It couldn’t have come at a better time.
The COVID-19 pandemic triggered deaths and hardships across the country and the world in 2020 and there was no business as usual.
Schools, businesses, restaurants, sports teams and others were forced to go virtual and struggled to maintain their operations in a ghost world of Zoom and remote contacts instead of the old face-to-face communication.
That applied to charity drives as well, including the United Way of Racine County, which had to go to a virtual campaign drive to sustain the many, many worthwhile community programs and initiatives it supports each year.
United Way here saw a decrease in core campaign funding in 2020, although there was an increase in non-campaign funds — money earmarked for something specific including COVID relief funds or grants, according to president and CEO Ali Haigh.
“In the end we netted out to the internal goal,” Haigh said.
Two months ago United Way got the unexpected and welcome news it was receiving a $5 million donation from MacKenzie Scott, one of the world’s wealthiest women, who with her then-husband, Jeff Bezos, founded Amazon in Seattle 27 years ago.
Scott’s donation that will open new doors for United Way to provide community support.
The gift here was part of a massive $4.1585 billion donation Scott announced in December to 384 charities to all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.
At the time, Scott wrote: “This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling. 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.”
To put the Racine gift in perspective — it’s roughly equal to one full year of funding that the United Way of Racine County supplies for local programs. Now it will be able to do more.
United Way called the unexpected donation “transformative.”
“We are blessed in this period of relentless widespread hardship to have been given the ability to ask not if we will be able to continue offering our community the same support and stability, but in what ways we will do so,” said United Way Racine County Board Chair Steve McLaughlin.
“Scott’s donation doesn’t play a part in our 2020 campaign,” Haigh said in an email. “I don’t want to give off the perception that this gift saved our campaign because it didn’t . Our community generously continued to support our organization during the pandemic. They just directed their funds to specific things like COVID.”
“Scott’s donation was a surprise and a blessing. It will provide us an opportunity to expand our work and support our community more,” she wrote.
Final decisions on how the $5 million will be allocated still have to be made, but United Way has heard Scott’s call for “equity” and earmarked some of that money for “equity innovations” to get start-ups going and continue with multi-year gifts and for the Link and Inspire for Tomorrow program for community schools, a five-year old program that currently serves Knapp and Julian Thomas community elementary schools and will add Mitchell School next fall. Additionally, some money will go toward upgrading United Way’s technological assets to help its partners in adapting to a changing nonprofit climate.
It’s an immense gift from Scott and one that will benefit the entire community. It opens new doors at a time when it was difficult to keep old doors open.