MacKenzie Scott, philanthropist and ex-wife to Amazon overlord, donates millions to non-profits

vasilis asvestas /

She may not have taken part in the panned and totally tone-deaf mid-pandemic star-studded cover of John Lennon's “Imagine” (thank god), but MacKenzie Scott — a billionaire philanthropist, novelist, and the 18th wealthiest person in the world — is making real change by moving quickly to fulfill a generous donation pledge she made last year after her divorce from Amazon CEO and overlord Jeff Bezos.

On Tuesday, Scott published an essay on Medium titled “384 Ways to Help” in which she detailed her reliance on the words of Emily Dickenson during the pandemic, as well as her thought process behind her massive “no strings attached” non-profit grant blitz.

“This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling. Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color, and for people living in poverty,” Scott wrote. “Meanwhile, it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires.”

In just four months, Scott has donated more than $4.2 billion to 384 organizations across all 50 states and Puerto Rico, spanning organizations such as food banks, emergency relief funds, support services for vulnerable populations, and those non-profits dedicated to addressing long-term system inequities like debt relief, employment training, education for marginalized communities, and legal defense funds.

Six of the 384 organizations to have received Scott's sizable donations were Michigan-based, including Easterseals Michigan, Forgotten Harvest, Invest Detroit, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit, YWCA of Metropolitan Detroit, Goodwill Industries of Great Grand Rapids, and Goodwill Northern Michigan.

Crain's Detroit Business reports that several non-Michigan-based organizations that work alongside metro Detroit groups also received “significant donations.”

In order to determine which organizations would receive Scott's “unrestricted” donations, her team led a data-driven research process that searched for non-profits that have a high potential for impact. Scott also said she committed to paying these donations upfront in hopes the organizations can maximize the funds and strategize more clearly.

All of the selected organizations, Scott said, “have dedicated their lives to helping others, working and volunteering and serving real people face-to-face at bedsides and tables, in prisons and courtrooms and classrooms, on streets and hospital wards and hotlines and frontlines of all types and sizes, day after day after day.”

“They help by delivering vital services, and also through the profound encouragement felt each time a person is seen, valued, and trusted by another human being.”

This isn't the first time Scott has dropped major donations on organizations in need. In July, Scott donated more than $1.7 billion to 116 non-profits doing “transformative work” in terms of racial equity, LGBTQ+ equity, economic mobility, functional democracy, public health, and climate change, among others.

According to Bloomberg, Scott's fortune has increased from $23.6 billion this year to $60.7 due to the country's reliance on Amazon, which remains her primary source of wealth. But she's doing good on her 2019 post-divorce pledge, in which she admitted to having a “disproportionate amount of money to share” and said she will distribute half of her wealth “until the safe is empty.”
Chuck Collins, director of the Charity Reform Initiative at the Institute for Policy Studies, told The New York Times that he believes Scott has donated more money than anyone else in 2020 and suggested her commitment is an act of much-needed disruption among the billionaire set.

“She’s responding with urgency to the current moment,” Collins said.
“You think of all these tech fortunes, they’re the great disrupters, but she’s disrupting the norms around billionaire philanthropy by moving quickly, not creating a private foundation for her great-grandchildren to give the money away.”

Meanwhile, Scott's ex-husband, whose net worth is somewhere near $184.3 billion — meaning the dude makes an estimated $321 million per day, or $3,715 per second — remains the richest man in the world and, thanks to some unfounded online chatter earlier this year, potentially the world's first trillionaire in a matter of years.

Though he has donated upwards of $800 million to climate change organizations as of November among donations to combat homelessness, many believe he is simply “too rich.” Plus, the deplorable working conditions for Amazon workers, primarily those in the company's fulfillment centers especially in the age of COVID-19, remains one of Bezos' most prominent failures, criticisms, and is a deep scar on the company he launched in 1995.

Detroit will soon be home to a new $400 million Amazon fulfillment center slated for the 142-acre former Michigan State Fairgrounds. The city, which settled the highly-contended multi-million sale last month, could lose 80 years of Detroit music history if Amazon chooses to demolish the State Fairground's bandshell, which saw performances from the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald, Hank Williams, Louis Armstrong, Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, and, yes, even Insane Clown Posse.

“Amazon, you're building a new $400-million, 3.8-million-square-foot distribution center on the old State Fair site. The area where the bandshell sits is slated to become a parking lot,” musician David Gifford wrote for Metro Times this week. “You plan to hire about 1,200 workers but plan to build nearly 2,000 parking spaces. If you spared this site, it wouldn’t impact the number of parking spaces available for workers, especially since many of them might be riding the bus to the nearby State Fair Transit Center.”

Michigan Rep. Rashida Talib appealed to Bezos regarding the bandshell on Twitter, suggesting he read our piece and consider sparing or rehoming the bandshell.

However, one Twitter user predicted the likely response from Bezos: a non-response.

“Like Jeff Bezos reads anything other than his bank statements.”

Your move, Ms. Scott.

Stay on top of Detroit news and views. Sign up for our weekly issue newsletter delivered each Wednesday.
Scroll to read more Metro Detroit News articles
Join the Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join Detroit Metro Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.