Today is GivingTuesday, an annual celebration for nonprofit organizations around the world. Last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, GivingTuesday elicited a record $2.47 billion in charitable donations from 34.8 million people. The most generous trendsetter in the opaque field of philanthropy is MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Scott recently gave away $8.6 billion—thought to be the most donated by one person in a 12-month span. Half of Scott’s donations went to small local charities, and in many cases she broke with tradition by not dictating to the organizations how her money should be spent.
“What impresses me the most is her ensuring that the people who are running the nonprofits are people who have had the experience that they’re addressing,” says Patricia Illingworth, a Northeastern professor of philosophy and business whose areas of expertise include philanthropy and ethics. “That means there are going to be Black leaders on nonprofits that are focusing on issues that concern Black people, and similarly for LGBTQ. That’s a big step because bias in philanthropy has been a big problem.”
Illingworth, whose latest book on philanthropy, “Giving Now: Accelerating Human Rights for All,” will be published in 2022, spoke with News@Northeastern about Scott’s methods and philanthropy in an era of social upheaval. Her comments have been edited for brevity and clarity.