Success Attracts Success

I was interested to see there was some research conducted with some of the earliest recipients of MacKenzie Scott’s unrestricted gifts to various non-profits between 2020 and 2021. The median of the grants she distributed was $8 million as compared to a median of $100,000 given by larger funders in recent years.

To be clear, some of the organizations Scott targeted in the first few rounds of giving didn’t sound like they had been getting anywhere near $100,000 grants. The biggest finding of the study was that the Scott grants weren’t just transformational for organizations, they were equally transformational for leaders who found they no longer had to lay awake at night worrying about keeping doors open. Now they not only felt secure in knowing existing programs could be executed, they began to dream about what else it might be possible to accomplish.

In interviews, more than three-quarters of leaders discussed the shift in their thinking that accompanied the receipt of this gift. A scarcity mindset was replaced with an opportunity to pursue transformational possibilities, as leaders were able to reimagine their organizations “in the ideal way to achieve the biggest impact that we could have.”

Close to two-thirds of interviewed leaders described a sense of relief and breathing room after having received their grant. Many told us of the opportunities to innovate and take risks that their grant has afforded them, knowing their organizations are now more financially secure. “It’s an opportunity to be innovative and creative because we have more foundational support,” said one leader. Another said, “For us to have money to pilot something to see how it goes is just a miracle from heaven.” Other leaders put aside a specific portion of the gift specifically for bold or risky ideas.

The most striking response for me was a leader of color talking about how she felt affirmed and vindicated after worrying her presence was a liability to the organization:

I’ve been told about two million times that organizations led by women of color get less than others,” one leader told us. “So, I was nervous about this because I’m thinking, man, I hope that who I am doesn’t cheat this organization out of opportunities, you know? And that’s a sad thing to even admit to you, but I did think that.” The grant from Scott was powerful for this leader because, as she put it, “it positioned being a woman of color as an asset, not a liability.”

What was also encouraging was that the concern others funders would reduce their support of recipient organizations was unfounded. In many cases, the organizations reported an increase in overall fundraising after receiving MacKenzie Scott’s gifts.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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