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Big Brothers Big Sisters Twin Cities receives record $6M donation from MacKenzie Scott

24 May 2022

Big Brothers Big Sisters Twin Cities has received an unprecedented $6 million donation, making it the latest Minnesota nonprofit to be surprised with a record-breaking gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott.

The gift to the youth mentoring organization, announced Tuesday, was part of a $122.6 million contribution Scott gave to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America — the largest donation from a single individual in its 118-year history.

The Twin Cities nonprofit, which is among the largest Big Brothers Big Sisters chapters in the United States, will use the money to revamp its mentoring, boost programming and recruit more volunteers, said Pat Sukhum, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Twin Cities. It amounts to more than the organization’s annual $5 million budget.

“I basically fell on the floor,” Sukhum said of the cryptic April phone call revealing the unexpected donation. “It’s an incredible, incredible gift.”

Scott, an author and the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has pledged to give away most of her wealth in her lifetime. She’s now given away at least $78 million to Minnesota nonprofits in the last two years.

Scott contributed more than $48 million to six local nonprofits in March, including three Boys & Girls Club affiliates, St. Paul-based Planned Parenthood and Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. Last year, she announced grants for St. Paul-based Penumbra Theatre, and Arts Midwest and Borealis Philanthropy in Minneapolis. And in 2020, she gave more than $25 million to six nonprofits in the state, including YWCA St. Paul.

For each of the Minnesota organizations, it was the largest one-time donation they had ever received. What’s more, the grants are unrestricted, which means recipients can use the funds in any way they want — which they prefer over grants awarded for a specific program or purpose.

Scott didn’t speak publicly about her latest grants to Big Brothers Big Sisters, but in past blog posts she has said she focused on grants supporting equity and the needs of underrepresented people. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Scott has given nearly $12.5 billion to at least 1,253 nonprofits since 2020.

Big Brothers Big Sisters Twin Cities has 50 employees and about 1,500 volunteers who work with nearly 3,000 youth, mostly children of color from low-income households. About 300 to 400 kids are on a waiting list, so more adult volunteers, especially men, are needed.

“We want to serve more of the youth in our community,” Sukhum said, adding that the number of volunteers dipped during the COVID-19 pandemic, when mentoring went virtual. Since then, in-person mentoring has mostly resumed.

The organization moved at the end of 2020 into larger headquarters in north Minneapolis near the Mississippi River. It’s the first time the nonprofit has owned its own space since the St. Paul and Minneapolis agencies merged nearly two decades ago.

The surprise donation will help Big Brothers Big Sisters Twin Cities continue to “refresh and reset,” Sukhum said.

“This gives us an opportunity to think bigger,” he said. “We are celebrating in big ways, but we also realize the big responsibility this opportunity presents us.”

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