Mackenzie Scott Calling, Are You Ready to Answer?

Editor’s Note:

BP+A is pleased to feature our friend and colleague Alison Patterson, Principal and Philanthropic Strategist with Patterson Philanthropic Advisors, which helps individuals and families plan and connect to the meaning and impact of their philanthropic relationships.

We’ve been hearing a lot about the transformational gifts given by philanthropist Mackenzie Scott over the last year, and many not for profits are vying to be her next recipient. Scott’s process for giving is not unlike that of many philanthropists who may already be thinking about your organization. For those who may not yet have heard, Mackenzie Scott is a female philanthropist who has rocked the philanthropic landscape by donating $8.5 billion over the last twelve months.

According to her post on Medium, Ms. Scott and her team, “took a data-driven approach to identifying organizations with strong leadership teams and results…[t]he team sought suggestions and perspective from hundreds of field experts, funders, and non-profit leaders and volunteers, then conducted emails and phone interviews.”

One big difference between Scott and your prospective benefactors is that she had a team in place to conduct her due diligence for her. For that reason, we asked Alison Patterson, Patterson Philanthropic Advisors, who assists her clients to navigate their own giving and volunteering, what would benefit her clients.

Here are three ways she suggests you might consider getting started:

  1. Financial transparency. Most organizations have an “about me” on their websites. Don’t require donors to dig to find information about how your organization manages its finances. You can provide a simple pie chart or include a link to GuideStar or other search engines. Provide a brief, easy-to-read paragraph that explains your financials. There’s no need to recreate the wheel—you can take the information directly from your annual report if you have one. For example, “Last year, during COVID we were blessed with many donors who supported us, and our PPP loan enabled us to maintain our staffing and keep our doors open. We foresee that impacting us in the coming year in the following ways.”
  2. Working Vision. Many organizations know what they are working toward. Your donors would love to support your vision as well. Consider putting your short- and long-term visioning on your website. It doesn’t have to be complicated. For example: in the short term, “we need to add five computers so that our employees can work remotely,” or “we need to replace our HVAC system.” A long-term vision might be, “we want to buy six new vans so that we can serve lunches to the underserved populations in our community.” Make sure you include research and innovation—foundations aren’t the only ones who may want to fund these initiatives.
  3. Think about your donors in terms of the stewardship that they require. Ms. Scott is an outlier and stated that she required no stewardship. In her blog post she stated, “we do this research and deeper diligence not only to identify organizations with high potential for impact, but also to pave the way for unsolicited and unexpected gifts given with full trust and no strings attached.” What we know about our donors is that we cannot treat everyone the same. Some will expect face-to-face engagement, others may be fine with a generic email campaign. Try and work toward ways to begin to have conversations that are meaningful and intentional to those generous individuals who are supporting your organization.

Generous people are everywhere, and our natural response is to help others when we have the time, talent, and treasure to do so. Help your prospective donors help you by providing them with the information that assures them that you will be a good steward of their money, that your vision is clear, and your needs are real, and then engage them personally to align your shared values toward the greater good.

For more insights from Alison, click here to visit her website.

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