MacKenzie Scott’s supremely generous gift of $133.5 million to Communities in Schools (Chronicle of Philanthropy, February 7, 2022) was remarkable in many ways. I serve as board chair of the education nonprofit, and her donation spoke to me as both a woman and a philanthropist who for decades has worked to ensure that every student, regardless of race, ZIP Code, or history of marginalization, has what they need to succeed in school and beyond.
Scott’s unrestricted gifts to organizations like ours imply a trust in nonprofit leaders and a willingness to transfer power to those who understand best how to address the problems they work on every day. Scott and I are separated by generations and by degrees of wealth, but in terms of intentionality and the results we seek, we’re very much the same. I consider us to be kindred spirits, which is why her validation of our work at Communities in Schools provides me with so much gratitude.
For so long, many well-intentioned white men have directed philanthropic endeavors, often applying the same business mentality that drove their successes in private industry. But the missions, goals, and values of nonprofits are generally quite different than those of business enterprises.
Scott is courageously showing us how philanthropy can be conducted differently. For organizations like Communities in Schools, her approach has the potential to be transformative. Our organization has become one of the nation’s most successful dropout-prevention programs by focusing on areas such as improving school climates and boosting students’ social-emotional skills. Last year, 99 percent of the students enrolled in our programs remained in school through the end of the school year, and 93 percent of seniors graduated or received a GED.
We currently operate in about 3,000 schools nationwide, reaching 1.6 million students. But there are 70,000 schools in America where at least 40 percent of the student population comes from low-income families. It is our goal to be in every one of them, helping the 12 million students that we haven’t yet been able to reach. Scott’s gift alone won’t get us there, but it will help us move much closer to that goal. Now, 40 of our affiliates will be able to expand the work they do in their communities, and many more students living in poverty and lacking resources will have a chance to receive our services.
All of this is because MacKenzie Scott was willing to put her trust in us and our work. I’m grateful for her gift to Communities in Schools and for everything she is doing to change the world of philanthropy. Scott is ushering in a new generation of philanthropists who recognize that the old ways were much less likely to get the equitable results we have sought for so long. And it’s gratifying to know that we women are leading the way.
Board Chair, Communities in Schools
Co-founder, Mirage Resorts and Wynn Resorts