$20M donation to United Way ROC from MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Jeff Bezos

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The United Way of Greater Rochester was surprised on Tuesday, with a $20 million grant from MacKenzie Scott. The organization says it is the largest single philanthropic gift in its history.

“This tremendous gift is powerful even beyond its size,” United Way of Greater Rochester’s CEO Jaime Saunders said in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon. “There are moments, like this one, when a donor has the means and the vision to make a truly transformational gift that will help design our collective future.”

Scott became one of the wealthiest people in the world upon divorcing Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in 2019. She has since signed the Giving Pledge, promising to donate at least half her wealth to philanthropy.

In her blog post announcing the donation, Scott writes, “Not only are non-profits chronically underfunded, they are also chronically diverted from their work by fundraising, and by burdensome reporting requirements that donors often place on them.”

The United Way says it will create a task force — made up of board members and community partners — to determine how best to utilize the donation. The organization says this is necessary because the donation came as a surprise.

Scott wrote about what it was like making the calls to announce the donations:

We shared each of our gift decisions with program leaders for the first time over the phone, and welcomed them to spend the funding on whatever they believe best serves their efforts. They were told that the entire commitment would be paid upfront and left unrestricted in order to provide them with maximum flexibility. The responses from people who took the calls often included personal stories and tears. These were non-profit veterans from all backgrounds and backstories, talking to us from cars and cabins and COVID-packed houses all over the country — a retired army general, the president of a tribal college recalling her first teaching job on her reservation, a loan fund founder sitting in the makeshift workspace between her washer and dryer from which she had launched her initiative years ago. Their stories and tears invariably made me and my teammates cry.

— MacKenzie Scott, 384 Ways to Help

The United Way says Scott’s donation will not be a part of the 2021 annual community fundraising campaign. The organization says it will share updates as it finalizes plans on how to spend the grant.

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