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Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Jeff Bezos, gives millions to Michigan nonprofit groups

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Several Michigan nonprofits are among hundreds of organizations to receive funding from MacKenzie Scott, philanthropist, author and former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Scott announced this week that she has given away $4.1 billion in the past four months to hundreds of organizations as part of a giving pledge she announced last year.

The Michigan nonprofits include Easterseals Michigan, Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, Forgotten Harvest, Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids, Goodwill Northern Michigan, Invest Detroit, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit and YWCA of Metropolitan Detroit.

MacKenzie Scott

United Way for Southeastern Michigan said Wednesday it received $25 million.

"We are very grateful for this significant gift from Ms. Scott," said Darienne Hudson, president and CEO of United Way for Southeastern Michigan. "This type of bold and forward-thinking support is very much appreciated and needed. It will immediately help bolster what we’re doing every day to help families, children, workers, and seniors whose health, lives, and livelihoods have been hard hit by the pandemic."

Hudson said Scott's contribution is a meaningful investment in Southeastern Michigan families and helps the non-profit sector meet increasing needs. 

"This will have a significant impact, but the need is overwhelming and there is still much more to do," the organization said.

Scott announced her pandemic-era philanthropy in a Medium post Tuesday, The Seattle Times reported. 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.”

Easterseals Michigan said it has received $15 million from the fund. 

Easterseals Michigan President and CEO, Brent Wirth said in a statement that 2020 has been the most trying year for his organization "and we have worked tirelessly to keep our doors open to families and meet the growing needs of our communities, as we are faced with a mental health crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic."

“We are humbled by this gift from MacKenzie Scott, which is transformational for our organization," Wirth continued. "It will allow us to expand our services, to meet those we serve where they are through new technology and most importantly, further invest in our mission to help children and adults with disabilities live successful lives.”

Kirk Mayes, CEO of Forgotten Harvest also expressed appreciation for the donation, which he said will improve the lives of children, families and seniors. Mayes did not state how much the organization received.

"This is a transformational gift that will enable our organization to further enhance the effectiveness of the work we do every day to fight food insecurity and reduce surplus food waste," he said.

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 said the team used a 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 total, 384 organizations in 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., will share $4,158,500,000 in gifts. Organizations include food banks, emergency relief funds, 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 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 Associated Press contributed