MacKenzie Scott, the philanthropist, author and former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, announced Tuesday that she has given away $4.1 billion in the past four months to 384 organizations, part of a giving pledge she announced last year.
Five Washington state organizations were included: Craft3, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) focused on investing in Black- Indigenous- and people of color-owned businesses, which received $10 million; The Pride Foundation, which received $3 million; Easterseals Washington, one of 22 child-centered affiliates from around the country, which received an undisclosed sum; Walla Walla Community College; and the YMCA of Greater Seattle.
Neither the college nor the YMCA disclosed how much it received. Cathy Bisaillon, president and CEO of Easterseals Washington, also did not reveal how much her affiliate was granted, but described the gift as “transformational.”
“We want time to process it,” Bisaillon said. “We need some time.”
In a statement, Craft3 called Scott’s donation “extraordinary,” and said it will “catalyze” investments in communities of color. It is one of several CDFIs nationally to receive an investment from Scott.
“We are incredibly honored by the recognition that comes with this unprecedented gift. Community Development Financial Institutions are the front line of inclusive, equitable finance in the United States,” Adam Zimmerman, president and CEO of Craft3, said in a statement. “Our industry’s collective value as part of the financial ecosystem has been validated and catalyzed with this remarkable generosity.”
Scott’s is the largest private grant Craft3 ever received, Zimmerman said.
“We will use this support to re-imagine our 25-year effort to create an equitable, healthy and resilient Pacific Northwest,” he said. “The pandemic and accompanying recession have laid bare troubling vulnerabilities across the region. As our communities strive to recover, Craft3 will use this support to find new ways to invest in the ingenuity and resilience of entrepreneurs and households.”
In a Medium post that went live Tuesday morning, Scott explained the thinking behind her pandemic-era philanthropy.
She wrote of the poet Emily Dickinson, whose isolation was voluntary and focused on death — but also on hope. That is what Scott chose to focus on, she wrote, as winter approached and the pandemic dragged on.
She described the coronavirus pandemic as “a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling,” and noted is has been worse for women, people of color and those living in poverty.
“Meanwhile,” she wrote, “it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires.”
After donating $1.68 billion to 116 nonprofits, universities, community development groups and legal organizations last July, Scott asked a team of advisers to help her “accelerate” her 2020 giving with immediate help to those financially gutted by the pandemic.
She explained the team’s data-driven approach, identifying organizations with strong leadership and results, specifically in communities with high food insecurity, racial inequity and poverty rates, “and low access to philanthropic capital.”
Scott and her team started with 6,490 organizations, researched 822 and put 438 “on hold for now,” waiting for more details about their impact, management and how they treat employees or community members.
In the end, 384 organizations in 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., will share $4,158,500,000 in gifts: Food banks, emergency relief funds “and support services for those most vulnerable.” Others address “long-term systemic inequities that have been deepened by the crisis,” such as debt relief, employment training, credit and financial services for under-resourced communities and education for historically marginalized and underserved people. The money will also support legal defense funds “that take on institutional discrimination.”
Scott wrote that she would give the money “with full trust and no strings attached.”
“Because our research is data-driven and rigorous, our giving process can be human and soft,” she wrote. “Not only are non-profits chronically underfunded, they are also chronically diverted from their work by fundraising, and by burdensome reporting requirements that donors often place on them.”
She recalled the calls notifying the organizations, which would be paid upfront, of her donations.
“The responses from people who took the calls often included personal stories and tears,” Scott wrote. “These were non-profit veterans from all backgrounds and backstories, talking to us from cars and cabins and COVID-packed houses all over the country — a retired army general, the president of a tribal college recalling her first teaching job on her reservation, a loan fund founder sitting in the makeshift workspace between her washer and dryer from which she had launched her initiative years ago.
“Their stories and tears invariably made me and my teammates cry.”
Scott noted that she was “far from completing” her giving pledge, and urged others to follow her lead in whatever way they could: time, a voice or money.
“The hope you feed with your gift,” she concluded, “is likely to feed your own.”
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