Chicago nonprofit receives $25 million donation from MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos

United Way CEO Sean Garrett said the donation is about half of the $50 million the United Way chapter raises each year. His second largest donation, $10 million, came last October from banking firm BMO Harris.

“She really sets the course for philanthropy in America today,” Garrett said of Scott, whom he has never met. Scott, who received shares in Amazon as part of a divorce settlement, is among wealthy Americans who have pledged half or more of their assets to charity. With today’s announcement, its pledges this year total nearly $6 billion.

“A few weeks ago I got the call, and it was amazing,” Garrett said. “It’s a call I’ve never received before. I gave my kids a big hug who couldn’t understand why I was so excited on a Tuesday afternoon.”

The money will boost neighborhood work already being pursued by the United Way, including affordable housing and cradle-to-career education programs, according to Garrett. In March, United Way and the Chicago Community Trust, with support from the city, launched the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund, which has raised more than $35 million for nonprofits.

Other local grantees include the YMCA of Metro Chicago, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, Chicago Community Loan Fund, and Easterseals Serving Chicagoland and Rockford. The YWCA said it received a “game-changing” $9 million.

“We reviewed 6,490 organizations and undertook further research on 822,” Scott said in a blog post. “We have placed 438 of them on hold at this time due to insufficient evidence of impact, unproven leadership teams, or to allow further investigation into specific issues such as the treatment of members of community or employees.”

She added, “The proliferation of community fridges, COVID relief funds, impromptu person-to-person Venmo giveaways, viral debt relief campaigns and self-help initiatives has been rapid and uplifting. In March, a 19-year-old girl in Chicago sent a group text to her friends suggesting they buy supplies for people in her neighborhood who had lost their jobs She posted two Google Forms – one for people who needed for help and another for people in need – and two days later they’d raised $7,000. “We’re really excited,” she said. “Me too.”

Scott is the 18th richest person in the world and his wealth soared by $23.6 billion this year to $60.7 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, while Amazon.com Inc., the main source of his fortune, surged.

Bloomberg contributed.

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