Academy, a full-scholarship intensive summer music program with a focus on cultural diversity, built for string musicians ages 11 to 17.
Music and the arts is another subject also critical to Smith’s life and philanthropy, having grown up with a musician father. In 2016, Smith provided the Sphinx Organization with a major contribution to funding scholarships through the Robert Frederick Smith Prize — a $50,000 annual scholarship intended to progress the recipient’s career in classical music.
In 2019, Fund II Foundation, of which Smith is the founding director and President, contributed Sphinx Organization’s largest gift to date. That $3 million dollar contribution has helped empower artists of color, funding programs like networking conference SphinxConnect.
Investing in the Fight Against Racial Injustice
Another primary focus of Scott’s donations were organizations devoted to racial equity. These nonprofits included the Greenlining Institute, an Oakland, California-based group created to address the root causes of racial, economic and environmental inequities in order to meaningfully improve the conditions of communities of color across the country.
Scott also awarded $20 million to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, supporting its efforts to preserve African American historic sites and uplift stories of advocacy.
“Thank you @mackenziescott for your $20m grant supporting the African American Cultural History Fund,” Smith posted on Twitter. “Your commitment will uplift @SavingPlaces in their work to help empower Black and diverse communities to tell a more expansive history of our nation.”
Learn more about Robert F. Smith and his philanthropy, including his commitment to the Giving Pledge and the Sphinx Organization.