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The Margin: MacKenzie Scott donates $133.5 million to the Communities in Schools program — the nonprofit’s largest unrestricted donation in its history


MacKenzie Scott is taking many billionaire philanthropists to school. 

Her latest gift is a $133.5 million unrestricted donation to Communities in Schools (CIS), a national network of nonprofit groups that work out of 2,900 high-poverty schools in 26 states and D.C. to provide academic and support services. That includes providing food, access to technology and school supplies, as well as emotional support to ensure that kids succeed, stay in school and graduate.

While the novelist and philanthropist has shied away from revealing the recipients of some of her latest donations, CIS disclosed the donation over Twitter TWTR, -5.74% on Thursday. “Thanks to a transformative gift of $133.5 million from MacKenzie Scott. This investment will help CIS to carry out its mission to break down the systemic barriers that stand in the way of opportunity & student success,” the nonprofit wrote on its official Twitter account. 

It also shared an announcement on its website praising the “unprecedented gift” as “the largest unrestricted donation in CIS’s history.”

This announcement came the same day that Scott’s ex-husband, Amazon AMZN, -7.51% founder Jeff Bezos, made headlines because his new superyacht will require dismantling an historic Dutch bridge so the 417-foot-long three-masted ship can reach open seas this summer. 

“Today is an important day for students who are underserved, under-resourced, and in need of transformative support to build a brighter future,” wrote Rey Saldaña, president and CEO of Communities In Schools.

Saldaña told the Washington Post that the organization got a call out of the blue from Scott’s staff with the news that she wanted to make the donation, similar to what Scott has done with previous grants. 

“‘Today is an important day for students who are underserved, under-resourced, and in need of transformative support to build a brighter future.’”

— Rey Saldaña, president and CEO of Communities In Schools

Saldaña also told the Post that the CIS program typically costs between $80,000 to $100,000 per staffer, and the national office received $20 million of Scott’s donation, while 40 individual CIS sites (which serve multiple schools apiece) got grants of roughly $2.5 million to $3 million each. In comparison, the annual budgets of CIS sites run from $1 million in some smaller, rural sites to $12 million in large urban centers. 

“Our national goal is to bring our model inside of every one of the 70,000 Title I-eligible schools in the country,” Saldaña wrote online. “Currently, we operate in 3,000 schools — so we still have a long way to go, and we will need ongoing support to get there.” It appears that Scott’s donation will help a lot. 

Indeed, Scott has given away more than $8.5 billion to hundreds of nonprofits since her 2019 divorce from Bezos. And her latest gift led her name to trend on Twitter on Thursday afternoon, with some people comparing her philanthropy to other billionaires, including her ex. “In a world of Jeff Bezos’s, be a MacKenzie Scott,” tweeted one person.

Scott did get some flack last December, however, when she released an update of her gift-giving while leaving out just how much money she had given away. Scott said that she wanted the focus to be on the organizations who received the gifts, and not the price tags.

Compare that to December 2020, when Scott announced more than $4.1 billion in gifts to 384 organizations, many of them grassroots groups serving historically marginalized people. And she shared in a June 2021 post that she had sent more than $2.7 billion to 286 “high-impact organizations.”

Some philanthropy experts called for more transparency from Scott, saying that public scrutiny is one of the few checks against the power and influence of elite philanthropists. And others noted that charitable donations are often tax-deductible, so all U.S. taxpayers have an interest in knowing where her money goes.

That led Scott to say that she would share more details about her latest round of gifts, which she intends to release this year.

Read more:

MacKenzie Scott, billionaire philanthropist, won’t reveal who got money in her latest round of giving

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