Exactly one year ago today, United Way of Metro Chicago announced its single largest donation in the organization’s 80+ year history. Novelist and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott donated $25 million in December 2020 to accelerate our work advancing neighborhood equity and community development.
United Way benefited from Scott’s Giving Pledge a little over two years ago when she committed to giving away at least half her wealth to charitable causes. Since then, she’s given $8.6 billion to 780 organizations promoting racial equity, public health, community engagement, education, arts and culture, interfaith efforts and more.
In last summer’s Medium post, as Scott announced her latest round of giving, she acknowledged the flawed systems that generated her wealth—and her belief that “it would be better if disproportionate wealth were not concentrated in a small number of hands, and that the solutions are best designed and implemented by others.”
“Though we still have a lot to learn about how to act on these beliefs without contradicting and subverting them,” Scott continued, “we can begin by acknowledging that people working to build power from within communities are the agents of change. Their service supports and empowers people who go on to support and empower others.”
These agents of change within communities are exactly who have benefited and will continue to benefit from Scott’s gift to United Way of Metro Chicago. Over the last year, we have invested $1.5 million of the donation toward basic needs support—food, housing, clothing, healthcare and more—through our impact grants to nonprofit agencies throughout the Chicago region. Another $1 million was invested directly in our Austin Neighborhood Network to expand a community facility for BUILD, a gang intervention, violence prevention and youth development organization.
“This generous investment from MacKenzie Scott has allowed us to accelerate community-led projects and initiatives that will have a long-term impact in their neighborhoods, spearheaded by local partners that have continued to foster grassroots collaboration while still responding to the unimaginable social crises triggered by the pandemic,” said Sean Garrett, president and CEO of United Way of Metro Chicago. “With the additional resources from this gift, we are confident that our initiatives will help rebuild and transform communities as we continue to face the implications of the pandemic.”
What does the future hold for the remaining funds? We plan to invest up to $14.5 million in our Neighborhood Network Initiative, deepening our commitment to place-based transformation and growth. An additional $6 million will go toward supporting individuals’ basic needs through our regional impact grants to on-the-ground nonprofit agencies. The remaining funds will be invested in our endowment and operations to ensure that United Way and all our community partners continue to thrive for years to come.
“This gift freed us to think about things differently—we can now think beyond one-year increments and be strategic yet opportunistic in our approach,” Garrett said. “The donation allowed us to take risks, explore new types of funding and new neighborhoods—seizing opportunities knowing we had the resources. Our Neighborhood Network partners, especially, saw the opportunity to go beyond programmatic support and make investments that will have a lasting physical impact on the community.”