Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott surprises Minnesota nonprofit with $1.9M

·2 min read

Billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott has surprised another Minnesota nonprofit with an unexpected large donation, giving $1.9 million to Junior Achievement North.

The St. Paul-based educational organization, which serves 80,000 students in Minnesota, North Dakota and western Wisconsin, announced the donation Tuesday from Scott, an author and the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

"It was a moment of jaw-drop, just so much emotion … that she would recognize the work that we're doing in the community and make such a generous investment in our students and our work," said CEO Sara Dziuk, who found out about the donation July 1.

The Minnesota nonprofit is one of 26 Junior Achievement operations that received a donation from Scott out of 102 across the country. Scott is giving a total of $38.8 million to Junior Achievement USA and its local operations — the largest gift from a single donor in the organization's 103-year history.

Scott has funneled more than $78 million to Minnesota nonprofits over the past two years, including Big Brothers Big Sisters Twin Cities and Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, and other local organizations such as three Boys & Girls Club affiliates and St. Paul-based Planned Parenthood North Central States.

The rash of surprise donations to nonprofits across the United States make up Scott's pledge to give away most of her wealth in her lifetime. Scott, who has an estimated net worth of about $40 billion, according to Forbes magazine, rarely speaks publicly about her sudden and significant philanthropy.

At Junior Achievement North, one of the largest Junior Achievement local operations in the country, the donation is almost 40% of its total annual budget of $5 million. The organization has two learning labs in the Twin Cities and taps more than 5,000 volunteers a year to teach K-12 students about different careers and important life skills, such as budgeting.

Dziuk said it's too soon for the nonprofit to decide how it will spend the money, but that it will help expand programs to support more students of color and low-income students. She said she will recommend putting some of the money into its endowment to increase scholarships for students in need and to add staffing at the organization, which has about 40 employees.

As with the other Minnesota nonprofits, Junior Achievement North is receiving the money from Scott as an unrestricted gift, meaning it can use the funds in any way it wants and that the money isn't tied to a specific program or purpose.

"It's just incredible for us to have a gift like this," Dziuk said. "It adds to the credibility of our organization and in a time when we are looking to build tomorrow's workforce, a diverse workforce that has the skills needed to be successful."