James Morton, chief executive of the YMCA of Greater Boston, received a call on Nov. 17 that left him speechless.
He learned that philanthropist MacKenzie Scott ― former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos ― planned to give his organization $18 million, the largest donation in its history.
“My immediate thought was, ‘Is this for real, or is this some kind of prank?’ ” Morton said. “I do not get $18 million calls every day, that is for certain. I was astonished and overwhelmed in that moment.”
He added that the organization typically receives between $6.5 million and $7.2 million annually through philanthropic support. Morton had to keep the gift, and the donor, confidential until earlier this week, when Scott announced in a blog post that she has donated more than $4 billion in the past four months to 384 organizations across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C.
Morton said the donations are a “tremendous investment in communities across America.” The YMCA of Greater Boston has assembled a task force to decide how to best use the funds, but the most immediate needs involve hunger, childcare for essential workers, and spaces for students to access remote learning.
Two other organizations based in Massachusetts received funding from Scott, as did several others in New England, totaling at least $49 million.
Easterseals Massachusetts, a Worcester-based group providing programs and services to children and adults with disabilities, told the Globe Friday it received a $6 million gift.
United Way of Central Massachusetts said on Wednesday that it received $5 million from Scott, which will help the organization expand its reach to thousands of people in need of its services. Tim Garvin, the group’s president and chief executive, said in a press release that the organization is “overwhelmed and humbled by MacKenzie Scott’s generosity,” and he hopes it will help Worcester “come back even stronger” from the pandemic.
United Way of Rhode Island said on Twitter that it received a $10 million gift from Scott, and the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation announced Thursday that it received $6 million to support several pandemic relief efforts.
$🔟M to be exact. We're grateful to @mackenziescott for her incredibly generous gift to support the goals in our new strategic plan. @CortneyNic: "This gift validates the critical importance of the work we have in front of us to reverse the root causes of racial inequities." ⬇️ https://t.co/JDE78V9cKa— United Way of Rhode Island (@liveunitedri) December 15, 2020
The Housing Development Fund, based in Connecticut, said it received a $4 million donation, more than its entire $3 million annual operating budget. The group focuses on advancing the development of affordable rental and homeownership opportunities.
Scott and her team looked at nearly 6,500 organizations and conducted research into about 800 of them to identify those with proven impact and strong management teams. Joan Carty, chief executive of the Housing Development Fund, said her group provided information and answered questions during a vetting process, but didn’t know who the potential donor was until recently.
“It was an anonymous philanthropist,” she said. “When I found out, I was flabbergasted. It could not have come at a more important and challenging time. For us, it is a tremendous gift.”
Scott said she prioritized organizations “operating in communities facing high projected food insecurity, high measures of racial inequity, high local poverty rates, and low access to philanthropic capital.”
“This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling,” Scott wrote. “Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color, and for people living in poverty. Meanwhile, it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires.”
All of the groups selected were named in Scott’s announcement, although the individual gift amounts were not disclosed. Here’s a list of other local organizations that received money:
- Easterseals Massachusetts — $6 million
- United Way of Central Massachusetts — $5 million
- YMCA of Greater Boston — $18 million
- YWCA Hartford Region
- United Way of Rhode Island — $10 million
- Nonprofit Finance Fund (based in New York with an office in Boston)
- New Hampshire Charitable Foundation — Community Crisis Action Fund — $6 million
- Meals on Wheels of Rhode Island
- The Housing Development Fund (based in Connecticut) — $4 million
- Goodwill Northern New England
- Vermont Foodbank