MacKenzie Scott Dominates Racial Equity Giving After George Floyd Death
This is how Ruth Simmons, president of a historically black Texas university, felt in December when she received a call informing her that the school would be receiving $ 50 million, several times the amount of the contribution. the most important she has ever received. Simmons, who runs Prairie View A&M University, thought she misheard the appellant, so she asked that the amount be repeated: “Five-Zero”.
The donor this time was MacKenzie Scott, who reset the racial equity philanthropic program while barely speaking a word. Similar stories of surprise have been pouring in from across the country over the past year as colleges and nonprofits received unexpected gifts from Scott and her husband, Dan Jewett.
Scott, a 51-year-old novelist, received most of her fortune from her 2019 divorce from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. After the police murder of George Floyd, it funded top recipients of racial equity donations in 27 states, according to an AP analysis of preliminary data from the philanthropy research organization Candid. The data, which only includes contributions from institutional donors, shows Scott was responsible for $ 567 million distributed to these organizations. (Two organizations declined to say how much they received from the philanthropist.)
In at least 11 states, Scott provided the majority of racial equity-focused contributions to primary recipients. She was the only major donor to these groups in 10 other states, with educational donations dominating her donations.
Scott’s impact in some states could be even greater, as it’s still unclear how all of the $ 8.7 billion she has donated since 2020 has been distributed to individual organizations. The impact of state grants is also difficult to analyze as some of them, such as those given to schools and national organizations, may have broader benefits.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the personal wealth of anyone is the product of collective effort and social structures that provide opportunities for some people and obstacles for countless others,” Scott wrote in an article. of July 2020 announcing $ 1.7 billion in contributions. She said her funding decisions were “driven by a deep belief in the value that different backgrounds bring to solving problems on any problem.”
Scott, later joined by Jewett, backed up those words with hundreds of millions of dollars in donations to HBCU powers like Morehouse College and Hispanic institutions, to little-known groups like Yee Ha’s Covid-19 Relief Fund. ‘ólníi Doo’s Navajo & Hopi Families and chapters of international groups like United Way.
Many organizations claim Scott’s gifts were the most important they’ve ever received.
Following Scott’s split from Bezos, she pledged to give away most of her wealth, echoing the wishes of other megadoners like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Since then, his donations have fallen into the hands of organizations focused on racial equity, Covid relief and other issues. Due to the extraordinary growth in the value of Amazon stocks, Scott’s wealth is even greater today – around $ 60 billion, according to Forbes – than it was when it started giving. his money.
This means that Scott’s ability to influence philanthropy will continue for the foreseeable future. Her intention, she said, is to keep giving “until the safe is empty.” And because his gifts are offered without strings attached and allow organizations to set their own priorities, it was a welcome change for many who feel crippled by donor pet projects.
“The most valuable gifts are certainly those that are not limited because a complex university has a wide variety of needs,” said Simmons, who notes that these gifts allow universities to cope with their “meat and apple” problems. Earth”.
When Prairie View A&M received Scott’s $ 50 million gift last fall, it created a $ 10 million scholarship fund for students most vulnerable to dropping out due to job loss or of another financial stress caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. So far, Simmons said, the school has awarded more than $ 5 million in scholarships from this fund, with the remainder to be awarded by the middle of next year.
“This has helped immensely in meeting the urgent needs of students who could not meet their financial obligations,” said Simmons, adding that many students at Prairie View A&M are working to supplement their financial aid.
Much of Scott’s donation – $ 35 million – went towards the school’s endowment, which now stands at $ 143 million.
“It’s just a stark contrast to what we’ve seen, especially over the past few decades, as donors have asserted themselves not only through donations, but also [by] wanting to be on boards or be able to get as close as possible to the things they fund, ”said Tyrone Freeman, professor at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. (The AP and Lilly School receive funding from the Lilly Endowment.)
Yet Scott’s donations have also sparked some calls for greater transparency. As an individual, she is not subject to the same disclosure requirements that apply to megadoners who contribute through charitable foundations. Her ads also don’t reveal how much she gives to individual groups. This means that the amounts these organizations receive are only known if they announce it themselves. Many did not.
“By providing such large donations to nonprofit organizations, Scott has assumed the role of the primary benefactor of the US nonprofit sector,” said Maribel Morey, executive director of the Miami Institute for the Social Sciences. “Asking for greater transparency is simply about empowering the public to know how and why decisions are made for the public good. “
A spokesperson for the Bridgespan Group, the philanthropic consultancy firm that advises Scott on his donations, told the AP that the company does not comment on its clients but encourages unrestricted donations.
Some of Scott’s contributions to racial equity intersected with relief from Covid-19 because the effects of the pandemic were felt disproportionately in minority communities. Around the same time that Prairie View A&M received millions, Ethel Branch, a former Navajo Nation Attorney General who started a Covid Relief Fund for Navajo and Hopi Native American Families at the start of the pandemic, received a call informing her that $ 10 million was coming her way.
“This was at a time when we had pretty much used up all of our GoFundMe dollars,” said Branch, who heads the Utah-based Navajo & Hopi Families Covid-19 Relief Fund. “I couldn’t even go on social media because there were too many people posting about the loss of family members. And it was just a very dark time.
The group and its 1,300 volunteers used the funding to provide water, personal protective equipment and food to Navajo and Hopi families in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, Branch said. In total, they have reached over half a million people.
But nearly a year since Scott’s donation, Branch says the relief fund’s resources are dwindling – possibly due to donor fatigue in the event of a pandemic and the assumption that the group may no longer need the money because of Scott’s donation.
In contrast, Prairie View A&M received more contributions from other donors after Scott’s donation. In universities, major donors usually have buildings or centers named after them. Yet there will be no Scott Center in Prairie View. She didn’t want that, Simmons said.
So the head of the HBCU discovered a “little secret” and established a writing program named after Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize-winning black novelist who taught Scott while studying at Princeton University and who hired her as a research assistant in 1992. novel Jazz.
“This is all we could go to to show our gratitude for his generosity,” said Simmons.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a Partnership The Chronicle has partnered with The Associated Press and Conversation to expand coverage of philanthropy and nonprofit organizations. The three organizations are supported for this work by the Lilly Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for the content of this article.