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How to get your nonprofit on MacKenzie Scott’s radar: A love letter

Vice President (Former)

MacKenzie Scott is arguably the most innovative and influential philanthropist in a generation. By challenging the status quo that philanthropy should be a drawn-out, heavily scrutinized process that comes with strings attached by the donor, her giving has the potential to create more immediate benefits for the health and prosperity of our society than that of any other philanthropist in this current moment.

Scott is also busting the myth that transformative donors require a longstanding relationship with the organization’s leadership. For a profession that claims “relationships matter most” (and they do), it’s fascinating to watch a philanthropist support organizations with which she has no existing ties – only a passion for their missions and a trust that they can enact change with her support.

Every time another round of Scott’s gifts are announced, board chairs everywhere begin emailing executive directors with the subject line, “How do we get on her list?”

That’s the $12 billion question. Let’s start to answer it by addressing what we currently know about Scott’s giving record.

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What we know (and don’t know) about Scott’s giving

We know that Scott’s moral compass points towards addressing equity, access, and social justice. We know she works with a group of advisors – such as Bridgespan and her own firm, Lost Horse LLC – to determine the who, what, how, and when of her donations. And we know that she places little to no restrictions on how the money can be used, trusting that the organizations know what their greatest needs are.

Now let’s examine what we don’t know, starting with how to reach her. If there’s a way to contact Ms. Scott, I haven’t discovered it yet. (Otherwise, she would have received one-half of a “best friends forever” necklace from me by now.) We also don’t know the exact criteria she uses to determine recipients.

If your nonprofit is hoping to get on Mackenzie Scott’s philanthropic radar, these are some pretty serious knowledge gaps. So, what can you do to set yourself up for a transformational gift from a philanthropist like Scott?

Instead of passively waiting and hoping to be selected, begin to act as if your nonprofit is in active consideration for the next round of giving. Being proactive now means that your organization will be much more likely to catch the eye of a donor inspired by Scott’s example.

How to attract MacKenzie Scott-style philanthropy

While we don’t know the specific metrics Scott and her advisors use to vet nonprofits, we can assume an organization’s website and financial records are involved. Audit your existing web presence, putting yourself in the mindset of your target donor, and make it easy to find the information they are after.

Run a Gracious Billionaire Drill

Act as if you’re a billionaire who is feeling rather charitable. Search your “city” and “organization type,” then analyze your impressions from the available data and online presence.

So, what information comes up about your organization?

  • Who are you? Is the clarity of your mission and your impact understood from a ‘no scroll’ on your home page?
  • What do you need? Are your current and specific funding needs articulated on your website and social media?
  • How will it help? Go beyond your mission. What is your vision? How will transformative philanthropy make it a reality?

Get transparent with your finances

While it doesn’t appear that Scott is looking to hold organizations accountable for demonstrating a return on investment, making your financial records easily accessible communicates fiscal responsibility and a commitment to transparency, both of which inspire trust.

  • How is your financial health and organizational stability communicated on your site?
  • How easily can one access your 990 information?
  • Does the information on your site match GuideStar and other public databases?

Who do I call?

This final tip is straight from the mouth of an ultra-high-net-worth donor: “If I can’t find your name and number, I’m not going to call you.” Development folks especially: Can we stop hiding behind office lines and generic email addresses? Make it as clear as possible who can be contacted and how.

Final thoughts

Try as you might, your wonderfully deserving organization is probably not going to ‘hunt down and wow’ MacKenzie Scott. Instead, adopt the mindset that there are many potential Scotts out there, eager to learn how their philanthropy could support your mission. Does your website and financial reporting paint a clear picture, or will it leave them scratching their heads?

To learn more about nonprofit development best practices, explore these additional resources from the Graham-Pelton team:

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