MacKenzie Scott’s donations were the largest ever for many HBCUs and charities

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MacKenzie Scott is the 18th richest person in the world after getting a $36 billion settlement in her 2019 divorce from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. She got even richer when Amazon stock went up due to the pandemic. MacKenzie has pledged to give away at least half of her wealth in her lifetime and she’s well on her way to doing that. Earlier in the summer we heard that she had given away $1.7 billion. This week she published a moving essay detailing the process of donating another $4.2 billion, spread among 384 charities. MacKenzie had the help of a team of people to vet organizations, and instead of having them apply for money her team conducted interviews and gave it away with no stipulations. It’s so generous and thoughtful, and we got a small idea of the difference she made in her description of the recipients’ reactions. The NY Times has interviews with people who work in some of the educational organizations she donated to, which include small historically Black colleges and universities. In at least one case she doubled their endowment.

The money came after weeks or months of hush-hush conversations in which Ms. Scott’s representatives reached out to college presidents to interview them about their missions, several of the presidents said on Wednesday. When they learned who was behind the effort, it was a surprise to them, too. But it could not have come at a better time — when the pandemic was hitting their student bodies hard, they said.

“I was stunned,” Ruth Simmons, president of Prairie View A&M University, a historically Black college in Prairie View, Texas, said of learning that Ms. Scott was giving $50 million, the biggest gift the university had ever received. She thought she had misheard and the caller had to repeat the number: “five-zero.”

It is common for billionaire philanthropists to give to Ivy League and elite private schools that are already wealthy and where they often have a personal connection. Such donations support their passions, and also bring prestige and recognition…

So it was telling to experts on philanthropy to see Ms. Scott associate herself with institutions that were much more humble and, indeed, needy. To these institutions, a $20 million donation was the equivalent of several times that to a Harvard or Yale, and could have a disproportionate impact.

“One of the things that’s so incredible about this massive grouping of gifts is that she does not have a personal connection to most, if any, of these universities,” said Kestrel Linder, chief executive of GiveCampus, a fund-raising platform that works with colleges and universities.

Ms. Scott made gifts to more than a dozen historically Black colleges and universities, as well as community and technical colleges and schools serving Native Americans, women, urban and rural students…

Some of the college presidents said Ms. Scott had put no restrictions on the funds, allowing them to determine how to use them. The funds were delivered to Prairie View on Oct. 20, and Dr. Simmons said she had been permitted to start disbursing money immediately to students affected by the pandemic.

Dr. Simmons said she was initially asked to keep word of the gift confidential, yet argued that making it public knowledge would send an important message.

“I used to be the president of one of those big colleges — Brown University — and there of course, it was quite routine to be in conversations with people about gifts of this size,” Dr. Simmons said. “But it rarely happens in institutions like Prairie View, and it rarely happens especially for the kinds of students that we serve.”

Tony Munroe, president of Borough of Manhattan Community College, a predominantly Black and Hispanic institution in Lower Manhattan, which received $30 million from Ms. Scott, recalled that there was no application to submit for the grant. He was simply contacted out of the blue by a representative of Ms. Scott’s, who engaged him in probing conversations about the college’s mission.

“When it was shared with me who the donor is and how much, I had a moment, I literally began to cry,” Dr. Munroe said…

Morgan State University, a historically Black university in Baltimore, said Ms. Scott’s gift of $40 million, the largest single private donation in its history, would double its endowment.

[From The NY Times]

I got choked up reading this for the first time, and I’m teary reading it again. I especially liked the part about how billionaires typically give to Ivy League schools that they have a connection to, but MacKenzie is not a typical billionaire and she figured out where she could help the most. This money is going to make an enormous difference to students at an incredibly difficult time.

We’re also getting stories from other organizations about the incredible no strings attached donations she’s given. There were stipulations that it be kept confidential, but now that MacKenzie’s essay has come out the charities want to thank her. Florida First Coast YMCA president Eric Mann said that her donation will help generations of people and that he was overwhelmed when he heard the news. “My hands shook I was on the phone. And then I just looked up and said, ‘Thank you God’ and that was it. I hate to say this, no I don’t hate to say this, but I probably cried a little bit as well.” The Vermont Food Bank also received their largest single donation in history, $9 million, which they called “transformational.”

Some of you have commented that the rich should be taxed more, which is absolutely true, as should corporations. I would add that public schools should not have to have fundraisers for basic supplies while police forces are given enough military gear to outfit an army. Military spending should be cut and secondary education and healthcare should be free. Teachers should make wages and overtime that are similar to police officers. You know where I’m going with this. This is the sh-tty system we have, and MacKenzie Scott just worked within it, doing her best, to distribute her massive wealth. She had an entire team helping her and she has changed so many people’s lives. I’m so glad her ex husband is a cheating a-hole.

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