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In January, United Way of Racine County was the recipient of a $5 million donation from MacKenzie Scott. Scott is an American novelist and philanthropist who helped found Amazon.

Originally notified of the gift in late December, United Way has spent the weeks since in conversation and planning with its board to identify allocations for the donation. Equity was heavily on staff and board members’ minds during these conversations; United Way continuously evaluates how it can help address equity in the community, and this gift came at the perfect time to direct increased funding towards this focus. In the end, the board and leadership decided to allocate Scott’s donation to three main areas: equity innovation; LIFT (Link and Inspire for Tomorrow) community schools; and impact partner training and technology. 

Scott is currently the third wealthiest woman and twentieth wealthiest person in the world, and she has signed on to the Giving Pledge, through which she promises to give at least half of her wealth to charity. United Way of Racine County was one of 384 organizations, and 50 United Ways, to receive a donation from Scott this year. Of these United Ways, United Way of Racine County is the smallest.

United Way is incredibly grateful to Scott and her funding team for their recognition and support of its work. United Way of Racine County is recognized as one of the top United Ways focused on community impact. To be selected through such a rigorous vetting process is an encouragement that its work is on the right track. In determining recipients, Scott’s team sought suggestions and perspective from hundreds of field experts, funders, nonprofit leaders and volunteers with decades of experience. They 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 nonprofit’s capacity to absorb and make effective use of funding. Scott’s team looked at 6,490 organizations, ultimately selecting only 384 to receive funding.

Scott’s team paid special attention to organizations in communities facing high projected food insecurity, high measures of racial inequity, high local poverty rates and low access to philanthropic capital. Overall, many of the donations went to organizations supporting areas such as equity, economic mobility, public health, climate change or global development.   

The equity innovation fund will focus on funding programs working to address equity issues locally. Although the form each fund will take is still being finalized, the current vision for the equity fund is to support promising start-up programs through multi-year gifts, with the potential to duplicate eventually proven programming throughout the community.  

The LIFT fund will support the growth and continuation of United Way’s community schools  partnership with Racine Unified School District. Currently, the LIFT strategy operates at Knapp Community School and Julian Thomas Community School, and, beginning in fall 2021, Mitchell Community School, transforming them into hubs full of community supports so that staff, families and neighbors can connect while simultaneously meeting their needs. LIFT has seen significant success in reducing opportunity gaps at Knapp, its inaugural community school, and anticipates similar impact at its newer community schools as the strategy takes root. Another key element of the LIFT strategy is its place-based support — a crucial model for serving the community, but one that relies on increasing collaboration and funding. Scott’s funding will support the longevity of this strategy and help it continue to take a foothold throughout the community. 

Finally, the impact partner training and technology fund is designed to support United Way’s impact partners in adapting to a changing nonprofit climate. This fund will provide grants to facilitate partners’ staff and board trainings as well as access to technology supporting organizational modernization. 

 “This is an incredible gift — my entire team and I are thrilled, humbled and overwhelmingly grateful for the recognition and trust from Scott and her team,” said Ali Haigh, president and CEO of United Way of Racine County. “Just as our work is only possible through the combined support of every community member and nonprofit that works alongside us, we want to ensure this donation is used as a gift back to the community. Through the support of Mackenzie Scott and one another, we as a community can open countless new doorways for equity, innovation and collaboration.” 

“We are honored to be chosen for a gift of this magnitude,” said Steve McLaughlin, United Way of Racine County board chair. “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.” 

As United Way of Racine County develops the timeline for the rollout of its expanded community supports, it will continue to release information as the plan develops. Although this gift is transformative, its path forward continues to depend on the annual gifts from the community that make its foundational work possible. One thing is certain — United Way moves forward with the promise to serve its home with the utmost attention to community and forward growth. 


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