Jeff Bezos steps up “flashy” donations while ex-wife quietly donates billions

Jeff Bezos’ $ 100 million award to Dolly Parton is something of a puzzle for Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy.

Singer the donations that finance the development of the vaccine against COVID-19 and other causes, was “really, really admirable,” said Buchanan, author of the book “Giving Done Right”. But Amazon’s founding billionaire could have donated directly to organizations supported by Parton.

“Maybe the calculation is about effectiveness and impact,” Buchanan said. “Maybe the calculation is about advertising … You just have to ask yourself.”

A lot of questions are actually happening in the aftermath of the award, announced by Bezos last weekend in a tweet with a video of him and partner Lauren Sanchez handing the award to a jubilant Parton.

This was quickly followed by a CNN interview on Monday in which Bezos said he intends to give away most of his incredible fortune – in the amount of $ 124 billion, according to Bloomberg – during his lifetime.

As the philanthropic world chewed on it, another announcement came Monday from Bezos’ ex-wife MacKenzie Scott that he had donated nearly $ 2 billion to 343 organizations in the past seven months., contributing to his total donation of nearly $ 15 billion. No video. No ceremony.

Scott wrote about his latest massive donations on the Medium website in three paragraphs, not including a poem about the power to shut up and let those who have been harmed speak for themselves.

Scott’s announcement invited a confrontation with Bezos that already seemed obvious to many.

“Clearly, they are taking very different approaches,” said Gabrielle Fitzgerald, founder and CEO of Panorama Global, a Seattle-based nonprofit that supports philanthropists and entrepreneurs who promote social change. “He had a tendency for flashy, high-profile contributions,” while Scott took a quiet approach and addressed a wide range of organizations, some not well known.

Scott has also become famous for donating money without strings, avoiding the strict conditions often associated with donations, and letting organizations decide for themselves how best to use the money. In this respect, Bezos’ latest donation is similar, said Benjamin Soskis, senior research associate at the Washington DC-based Urban Institute.

The Seattle area offers an outstanding set of philanthropy case studies from extraordinarily rich people. The world of technology has created fortunes not only for Bezos and Scott, but also for Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, his ex-wife Melinda French Gates, and former Microsoft executives Steve Ballmer and Jeff Raikes, to name a few.

Bezos now joins Gates, French Gates, and others by pledging to give away much of their fortunes over their lifetime. This has been an increasing trend over the past decade, Soskis said.

Many of these donors, such as Bezos, have also become active participants in the donations they make, instead of leaving those decisions solely to foundation staff. So more and more, Soskis said, philanthropy “reflects the inclinations, the preferences of a handful of very, very rich people.”

Bezos had previously been criticized for not joining the “Giving Pledge”, initiated by Gates, French Gates and billionaire Warren Buffett, whereby the richest people in society promise to give away most of their money while in life or in their will. Scott signed the pledge.

Critics also considered Bezos not particularly generous, given his vast wealth.

In the CNN interview, Bezos said it’s a challenge figuring out how to gift his fortune. “It’s not easy. It’s really hard,” he said she. “And there are a lot of ways I think you might as well do things that are ineffective. So we are building the capacity to be able to give this money away. ”

He said he awarded Parton the Bezos Prize for Courage and Civilization because he is a unifier during times of division.

Sitting next to him during the interview, Sanchez added: “When you think of Dolly, look, everyone smiles.”

Last year, Bezos awarded the same $ 100 million prize to two others: acclaimed chef José Andrés, founder of a non-profit organization that provides food after disasters, and Van Jones, commentator and activist of the CNN. Bezos announced the awards last year after traveling into space on a rocket launched by his company Blue Origin.

Bezos’ philanthropic approach was “very focused on his brand, his identity,” said Soskis of the Urban Institute.

The Amazon billionaire also founded the Bezos Earth Fund in 2020, saying it would distribute $ 10 billion over a decade.

Denis Hayes, CEO of the Seattle-based Bullitt Foundation dedicated to environmental causes, said he was impressed by the top-notch team the Earth Fund has put together, including president and CEO Andrew Steer, who previously headed of the World Resources Institute and served as a World Bank envoy for climate change.

Hayes said the Earth Fund’s 10-year period is important because it recognizes the urgency of the climate crisis.

“In making that commitment, [Bezos] he instantly became one of the greatest climate philanthropists on the planet, ”added Gregg Small, executive director of Climate Solutions, a Seattle-based nonprofit.

So far, many of the Earth Fund’s grants have gone to large national and international organizations, such as the Nature Conservancy, Small noted.

“Those organizations are doing a great job,” he said, and they can have a global impact. At the same time, she said, he’d like to see the fund donate to organizations working at the state and local levels.

This is where a lot of environmental action is taking place, he said. Washington, for example, has invested in clean energy and is expected to pass a law requiring clean fuel vehicles by 2035.

Bezos made local investments in other areas. With Scott, she started the Day One Fund, donating money to organizations working to reduce poverty and homelessness. His grants included $ 5 million to Mary’s Place, which runs a group of shelters for homeless families. Amazon has also contributed greatly to Mary’s Place, including building a shelter in one of the company’s South Lake Union buildings.

While Bezos has yet to reveal his next philanthropic steps, Panorama’s Fitzgerald said one thing is clear: if he’s going to give away all his billions while he’s alive, “he’s really going to have to pick up the pace of giving.”

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Raikes Foundation, the Ballmer Group and Microsoft Philanthropies, as well as Jeff and Tricia Raikes, are helping to fund Seattle Times journalism initiatives.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: