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In mid-December, MacKenzie Scott’s record-breaking gift of $4.2 billion benefitted 384 charities, two of which are TW&B clients. We spoke to these organizations about their reactions, plans, and how this gift will change their futures.
Organization: YMCA of Metropolitan Washington
Gift: $10 million
Angie L. Reese-Hawkins, President & CEO
Tell us a little bit about how you pivoted during the pandemic:
We really didn't pivot; what we did is we went deeper into what matters to the community. There are incredible gaps and incredible needs that were extraordinarily exacerbated by COVID. When our physical locations closed, we focused on more of what we could do to fulfill our mission.
We were already running our feeding program in wards of the city where there is a significant amount of food insecurity, and a supporter said, “We know you’re great at this, so we’re going to help you now take care of the rest of the community.” In addition to that, we provided emergency child care, established a fund for first responders, and provided a lot of virtual programming.
"(During the pandemic) we went deeper into what matters to the community."
You’ve been at the YMCA for 35 years. Is this the largest gift that you’ve received during your tenure?
This is the largest gift during my lifetime at the Y. I was elated and overjoyed that the journey we have taken as a nonprofit serving the greater Washington metropolitan community led us to the greatest recognition we could have ever received. It’s the size of the gift, but it’s also the magnitude of the recognition that matters.
Say more about the impact of that recognition.
What MacKenzie Scott has done is validated the collection of work that we have around mission in our communities. She has validated the fact that we are filling the gaps that we're taking care of greater needs, and that we're helping people in the most authentic way possible. And we're trying to figure out ways every day as to how to sustain this, so it's not a one-time thing, but continues to breathe life beyond us.
We're all extraordinarily grateful to her for seeing our struggle and allowing us to extend a lifeline of programs and services with greater enhancements that really do make a difference. She has also validated us to other donors right now who may be pivoting their giving. They are taking another look at us because this is so significant and we're already doing the work.
"(MacKenzie Scott) has validated us to other donors right now who may be pivoting their giving. They are taking another look at us because this is so significant."
So how do you determine where to allocate a gift of this size?
We have a committee looking at where we need to go deeper and where we need to plant new seeds over a specified amount of time – 3 or possibly 4 years – because we want to make sure that there’s a significant ROI. We want to make sure we are doing what really matters, and that it is measurable and achieves great results on behalf of the most vulnerable people in our community.
We celebrate this news with you and so appreciate your work in the community.
Trust me, it couldn’t have come at a better time. Most of us were operating on fumes, and she just gave us the fuel we needed to just keep going. My staff is so over the moon. My soul is touched because I look into the hearts and minds of the people we serve. And I know we can do more.
Lauren Doherty, CEO
What has 2020 been like for you?
For us, it was uncharacteristic—we committed to taking on all of Will County in December 2019 with an April 1 start date. No one knew what would be coming our way in mid-March. The previous provider had amassed a long waiting list and was only delivering frozen meals once a week—we knew we needed to resume deliveries five days a week, especially at a time when seniors are even MORE isolated. We needed to bring back all the staff, volunteers, and then we had to clear the 200 person waitlist. Because of the Stay at Home orders, everyone age 60 and above became eligible for our meals on wheels programs since they were now considered “homebound." This resulted in a massive influx of new clients to provide meals to. We went from serving 400 clients in Will County to serving over 950 a day. Most of our existing volunteers were older and had to step back, meaning we had to recruit less vulnerable volunteers. That was a massive undertaking but we were incredibly grateful to see so many people willing to step up and help, we received more than a thousand volunteer applications in just a few months that then had to be reviewed, volunteers needed to be placed and trained… hectic is a good way to describe it. The experience has required lots and lots of flexibility—such as reallocating facilities—everything to keep serving people.
How did you react when you heard you got this gift?
I re-read her blog post this morning and she talks about notifying people and where they were, and I laughed a little bit because I was in my car. I found out on December 1 when I was driving through a blizzard in Ohio. Excited, I reiterated it is incredible that the grant is completely unrestricted and how unusual that is, it's nice to be understood. What organizations need are unrestricted funds to allocate where they see fit to successfully carry out their mission. No excessive reporting, restricting guidelines, or limits on what percent of the grant can be applied to staff salaries and administrative costs- two of the hardest expense categories for nonprofits to get grant funding for. Nonprofits know what they need to do best, it’s wonderful that MacKenzie Scott believes in trusting nonprofits to do just that.
"What organizations need are unrestricted funds to allocate where they see fit to successfully carry out their mission...MacKenzie Scott believes in trusting nonprofits to do just that."
How are you determining where to focus the gift?
First is strategic planning—from that process, we will lead ourselves into other things that we will spend the funds on. Salary leveling is one thing we've looked at. We don't have an in-house HR staff member, and that’s a huge need. We've grown so much in the last couple of years. Three years ago, we were serving 500,000 meals a year; this year we served 830,000. We were serving 5,000 clients a year; this year we served 7,300.
To be honest, MacKenzie Scott is amazing. Scott and her team are doing things in a way that would traditionally be frowned upon, such as not setting strict guidelines and time limits for the funds, but brings an excellent viewpoint to the conversation. In her blog, she encourages people to give in the same way. I'm hopeful that other funders follow suit, and we have already seen progressive grant-making with some of our other funders but it would be ideal to see progress made across the board.