Billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott has donated $84.5 million to the Girl Scouts, the organization announced Tuesday, continuing her streak of eye-popping donations to large national nonprofits this year.
Scott’s donation is the largest gift the Girl Scouts of the USA has ever received from a single donor—as is the case with many Scott gifts—and it will be used to launch diversity initiatives; expand career-readiness, mental wellness and STEM programs; boost staff and volunteer training and upgrade facilities at Girl Scout camps, including accessibility improvements and “high adventure elements.”
“We are so appreciative of MacKenzie Scott’s gift to Girl Scouts. This is a great accelerator for our ongoing efforts to help girls cultivate the skills and connections needed to lead in their own communities and globally,” Girl Scouts of the USA CEO Sofia Chang said in a statement announcing the donation.
Scott’s gift will be split between the national Girl Scouts of the USA office and 29 regional chapters called “councils.” According to the statement, Scott will select the 29 councils, exercising a surprising amount of influence over where the money will go, considering her usual hands-off approach to her philanthropy. Scott did not immediately respond to a request for comment about choosing which councils will receive money.
“The selection criteria has not been made public or shared with us but we’re very grateful for the support. GSUSA did not participate in selecting the amount or councils that received donations. All donations were determined by Ms. Scott and her team,” a Girl Scouts of the USA spokesperson says.
With the new gift, the Girl Scouts may be better equipped to face its perennial problem of attracting new scouts. The number of girls who take part in the Girl Scouts peaked in 2003 with 2.8 million members, but has been dropping ever since. The pandemic made the situation worse. According to figures reported by the Associated Press, the Girls Scouts suffered a 30% decline in memberships from 2019 to 2020, from about 1.4 million to a bit more than 1 million. That period was of course during the pandemic, when in person meetings of all sorts–not just for the Girl Scouts– were canceled.
“The support from all our donors, including this generous donation from Ms. Scott, is critical in delivering on our work of reimagination and transformation,” Chang said in a statement about the gift.
Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has become one of the most prolific philanthropists in the world, giving away a big chunk of the fortune she got in her divorce at an unprecedented rate. Forbes estimates that Scott, who recently got divorced from her second husband, is worth $31.6 billion, nearly all of it Amazon stock. Since mid-2020, Scott has donated $12.8 billion to more than 1,200 organizations. To put that into context, the Gates Foundation—the largest philanthropy in the world, with a $53 billion endowment and more than 1,700 employees —gave away $11.9 billion in that same time period, according to its grants database. This month alone, Scott has also donated $15 million to affordable eyeglasses nonprofit VisionSpring, $15 million to the Paso del Norte Health Foundation in El Paso, Texas and $20 million to the Fresno Unified School District in California’s central valley.
Scott has made other gifts to large nonprofits with chapters across the U.S., including the Boys and Girls Clubs of America (to which she donated $281 million), Planned Parenthood (a $275 million gift) and Big Brothers Big Sisters (a $122 million gift). It’s unclear if Scott also had a hand in selecting which chapters received part of her donation in those cases.