How the MacKenzie Scott Miracle Is Lifting Nonprofits in One City
On February 22, 1980, the U.S. Olympic hockey team upset the Soviet team 4 to 3 in what is considered the biggest upset in sports history. Sportscaster Al Michaels closed the broadcast with what became an iconic phrase: “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”
It’s a safe bet that all 798 nonprofits that received transformational grants from MacKenzie Scott and her husband Dan Jewett, totaling close to $9 billion, believe in miracles. They all were beneficiaries of the most awesome display of philanthropy in size, speed and flexibility that we’ve ever seen in history.
Here in the San Antonio, Texas, area, nonprofits were blessed to receive more than $100 million. All these grants were entirely unrestricted, with no strings attached. In the fundraising world, we like to think that one unrestricted dollar is worth at least two restricted dollars.
And for the nonprofits and the countless people whose lives are enriched by their missions, these grants couldn’t have come at a better time.
San Antonio is a fast growing city of about 1.6 million people, making it the seventh largest city in the U.S. You’ve heard of the six degrees of separation concept, pointing out that everyone in the world is separated by no more than six personal relationships? In San Antonio, it’s more like two degrees of separation. We genuinely are a “little big city.”
We’re also a community confronting serious challenges. At the top of the list is poverty, which the pandemic has exacerbated. In a recent American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, San Antonio tied Miami as the poorest major metropolitan area in the nation.
The compassion test of a society is how well the haves take care of the have-nots. During 2020, Americans from all socio-economic backgrounds did precisely that as American philanthropy reached a record $471 billion, a 5.1% increase over the prior year. Or, put another way, donations were made at an astounding pace of nearly $1 million a minute. An overlooked fact is that the Fundraising Effectiveness Project reported that significant increases were seen at all levels of giving in 2020, but smaller gifts of less than $250 led the way, growing by 15.3% compared to 2019.
MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett had much more capacity and they sure used it.
Last week, Eskin Fundraising Training’s Non-Profit Empowerment Webinar Series showcased leaders from six nonprofits that were lifted by the gifts. These included:
- Karl Miller-Lugo, vice president of development and alumni relations at The University of Texas at San Antonio ($40 million)
- Kim Lubel, immediate past chair for the board of directors at the United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County ($20 million)
- Dr. Robert Garza, president at Palo Alto College ($20 million)
- Ken Slavin, director of marketing and strategic communications at San Antonio College ($15 million)
- Dan Yoxall, vice president of community relations and development, Lift Fund ($10 million)
- Eric Cooper, president and CEO at San Antonio Food Bank (undisclosed amount)
Each shared remarkable stories of being empowered to ramp up their capacity to champion essential missions. The hour flew by as leaders shared personal and powerful perspectives.
The process began with a heavy dose of “this is too good to be true.” Initial e-`mails and phone messages were shrouded in mystery. As the process moved forward, it became more and more apparent that each nonprofit was seriously being considered for a significant gift from an anonymous donor.
Though non-profits didn’t apply for these grants, this was not serendipity at work. Organizations made Scott and Jewett's radar for sustained leadership and results in serving populations historically over-looked and under-funded.
The vetting process was thorough and meticulously carried out. Each of San Antonio’s recipients have demonstrated excellence in their respective fields. San Antonio College was just named the top community college in the country by the Aspen Institute. Since 1994, the Lift Fund has served as a national model in nonprofit micro-lending to small business entrepreneurs, providing access to capital and technical assistance.
Needless to say, each recipient was overcome with emotion. When interviewed on ABC’s Good Morning America, Taylor Eighmy, The University of Texas at San Antonio president, said he shed tears when he first heard that $40 million was heading his way via an electronical deposit to the university's bank account.
Grants are being used in a wide range of effective ways to address immediate, mid-term and long-term priorities, including endowment, gift matches, expansion of core initiatives, and launching of new projects. The San Antonio Food Bank spent its grant immediately to provide 92 million pounds of food to serve 72 million meals to families in need. The United Way is doubling down on its Big Idea Contest to make it possible to dream big and turn those dreams into reality.
Everyone I spoke to reported that grants represented the largest individual gifts ever received in the history of their institutions. Cooper summed up the collective sentiment by noting that while this was a miracle, it also made sense. Philanthropy responded to the huge and pressing needs led by two magnificent human beings.
MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett have inspired everyone in the giant nonprofit galaxy. They lifted our spirits and, in a very profound way, reminded us that more is possible. And yes, indeed, that miracles do happen. Their example reminds us that everyone — commensurate to their own ability — can make gifts of time and money to touch, improve and save more lives. And each act of generosity represents yet another miracle of the heart.
Jim Eskin's leadership roles span more than 30 years in fundraising, public affairs and communications in the San Antonio area. His consulting practice Eskin Fundraising Training builds on the success of his fundraising workshops and webinars, and provides the training, coaching and support services that nonprofits need to compete for and secure private gifts.