MacKenzie Scott made a donation to Goodwill of Silicon Valley this week. But unlike the box of clothes or a old toaster oven most people drop off, her gift was $10 million.

The gift — part of a $4.2 billion giving spree by the philanthropist and former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — is the single biggest investment in the 92-year history of the nonprofit and it all started with an email about three weeks ago.

Mackenzie Scott, the world’s 18th-richest person with a $60.7 billion net worth, announced the latest gifts in a blog post, saying she asked her team to figure out how to give away her fortune faster. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

Goodwill of Silicon Valley CEO Michael E. Fox Jr. was contacted by a representative of “someone” interested in giving a donation to the San Jose-based nonprofit. That led to a meeting where he learned who the benefactor was and the transformational figure in mind. “Then you’re kind of speechless. Was I even hearing it right?,” Fox said. “This is life changing for our organization, and it just humbles you.”

Fox agreed to keep the news to himself until the announcement was made, and after he was told it would be happening this week, he gave his board of directors a heads-up that a donation announcement was coming — while still keeping them in the dark about who and how much.

On Tuesday, Scott accompanied a post on Medium with a list of 384 organizations across the country that were “giving through immediate support to people suffering the economic effects of the [COVID-19] crisis.”  Goodwill of Silicon Valley was among them. Other Bay Area groups listed were United Way Bay Area, YMCA of San Francisco, and Meals on Wheels San Francisco.

In her post, Scott said she tasked a team of advisors to seek out deserving groups, using a data-driven approach to identify those with strong leadership skills and results, particularly in the areas of food demands, racial injustices, poverty and low access to financial capital. Fox said that Goodwill of Silicon Valley’s selection was a tribute to the entire team, as well as its programs. “I am immensely proud that we are able to stand out and shine among the thousands of nationwide nonprofits,” he said.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo agreed, saying in a statement, “Goodwill of Silicon Valley has been an invaluable resource of help and hope for almost a century, serving thousands of people who have not been able to share in Silicon Valley’s prosperity. I hope this donation serves to inspire others to make a similar gift that honors the organization’s altruistic work and boosts their efforts to elevate people’s standard of living.”

Now, of course, comes the hard part. What do you do with $10 million you weren’t expecting?

Fox said the donation would help the nonprofit diversify and increase its revenue streams and could help accelerate plans already in the works for a vocational center — essentially a high school charter school for people over age 21 — as well as investments in infrastructure to make the organization more efficient. Currently, Goodwill of Silicon Valley serves nearly 20,000 people every year through services like its Career Development Program and Neurodiversity Pathways, a job-training program that prepares people on the autism spectrum or with conditions like Asperger’s syndrome and ADHD for careers in various fields in Silicon Valley.

“We have to be good stewards of the money. You don’t want to just spend the money and make an impact for three years or so,” Fox said. “Whatever we do, we want to create sustainability and we want to provide the impact on the community that the donor wanted.”

Fox, who has been CEO of Goodwill of Silicon Valley since 2008, comes from a philanthropic family in Saratoga, so he has an appreciation for what Scott’s doing with her billions. Her unrestricted donations, he said, show a trust in the research she did and is unusual because donors often want to retain more control over what their money does. He also noted that instead of contributing to big, well-known universities, she took a different approach that mirrored what she was doing with nonprofits.

“She chose small and medium-sized colleges that impact minority students in much bigger ways,” Fox said. “She really put her faith in the nonprofits she selected that they’re doing to do the right thing. That’s an amazing thing for a donor to do.”


By Richard Moran

Richard Moran loves to write about sports with the Golden State Online. Before that, he worked as a senior writer at ESPN. Richard grew up in San Diego and graduated from the University of San Diego in 2004, after which he worked as an editor for five years.

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