10 minute phone calls

MacKenzie Scott's philanthropy, and 7 other things worth your time.

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What would you do with a billion dollars? How about $38 billion? How about almost $61 billion?

O.K., I’ll stop. It’s surely an academic exercise for most of us.

But it’s not for MacKenzie Scott, who wrote yesterday about what she’s doing with part of her fortune: in short, giving a lot of it away—aggressively, but ironically—not as fast as she’s taking it in.

You might recall that Scott was previously known to the world as MacKenzie Bezos, and she was married to Jeff Bezos until 2019. When they divorced, I remember being struck but how little public animosity leaked out.

Scott got one-quarter of the couple’s Amazon stock, worth $38 billion at the time. I suppose maybe it’s theoretically easier to be amicable when everyone involved is walking away with that kind of money, but it’s also not hard to find very wealthy couples for whom this turned into pure animosity.

The late Jack Welch and his former wife Jane Beasley spring to mind.

Anyway, Scott almost immediately signed The Giving Pledge, promising to donate at least half her net worth during her lifetime, and she’s given away incredible amounts of money.

Earlier this year, she gave $1.7 billion to a total of 116 educational institutions and charitable organizations. Yesterday, in a Medium post, she announced an additional $4.2 billion in contributions, to another 384 organizations.

The total “has to be one of the biggest annual distributions by a living individual” to working charities, Melissa Berman, chief executive officer of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, told Bloomberg.

It’s generous, and worth applauding. But you know what strikes me? How hard it is to give away almost $6 billion.

Her net worth actually increased $23.6 billion this year (due to Amazon stock going up and up), and Scott assembled a team to look for ways to give “immediate support to people suffering the economic effects of the crisis.”

They considered 6,490 organizations as potential recipients, “undertook deeper research into 822 [and] put 438 of these on hold for now due to insufficient evidence of impact, unproven management teams, or to allow for further inquiry about specific issues such as treatment of community members or employees.”

Just to do the math: If someone were to spend a half hour on each of those 6,490 organizations—just doing the initial screens—and worked 40 hours a week, it would take more than three years to go through them all.

Even contacting the 384 that got contributions averaging almost $11 million — say you make one phone call to each one, and they last 10 minutes, just to say, “Hi, Ms. Scott has some money for you!” — that would mean 64 person-hours in phone calls.

That assumes everyone picks up the phone, nobody thinks it’s a practical joke, etc. Wild.

It’s also kind of amazing to me that people can rack up zillions of likes on Twitter with a witty comment or a cute video of a dancing cat — but announce you’re giving billions to charity, and hardly anyone notices by comparison.

Among the recipients of Scott’s generosity: more than 30 colleges (including several historically Black colleges and tribal colleges), 40 foodbanks, and four dozen local Goodwill chapters around the country.

For many of these, that 10-minute phone call (or the equivalent) meant doubling their annual budget. And Scott has been praised for giving the gifts without condition, trusting the well-vetted organizations to use the money wisely.

Bloomberg quoted Scott King, the executive director for Meals on Wheels of Tampa, who said his organization never even applied for a grant: “This comes at a great time for us. There are areas in and around Tampa that aren’t being served and need to be.”

Anyway, good for Scott. And, I guess it makes me feel a bit better about the $12,017.09 I’ve spent at Amazon over the past 12 years. Plus another $50 yesterday, come to think of it.

7 other things worth your time

  • Reports are swirling that President Trump might commute the sentence of Russ Urlbricht, the founder and former administrator of the world’s most famous darknet drug market, Silk Road, who is now serving life without parole. (Daily Beast, $)

  • In a historic first, the Navy has recommended a female officer to command an aircraft carrier. Capt. Amy Bauernschmidt will find out sometime next year which carrier, and when. (Military.com)

  • New Zealand’s government says it’s confident now that it’s near-total Covid lockdown last year will mean a much better economic recovery for the country in 2021. It’s just what they’re saying; I’ve never been there, but worth reading. (Bloomberg)

  • A bunch of neighbors of President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate are trying to block him from moving there after his presidency, arguing that a deal he signed in 1993 to develop it as a club prohibits anyone from staying there more than one week at a time, or 21 days total during a single year. (Washington Post)

  • Joe Biden picks Pete Buttigieg for Transportation Secretary, and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm for Energy. (CNN, Fox Business)

  • The CEO of Pfizer says he hasn’t gotten his Covid vaccine yet, and that he doesn’t want to cut in line. I think he has to get it and fast though, right? Just for public comfort? (CNBC)

  • There’s a dive bar on the ground floor of a very cheap hotel not far from the National Mall in DC. The bar is called Harry’s, it usually caters to tourists and off-duty cops, and yet somehow it’s managed to become the headquarters of the far-right Proud Boys group during every big protest in DC. I used to work right near this place; it just strikes me funny. It’s sort of like if a run-down Applebee’s somewhere, badly in need of a renovation, became the central HQ of a political movement. (Politico)

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