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: Melinda French Gates and MacKenzie Scott: How Two Divorces Unlocked Billions in Philanthropic Dollars

Melinda French Gates seems to be carving out her own identity as a major philanthropist — and it's another example of how divorce rocks philanthropy.

French Gates is reportedly no longer pledging to donate most of her fortune to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and will instead divert her resources to other philanthropic initiatives, including her own firm Pivotal Ventures, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed individuals Sources.

The bottom line: Because French Gates has promised to give away most of her fortune, which is estimated at $6.1 billion, several billion dollars are now available that were previously earmarked for the Gates Foundation.

That could have major implications, especially for efforts to promote gender equality. “Donations to women's and girls' organizations accounted for 1.9% of charitable donations in 2018. I think her philanthropy will change that number," said Susan Benford, chair of Philanos, an international network of women's giving groups, which are groups of donors who pool their dollars and then collectively decide where to donate the money.

Benford referenced research from the Women's Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University's Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. According to a WPI report, in 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, only $8.2 billion in charitable dollars (1.9% of all US charitable giving) went to organizations dedicated to women and girls . That's "a fraction" of the dollars that "organizations in traditional nonprofit subsectors like education, health, and the arts are receiving," says the WPI report. (The research was funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.)

French Gates seems poised to move the needle on that funding disparity. She has long been an advocate for women and girls and has announced that she will reach out to women, girls and other marginalized groups both in the United States and around the world with her individual philanthropic efforts. In 2019, she pledged to spend $1 billion to empower women in the United States over the next decade. That money is distributed through Pivotal Ventures, an investment and "incubation" firm she founded in 2015. Pivotal Ventures did not respond to a request for comment.

"My giving will continue to focus on those people for whom the barriers to equality are highest," she wrote in a November 2021 letter, updating her individual commitment to the Giving Pledge, the campaign encouraging billionaires to give away most of their wealth during their lifetime or in their will.

The Gates Foundation, the Melinda French Gates and her ex-husband Microsoft
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Co-founder Bill Gates, which was founded in 2000, did not respond to a request for comment. The foundation is one of the largest in the world with nearly $50 billion in endowment, primarily from contributions from Gates and Berkshire Hathaway
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CEO Warren Buffett. It awards grants around the world that focus on eradicating disease and poverty and promoting gender equality, among other initiatives.

Two divorces diverted billions in philanthropic resources

French Gates' departure from the foundation she founded with her ex-husband (of which she still co-chairs) is the second instance of a billionaire split to rock the world of philanthropy. The first was Amazon's dissolution in 2019
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Founder Jeff Bezos and his then-wife MacKenzie Scott. As a couple, the duo embarked on a number of philanthropic initiatives, the largest of which was a $2 billion pledge to help homeless families and build a nationwide network of free preschools for children in low-income families.

Since the split, MacKenzie Scott has blossomed into a fast-moving philanthropic force, having given out at least $8.6 billion to hundreds of nonprofit organizations across the United States in 12 months. That was more than the combined total of the country's two largest foundations, the Ford Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which gave out over the same period, Bloomberg reported.

Continue reading: MacKenzie Scott donates $133.5 million to the Communities in Schools program, the largest unqualified donation in the nonprofit's history

Divorce can sometimes be a catalyst for charitable giving, but not always, said Ken Nopar, vice president and senior philanthropic advisor to the American Endowment Foundation, an organization that sponsors donor-suggested funds. Some people find they have less money to donate after a marriage ends, Nopar said.

But he's also seen a surge in donor-recommended funds created by people who recently divorced. In some cases, couples who started a charitable foundation together end the foundation when they separate, replacing it with two separate donor-endorsed funds. (Donor advised funds are accounts where people set aside money for charitable donations.)

In one case, a woman's husband agreed to put a "significant amount of money" into a DAF for his ex-wife during a contentious divorce. "The client was thrilled because she would then be able to continue making grants many years later, the ex-spouse was thrilled because he received a large tax deduction for contributing to the DAF, and both were thrilled because there was one less point of contention about," wrote No par.

In another case, a divorced client "wanted to go in a very different direction than her non-charitable husband," Nopar told MarketWatch. The ex-wife founded a DAF with her daughters.

Divorce can be an opportunity for a fresh start, and for some people it means reprioritizing giving to charity, he said. "They have a blank slate to reassess where and how much to give," Nopar said.

Women give differently than men

The rise in prominence of MacKenzie Scott and Melinda French Gates underscores a global shift: According to the latest Wealth X report on ultra-high nets, there is a "gradual upward trend" in the proportion of ultra-wealthy donors who are women. worth philanthropy. In 2021, 88.7% of North America's ultra-wealthy donors, i.e. H. Donors with net worth of $30 million or more, males. In 2019, according to Wealth-X, 90.2% were men.

"This shift is the result of changing cultural and societal attitudes, an increase in female entrepreneurship, an increasing focus on gender equality issues, and a rapidly growing number of intergenerational wealth transfers to sons and daughters," according to the Wealth-X audit report.

This trend is notable because women give to charity differently than men, as several studies have shown.

Single women give more to charity than single men across all income levels, and wealthy women are more likely to give than wealthy men, according to a WPI study, according to a U.S. 2018 Trust on High Net Worth Philanthropy. Women also approach giving differently than men: They are more likely to volunteer and give in-kind donations, according to a 2021 study by Fidelity Charitable.

French Gates reiterated this idea in her recent Giving Pledge letter, vowing that she would do more than "write checks." "I also dedicate my time, energy and efforts to work to alleviate poverty and promote equality," she wrote.

Bill Gates said in his own updated Giving Pledge letter that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is "my top philanthropic priority, although my giving has grown in other areas over the years — primarily to curbing climate change and fighting Alzheimer's." -Illness".

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See also: MacKenzie Scott is reversing course after criticism and says she will reveal who benefitted from her latest round of billionaire philanthropy

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