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Billionaire philanthropist gives millions to 7 NM groups

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Author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott has donated $10 million to United Way of Central New Mexico, one of six organizations in New Mexico receiving gifts from Scott. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott has donated nearly $4.2 billion over the last four months to 384 organizations across 50 states, including generous donations just given to seven New Mexico groups.

The seven New Mexico organizations on the list are United Way of Central New Mexico, Meals on Wheels of Albuquerque, Goodwill Industries of New Mexico, Roadrunner Food Bank, Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief, Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint and the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.

“This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling,” Scott writes. “Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color, and for people living in poverty. Meanwhile, it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires.”

Scott donated $10 million to United Way of Central New Mexico, $5 million to the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and $750,000 to Meals on Wheels of Albuquerque. Roadrunner isn’t disclosing the amount of its donation, and amounts for the remaining organizations were not immediately available.

According to Scott, the entire sum committed is paid upfront and is given with “no strings attached.”

Scott, the former wife of billionaire and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, said in a blog post on Tuesday that some donations are filling basic needs: food banks, emergency relief funds, and support services for the most vulnerable.

Others are addressing long-term systemic inequities that have been deepened by the crisis: debt relief, employment training, credit and financial services for communities lacking resources, education for historically marginalized and underserved people, civil rights advocacy groups, and legal defense funds that take on institutional discrimination, she wrote.

“COVID-19 remains a threat to our communities as we continue our work to mitigate the health and economic impact of the pandemic,” said Rodney Prunty, CEO of United Way of Central New Mexico. “This generous donation will ensure that this work continues through the recovery phase and help us to rebuild and come back even stronger.”

IAIA will use the donation it received to offer financial and technical assistance to its students. The money may also be used for scholarships, a Research Center for Contemporary Native Arts, and additional graduate programs.

IAIA President Robert Martin said Scott’s donation will be “transformational.”

“Most importantly, it will help to ensure that we achieve our vision to continue expanding our mission to offer culturally based undergraduate and graduate programs that benefit Indigenous peoples in the arts,” Martin said.

Shauna Frost, Meals on Wheels of Albuquerque executive director, said the money will help support the group’s efforts to feed the community during the pandemic.

“Our mission is to serve some of the most vulnerable in our community, and we have seen the need for our services grow exponentially this year,” Frost said in an emailed statement. “This generous gift will allow us to take the necessary steps to ensure the stability of these increased services so that we may continue to serve our hungry and homebound neighbors for years to come.”

Sonya Warwick, spokesperson for the Roadrunner Food Bank, said the organization is not yet disclosing the donation amount it will receive, as donation terms are being completed.

“We are honored and humbled to receive this special contribution,” Warwick said in a statement. “It will definitely have positive and long-term ramifications on the services we provide, touching the lives of the many New Mexico communities and the people we serve.”

To select the 384 organizations, Scott’s team sought suggestions and perspective from hundreds of field experts, funders, and nonprofit leaders and volunteers with decades of experience.

“We leveraged this collective knowledge base in a collaboration that included hundreds of emails and phone interviews, and thousands of pages of data analysis on community needs, program outcomes, and each non-profit’s capacity to absorb and make effective use of funding,” Scott wrote. “We looked at 6,490 organizations, and undertook deeper research into 822. We put 438 of these on hold for now due to insufficient evidence of impact, unproven management teams, or to allow for further inquiry about specific issues such as treatment of community members or employees.”

Scott is no stranger to donating to New Mexico organizations.

On July 28, American Indian Graduate Center in Albuquerque learned of a $20 million donation from Scott.

“(I have) a conviction that people who have experience with inequities are the ones best equipped to design solutions,” Scott said in a statement in July.

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