MacKenzie Scott, one of world’s richest women through her Amazon shares, donated tens of millions this week to local groups, including the Reinvestment Fund and Community First Fund, two Philadelphia-area organizations dedicated to boosting the economic power of people and businesses in low-income areas.
Scott, the former wife of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, announced the recipients Wednesday, the culmination of a plan conceived in 2019 to give away most of her wealth, which Fortune estimates at $60.9 billion. She announced $1.7 billion in gifts in July and $4.2 billion this week.
Scott did not say how much each group received, and the money was awarded without restrictions on how it was used.
The Inquirer reported Wednesday that Scott had given $20 million to Lincoln University, the largest gift from a single donor to the 167-year-old historically Black university. A number of other historically Black universities also received money, including Delaware State University.
Easter Seals Southeastern Pennsylvania, the Greater Philadelphia YMCA, and the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey were also among the recipients listed in Scott’s post.
But the Reinvestment Fund, awarded $20 million, and Community First Fund, awarded $10 million, were among the area’s big winners.
“This is an exciting opportunity and unexpected,” said Elizabeth Frantz, director and Philadelphia Market Leader with the Reinvestment Fund. “We are grateful to be able to put the money to work for the communities we serve and care about.”
The Reinvestment Fund provides resources for those communities that have traditionally been excluded from access to financial institutions, such as banks.
Yonina Gray, a spokesperson for the fund, said the award is unlike many other grants, which must go toward specific programs within an institution. She called the unrestricted nature of the money a plus.
Gray said the Reinvestment Fund was first approached in October that an anonymous donor wanted to meet with the organization. It learned of the award by Scott just before Thanksgiving.
The Reinvestment Fund plans to use the money to benefit early childhood education, help provide access to fresh food in low income areas, and support historically Black colleges.
Gray said the organization has learned a lot about helping small business that were hurting during COVID-19 shutdowns and hopes to apply those lessons in future programs funded through Scott’s gift.
Meanwhile, Dan Betancourt, president and CEO of the Community First Fund, said Scott’s $10 million donation came as a surprise. Betancourt said there was no application process, only a nomination. He said he does not know who nominated Community First.
The Community First Fund helps businesses and individuals in low-income communities through loans, economic development, and other assistance. In July, Community First Fund joined with Kensington nonprofit FINANTA.
“We have three major initiatives that we are looking to grow,” Betancourt said.
Community First plans to start a credit union. The first office will open in Lancaster, with a second location in Philadelphia, most likely in Kensington or Hunting Park. The credit union would serve people with incomes below the median.
“We’ll focus on families that have not been part of the mainstream banking system,” Betancourt said.
It also plans a policy center that would, among other things, research wealth disparity, examine bias in the banking system, and educate government officials about those issues.
Betancourt said Community First would put most of the money toward a $50 million campaign to lend capital to small businesses across the region, with a focus on Kensington, West and South Philadelphia. An average small business loan runs about $100,000, and up to $2 million for a community organization. The interest is set below market rates. Many entrepreneurs in underserved communities face interest rates on the open market of 12% to 15%.
“We’re excited about this incredible opportunity to scale up our programs,” Betancourt said.