MacKenzie Scott gives record $13.5 million grant to Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity

22 March 2022

Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity has received $13.5 million from MacKenzie Scott, making it the latest Minnesota nonprofit to be surprised with a generous multimillion-dollar grant from the philanthropist — the largest single donation in the organization’s nearly four-decade history.

The grant to the St. Paul-based nonprofit is part of Scott’s $436 million gift to Habitat for Humanity International and 84 U.S. Habitat organizations to boost affordable housing as part of her pledge to give away a majority of her wealth in her lifetime.

It’s the largest amount that Scott, an author and the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has publicly committed to a single charity. She’s now given more than $9 billion in two years, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

“It’s far and away the largest single donation we’ve ever received,” said Kaitlyn Dormer, spokesperson for Twin Cities Habitat. “It’s about equivalent to what we receive in a whole year [in individual donations and grants].”

Like the leaders of other Minnesota nonprofits that have received unexpected grants from Scott, Twin Cities Habitat CEO Chris Coleman got a mysterious call a few weeks ago that an unnamed donor was interested in contributing money and wanted to know how he’d spend the dollars.

Twin Cities Habitat, one of the largest Habitat affiliates in the nation, builds and rehabs homes for low-income residents, especially people of color, and is looking to expand homeownership among Black Minnesotans to narrow racial ownership disparities.

“This is very significant for us,” Dormer said of the grant. “But the challenges are really big. … We’re an organization that can be part of closing that gap.”

Nearly 80% of white households in Minnesota own their homes, compared with 42% of households of color, according to U.S. Census data. Black Minnesotans have the lowest rate of homeownership among racial groups, with about 25% owning a home in the state.

The $13.5 million gift, which Twin Cities Habitat has received, will likely go toward building and rehabbing more homes and expanding the number of homeowners the nonprofit helps close on home purchases from 100 closings annually up to 150.

Dormer said it will also allow the organization to expand services such as financial coaching. The grant is nearly half the size of the organization’s entire annual budget of $33 million.

The surprise grant comes as the nonprofit continues to weather rising construction costs amid supply shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lumber costs doubled from 2020 to 2021 for Twin Cities Habitat, forcing the organization to cut the number of homes it could afford to build and rehab.

Construction costs are still high, Dormer said, and the organization is on pace to build or rehab 45 homes this year, down from the usual 60 homes a year.

Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity is the only Minnesota nonprofit to receive a grant in Scott’s latest round of giving. Last year, she announced grants for St. Paul-based Penumbra Theatre and Arts Midwest and Borealis Philanthropy in Minneapolis. In 2020, she gave more than $25 million to six Minnesota nonprofits, including YWCA St. Paul.

For many of the nonprofits, Scott’s grants were the largest donations they had ever received from one donor. They’re also significant because the money was “unrestricted,” which means the nonprofits can use the funds in any way they want — as opposed to grants designated for a specific program or purpose.

While it’s a “monumental” gift to Twin Cities Habitat, Dormer said it won’t slow the organization’s fundraising push to keep expanding its programs and build and rehab more homes for low-income Minnesotans.

“We think this affirms we’re going in the right direction,” she said. But “we need really broad support from the entire community.”

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