Salem Radio Network News Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott reveals the groups that got some of her $2.1 billion in gifts in 2023

Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott donated $2.1 billion in the past year, she said in an online post, bringing her total reported giving to more than $16 billion since 2019.

While previous announcements have included detailed essays about the reasons for her donations, Scott offered only a three-sentence post titled “(Giving Update)” this year, writing, “Excited to call attention to these 360 outstanding organizations, every one of whom could use more allies.” She added, ”Inspired by all the ways people work together to offer each other goodwill and support.”

The gifts include three donations of $25 million to affordable housing nonprofit Mercy Housing, reproductive care organization Upstream USA and youth training group Year Up, according to her Yield Giving website.

It’s not known if those are the largest gifts made in the past year as the database of gifts on the website withheld the amount donated to more than 100 of the recipients in 2023, with the explanation, “Disclosure delayed for benefit of recipient.”

The brevity of the announcement stood out compared to how other philanthropists publicize their work, said Gabrielle Fitzgerald, founder and CEO of The Panorama Group, which has researched the impact of Scott’s gifts on nonprofits.

“My word count had that it was 54 words,” she said. “It’s almost like a haiku.”

The gifts were consistent with Scott’s focus on economic security, education, equity and health, Fitzgerald said, though there were many this round that went to organizations that describe themselves as working on health. Scott also supported several organizations that work on caste equity.

As in previous years, a significant portion of Scott’s donations this year focused on housing organizations, including community land trusts, advocates for affordable housing and legal aid societies, which often represent tenants among other clients.

The San Francisco Community Land Trust received a $20 million gift, which they first announced in August and which represents about ten times their annual budget. Saki Bailey, its executive director, said that the wealth created in Silicon Valley has created deep inequality, in part seen through the astronomical cost of land and housing.

“We’re seeing the highest number of tech billionaires per capita. But we’re also seeing the incredible destruction of communities and the houselessness problem at a new scale in the Bay Area,” she said. “So that deep inequality of wealth is really, really evident.”

Her organization corresponded with The Bridgespan Group for about six months answering questions for an anonymous donor, who turned out to be Scott. Still, Bailey said the total amount of the gift was more than they could have ever hoped for. Because of that, they will allocate some of the funds towards a collaborative effort to fundraise to increase the capacity of her organization and other West Coast community land trusts, which seek to keep housing affordable by removing land from the commercial real estate market permanently.

The Hawai‘i Community Foundation was in the rare situation of receiving a second donation from Scott, this time of $5 million to support its Maui Strong Fund, which it started to benefit the survivors of the wildfire that wreaked havoc on the island in August.

The foundation said the donation was supporting evolving needs like child care, connecting people to jobs and finding short- and long-term housing. Part of the donation also went to the foundation itself, in order to cover its internal operations. It’s promised that all donations to its Maui Funds will go directly to supporting recovery efforts.

“We really respect the way she approaches philanthropy, in that she trusts those of us who are on the ground and most importantly, in the community, with where to put the dollars so that they can have the most impact,” said Micah Kāne, CEO and president of Hawai‘i Community Foundation, of Scott. “We are trying to do the same.”

Scott declines to comment about her donations, which often are the largest a nonprofit has ever received, beyond blog posts, now published on her website, which she launched in December 2022. For the first time in March, she opened an application process to receive funding, promising to grant $1 million to 250 organizations. Some 6,300 nonprofits applied, according to Lever for Change, the organization overseeing the application process, which has said it will announce the winners in early 2024.

Scott has promised to give away more than half of her wealth, which largely comes from her divorce from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

According to a Center for Effective Philanthropy report released in November, Scott’s giving is “unprecedented” because she provides “meaningfully sized” donations to groups without any restrictions.

The report also addressed concerns that Scott’s substantial donations could inadvertently hurt smaller nonprofits because they would reach a “financial cliff,” where donors stop giving because they think the group no longer need money. However, the report found that 90% of groups receiving donations from Scott were able to change their fundraising strategies, adding that Scott’s donation gave them credibility and made fundraising easier.

Three years into Scott’s multi-billion dollar annual donations, Panorama’s Fitzgerald said it’s become clear that other donors are not following in her footsteps, in making large, unrestricted grants to organizations.

“It’s a one time thing,” she said. “And so how you think about spending the money should be really with the idea that this is a very amazing and wonderful opportunity that’s not the beginning of a new trajectory for most people.”

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Associated Press coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

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