MacKenzie Scott donated $44 million to the Oregon-based mentoring organization, Friends of the Children, which supports children at risk of entering the welfare system by pairing them with a long-time mentor.
The unrestricted gift, just announced, provides $15 million to the organization’s national headquarters and splits $29 million in direct donations to 12 of the organization’s chapters from Tampa Bay to Detroit to Los Angeles.
Terri Sorensen, the CEO of Friends of the Children, said Scott sent word through intermediaries about why she’d chosen her organization.
“She said that they were doing this because they really hoped more people would find out about Friends of the Children,” said Sorensen, adding that she worked with the Bridgespan Group as part of the vetting process for several months before the amount was finalized.
That reflects what Scott has often said about her donations, writing in a 2020 Medium post that she and her team rigorously study organizations, in part, “to pave the way for unsolicited and unexpected gifts given with full trust and no strings attached.”
“Because our research is data-driven and rigorous,” Scott wrote, “our giving process can be human and soft.”
Sorensen recalled the “surreal” moment in June when she learned of Scott’s gift. She was visiting the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where there was limited cellphone service, and had to drive around to get a signal to take the call.
Scott’s donation nearly doubles the organization’s overall resources, since the national network’s budget for 2022 was $50 million. Founded in 1993, Friends of the Children pays a professional mentor to befriend and support children and their families for 12 years starting in kindergarten.
The chapters plan to use Scott’s donation to pay higher wages to mentors, whom they call “friends,” and expand to serve more children, Sorensen said, though she emphasized that each chapter is run independently.
The gift is the latest from Scott to be made public and extends the pattern of her giving to other organizations that provide mentorship and support to children like Junior Achievement USA, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, and Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
Like nearly all of her more than $12 billion in giving since 2019, Scott’s donation to Friends of the Children is unrestricted, and Sorensen said they intend to spend the funds within five years. Scott’s large gifts have challenged other wealthy donors and foundations to assess their own giving strategies.
Scott and her husband, Dan Jewett, donate in relative secrecy. Giving as individuals and not through a foundation means their donations are known only when the recipients disclose them or through her occasional blog posts. She’s written previously that she doesn’t respond to press inquiries in an effort not to overshadow the work of the organizations to which she donates.
Los Angeles, which has among the most children in foster care in the country, is one of the chapters of Friends of the Children that will receive the gifted funds. The organization has two locations there, including one that opened in 2019 in Antelope Valley, located about an hour north of the city. That office won funding from the county mental-health department to divert children at risk of being separated from their parents or guardians from entering foster care.
“Perhaps the parents experienced foster care, didn’t graduate from high school, have been incarcerated. Let’s get to those families before they enter the system and keep them out,” Sorensen said. “So that’s really where we like to be on the side of prevention.”