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MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Jeff Bezos, says she gave $4.2 billion to charity

MacKenzie Scott announces sizable donations
MacKenzie Scott announces sizable donations 01:23

MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, said in a blog post that she has given away $4.2 billion of her fortune in the past four months. Scott said she accelerated her charitable donations because of the "wrecking ball" effect of the coronavirus, which she noted has also "substantially increased the wealth of billionaires."

Scott is among those billionaires whose fortunes have soared since the pandemic first crippled the U.S. in March. Her wealth is now valued at more than $60 billion, representing a boost of almost $24 billion since the start of the year, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Her wealth is largely tied to the fortunes of Amazon.com, whose shares have jumped 67% this year as more consumers shopped online due to the pandemic. Scott's charitable contributions come on the heels of her signing the Giving Pledge, a philanthropic campaign founded by celebrated investor Warren Buffett, in 2019, vowing to donate most of her wealth to various causes over her lifetime. 

SEAN PENN J/P HRO GALA: A Gala Dinner to Benefit J/P Haitian Relief Organization and a Coalition of Disaster Relief Organizations
MacKenzie Scott at a fundraising gala on January 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Greg Doherty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Scott announced her recent flurry of charitable gifts on Tuesday in a post on Medium, writing that she was inspired by grassroots efforts to help people in need, such as community fridges and "impromptu person-to-person Venmo gifts." Scott said she started out by looking at 6,490 organizations, and then whittled down her list to 384 organizations that have a "high potential for impact." 

Many of those organizations, such as food banks, address basic needs, while others focus on what Scott called "long-term systemic inequities that have been deepened by the crisis." Among the beneficiaries:

  • More than 40 Feeding America food banks, ranging from the Central California Food Bank to the Vermont Foodbank
  • More than 40 Goodwill affiliates, such Goodwill Hawaii and Goodwill of the Heartland
  • 30 member programs of Meals on Wheels, such as Meals on Wheels South Florida and Meals on Wheels Atlanta
  • Educational institutions including City University of New York's Lehman College and Morgan State University in Baltimore

"We shared each of our gift decisions with program leaders for the first time over the phone, and welcomed them to spend the funding on whatever they believe best serves their efforts," she wrote. "The responses from people who took the calls often included personal stories and tears."

The unsolicited gift was "really humbling, kind of shocking," said John Sayles, CEO of the Vermont Foodbank, the largest hunger-relief organization in the New England state. He said his organization received a gift of $9 million from Scott — the largest gift the nonprofit has ever received. 

"You start thinking about what kind of impact you can make in a community, and how do you manage this in a way that's broader than your organization," Sayles told CBS MoneyWatch. He said his group is now working on how to leverage the gift, and believes it will allow them to accelerate their planning.

"Works of mercy"

Scott's approach to charitable giving is notable — and not only for the size of the gifts, said Chuck Collins, the director of the charity reform initiative at the Institute for Policy Studies. Collins, the heir to the Oscar Mayer food empire, himself has given away much of his wealth. 

"Scott, a newcomer on the billionaire wealth scene, has surrounded herself with advisors that come from under-resourced communities, not the folks that typically sit on foundation boards," Collins said in an emailed statement.

Bezos to fund fight against climate change 00:23

He added, "As a result, the bulk of these gifts are to the works of mercy during this pandemic – food banks, direct social service organizations, emergency funds, and support services for the most vulnerable."

It's not the first time Scott has given away a chunk of her wealth. In July, she said she had donated $1.7 billion of her personal fortune to charity. Those gifts were directed to organizations committed to racial and gender equity, economic mobility, public health, climate change and more.

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