Jeff Bezos’ $100 million award to Dolly Parton is something of a headache for Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy.
The singers donations funding the development of the COVID-19 vaccine and other causes, has been “really, really admirable,” said Buchanan, author of the book “Giving Done Right.” But Amazon’s billionaire founder could have made a direct donation to organizations supported by Parton.
“Perhaps the math is about effectiveness and impact,” Buchanan said. “Maybe the math is about advertising… You just have to wonder.”
Many questions indeed arise in the aftermath of the award, announced by Bezos last weekend in a tweet with a video of him and his partner Lauren Sanchez presenting the award to a jubilant Parton.
This was quickly followed by a Monday interview on CNN in which Bezos said he planned to give away most of his incredible fortune – amounting to $124 billion, according to Bloomberg – over his lifetime.
As the philanthropic world chewed on this, another announcement on Monday, by Bezos’ ex-wife MacKenzie Scott, that she had given nearly $2 billion to 343 organizations over the past seven months, contributing to its total giving of nearly $15 billion. No video. No ceremony.
Scott wrote about his last massive donations to the Medium website in three paragraphs – not including a poem that talks about the power of shutting up and letting those who have been hurt speak for themselves.
Scott’s announcement invited a comparison to Bezos that already seemed obvious to many.
“Obviously they take very different approaches,” said Gabrielle Fitzgerald, founder and CEO of Panorama Global, a Seattle nonprofit that supports philanthropists and entrepreneurs who promote social change. “He tended to make more high-profile and flashy contributions,” while Scott took a low-key approach and gave to a wide range of organizations, some not well known.
Scott has also become well known for giving money without strings attached, avoiding the stringent conditions often attached to donations and letting organizations decide for themselves how best to use the money. In that regard, Bezos’ latest donation is similar, said Benjamin Soskis, senior research associate at the Washington DC-based Urban Institute.
The Seattle area offers an exceptional set of case studies in corporate philanthropy. extraordinarily rich people. The tech world has created fortunes not just 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. only a few.
Bezos now joins Gates, French Gates and others in pledging to give away much of their fortune over their lifetime. It’s been an upward trend over the past decade, Soskis said.
Many of these donors, like Bezos, have also become active participants in the donations they make, instead of leaving those decisions solely to foundation staff. So increasingly, Soskis said, philanthropy “reflects the inclinations, the preferences of a handful of very, very wealthy people.”
Bezos had previously come under fire for not joining the ‘Giving Pledge’, launched by Gates, French Gates and billionaire Warren Buffett, whereby the wealthiest people in society pledge to give away most of their money during their lifetime. or in their will. Scott signed the recognizance.
Critics also viewed Bezos as not particularly generous, given his vast wealth.
In the CNN interview, Bezos said it was a challenge to figure out how to give away his fortune. “It’s not easy. It’s really hard,” he said. “And there’s a bunch of ways that I think you could do inefficient things as well. give this money.
He said he awarded Parton the Bezos Award for Courage and Courtesy because she is a unifier during times of division.
Sitting next to him during the interview, Sanchez added, “When you think of Dolly, look, everyone’s smiling.”
Last year, Bezos awarded the same $100 million prize to two others: celebrity chef José Andrés, founder of a nonprofit that provides food after disasters, and Van Jones, a commentator and CNN activist. Bezos announced the awards last year after traveling to space aboard a rocket launched by his company Blue Origin.
Bezos’ philanthropic approach has been “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 in a decade.
Denis Hayes, CEO of the Seattle-based Bullitt Foundation dedicated to environmental causes, said he was impressed with the top-notch team the Earth Fund has assembled, including chairman and CEO Andrew Steer, who previously led the World Resources Institute and worked as the World Bank’s climate change envoy.
Hayes said the Earth Fund’s 10-year timeline is important because it recognizes the urgency of the climate crisis.
“By making this commitment, [Bezos] immediately became one of the biggest climate philanthropists on the planet,” added Gregg Small, executive director of Climate Solutions, a Seattle-based nonprofit.
So far, many Earth Fund grants have gone to large national and international organizations, such as the Nature Conservancy, Small noted.
“These organizations are doing great work,” he said, and can have a global impact. At the same time, he said, he would like to see the fund donate to organizations working nationally and locally.
This is where many environmental actions take place, he said. Washington, for example, has invested in clean energy and is expected to pass a bill requiring clean-fuel vehicles by 2035.
Bezos has made local investments in other areas. With Scott, he started the Day One Fund, which gives money to organizations working to reduce poverty and homelessness. Among his grants was $5 million to Mary’s Place, which runs a group of shelters for homeless families. Amazon has also contributed heavily to Mary’s Place, including building a shelter in one of the company’s buildings in South Lake Union.
While Bezos has yet to reveal his next philanthropic steps, Panorama’s Fitzgerald said one thing is clear: if he wants to give away all his billions in his lifetime, “he’s really going to have to pick up the pace of giving. “.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Raikes Foundation, Ballmer Group, and Microsoft Philanthropies, along with Jeff and Tricia Raikes, are contributing funders of Seattle Times journalism initiatives.
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