MacKenzie Scott, who has given at least $8 billion in the past two years to mostly small nonprofits that serve people in need, used to release posts on Medium about her gifts and who got them. Then the Seattle resident stopped naming names. She announced in December that more focus should be on the nonprofits.
“I want to let each of these incredible teams speak for themselves first if they choose,” she wrote, prompting some philanthropy experts to suggest that her approach contributed to the lack of transparency in philanthropic giving.
During the past month, half a dozen nonprofits have started to disclose donations they received from Scott in her latest round of giving, and they once again showed that Scott gives to causes that many of the ultrarich usually avoid, including organizations focused on suicide and drug addiction.
The biggest new gift from Scott that has been disclosed was $133.5 million for Communities in Schools, which provides services in schools in low-income neighborhoods.
Following that in size, were gifts of $15 million apiece to the Guttmacher Institute, an advocate for reproductive rights, and the Jed Foundation, which seeks to prevent youth suicide.
The National Council on Aging announced it had received $8 million.
And two groups that help people deal with substance abuse and addiction also said they had received big sums: Shatterproof got $5 million and Young People in Recovery $3 million.
Some of the leaders of those nonprofits, which received a combined $179.5 million, told the Chronicle of Philanthropy how they learned about the gift, how they decided to go public, and where they will use the money.
Ann Herbst, executive director of Young People in Recovery, compared Scott’s vetting process to the 1999 movie “Fight Club.”
“And the one rule about fight club is, you can’t talk about fight club,” Herbst said, quoting the movie.
Herbst says she was contacted in the fall by a team who identified themselves only as representing an anonymous donor. They wanted to learn more about Young People in Recovery, which had a $2.5 million budget before the $3 million gift from Scott. The donation is the largest the nonprofit has received.
Herbst says she’s had similar conversations with large donors that didn’t result in any funding so she didn’t get her hopes up.
“This is not a field where people have given money to have their names on buildings or wings of hospitals,” Herbst said. “It speaks to the stigma that still exists in this space.”
When Herbst learned in January about the size of the gift and that it was coming from Scott, she was blown away.
“It never would have occurred to me that we were talking about MacKenzie Scott or that we were talking about a seven-figure gift,” she said.
Young People in Recovery will use the gift to buy new technology for its staff and provide bilingual materials and to undertake more diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility activities to reach wider audiences.
Ramsey Alwin, CEO of the National Council on Aging, called the interaction with Scott’s team a “fascinating process” that required maintaining confidentiality.
At first, Alwin was told the council was being vetted by a philanthropist who wanted to invest in racial and health equity. Scott’s team examined the organization’s social impact, vision, and leadership. Among the materials they probably saw was the organization’s “equity promise,” which lays out its commitment to ensuring people of color, low-income Americans, and those in rural areas can obtain the services they need for a better quality of life as they grow older.
The entire process, Alwin said, took about six months. When Scott was revealed as the benefactor and the $8 million hit the council’s account on GivingTuesday, November 30, her “eyes popped out,” she said. It was record-breaking — the largest unrestricted gift received in the organization’s 72-year history.
It seemed too good to be true. But after talking to people who work for other organizations that had received funds from Scott, Alwin said it was more believable.
The donation was a much needed morale booster during the pandemic and racial reckoning, Alwin said.
“This is the rocket fuel that’s going to help us really, really take our work to the next level to reach more people, advocate for bolder changes to policy to ensure all can age well,” she said.
About 80% of the council’s budget comes from federal funding. Before Scott’s contribution, its biggest private donations had been $300,000 to $500,000.
For the next two or three months, the Council on Aging will plan how to use the funds in its effort to improve the lives of 40 million adults by 2030.
Communities in Schools, which received $133.5 million from Scott, provides services in schools in low-income neighborhoods. Rey Saldaña, CEO, said the group chose to publicize their $133.5 million gift because it validated its work and showed there’s more to be done.
The national office received $20 million, with the rest being divided among 40 of its 110 affiliates. The nonprofit — with a $250 million budget — works in 2,900 schools in 110 cities and towns nationwide to ensure that all students, regardless of race, location, or socioeconomic status, have what they need to succeed.
With Scott’s gift, the largest the group has ever received, Saldaña said, the organization plans to serve more students and start an endowment.
He said he appreciated the unrestricted gift from Scott because it indicates donors can trust recipients to make the right decision about how to use charitable donations.
“It’s really a breath of fresh air for all nonprofits, especially for those who have been in this work as long as we have, for four decades,” he said about unrestricted gifts. “It’s an incredible way for us to think about the new era of receiving support as a nonprofit.”
This article was provided to The Associated Press by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Kristen Griffith is a staff writer at the Chronicle. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The AP and the Chronicle receive support from the Lilly Endowment for coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits. The AP and the Chronicle are solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.