Billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott’s first open call for grants yielded 6,353 applications from nonprofits — meaning candidates have at least a 4% chance of being selected for a $1 million grant.
Lever for Change, the nonprofit overseeing the application process, said Wednesday that the applications came from all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The 250 winners will be announced in early 2024.
Scott has shaken up philanthropic giving since 2019, dropping large, unrestricted and unexpected donations on nonprofits when she began giving away the fortune she came into after divorcing Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. She has donated more than $14 billion in unrestricted funds to 1,600 nonprofit organizations. Scott is currently worth more than $36 billion, according to Forbes.
In March, her organization, Yield Giving, announced it was soliciting grant applications for the first time. Until then, Scott and her team of advisors made grants by selecting and vetting organizations on their own. This open call created the first pathway to apply, but also created pressure on fundraisers and nonprofits to finally win some of her support.
Melanie Lambert has worked in nonprofit fundraising since 2007 and now runs her own grant writing consulting business from Georgia. She expressed some dismay that the application was limited to organizations with budgets between $1 million and $5 million.
“That really eliminates a lot of those organizations that that million-dollar gift would be transformational for,” she said.
The National Council of Nonprofits estimated in a 2019 report that about 5% of nonprofits, or some 45,000 organizations, have budgets in that range.
Cecilia Conrad, CEO of Lever for Change, said when the open call was first announced that they were looking for organizations that were already “making a meaningful difference in people’s lives.”
The new potential funding comes at a time when nonprofits are coping with inflation and feel pressured to replace government funding that came during the pandemic, much of which has ended or will soon, Lambert said. Last month, Giving USA reported that charitable donations dropped in 2022 for only the fourth time in four decades.
Those funding pressures and Scott’s high profile explain some of the rush to apply, though other organizations decided not to wade into the fray.
Danielle Gletow, founder and executive director at One Simple Wish, a nonprofit connecting donors with foster children who have specific requests, said she evaluated the application and decided that it was aimed for organizations that were led by members of the community that they serve.
“The tricky part when we say we want to be an ally is in doing things that are a little bit uncomfortable and against what you would normally do,” she said, adding her organization obviously would love to speak with Scott and get her support. “I feel like part of doing this right is sometimes saying, ‘This is my time to just sit it out.’”
Lambert had similar discussions with some of her clients, who also questioned whether the competitiveness of the application meant that it was worth the resources and effort to apply.
“It makes me feel like it’s my responsibility to be realistic with the nonprofits that are interested in it, particularly because they’re going to be paying me money to do this,” she said.
Lambert also wondered how Lever for Change would manage to evaluate so many applications within the timeframe that they’ve set.
Lever for Change said applicants will next participate in a peer review, each evaluating five other applications. Then, 1,000 finalists will be evaluated by a panel of reviewers. Scott and Lever for Change will then select among the top scored organizations to choose the winners.
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