One million dollars. No strings attached.
That was the news, sent in an email a few weeks ago, to Habitat for Humanity of Clallam County.
You are receiving a donation from MacKenzie Scott, the message said, referring to the billionaire author and philanthropist.
At her computer, reading the words, Clallam Habitat CEO Colleen Robinson didn’t buy it for a second.
“This is a phishing scam,” she thought.
Then came another email about the donation, this one from Jonathan Reckford, her counterpart at Habitat for Humanity International.
“Of course I think he’s been hacked,” said Robinson. But then a colleague told her: This is legitimate. Respond. Now.
And so the truth came tumbling forth: Scott has given $436 million to 84 Habitat for Humanity affiliates across the United States.
Only four of the Scott donation recipients are in Washington state, and Habitat of Clallam is the only one in a rural area, Robinson noted. The others are Habitat Seattle-King County, Tacoma-Pierce County and South Puget Sound Habitat for Humanity in Olympia.
Delightedly, Robinson explained the plans for Clallam’s million: Habitat has already purchased raw land in Sequim, and will now move forward with infrastructure development for 10 fourplex townhomes — affordable workforce housing for people who engage in “sweat equity,” aka volunteer hours toward the construction of those houses.
Also purchased already: a double lot on Fairmount Avenue in Port Angeles where, after cleanup, homes will be built for veterans and their families.
“That’s going to take us into 2024,” Robinson said, adding the project costs will far exceed the recent donation.
Still, the unrestricted million dollars are a powerful morale booster — “we are walking on cloud nine,” she said.
One more thing on Habitat of Clallam’s agenda: partnering with Sequim High School to offer four years of construction curriculum. Juniors and seniors would come to the job site; “it would be a living lab,” Robinson said, and part of the school’s career and technical education arm.
The North Olympic Peninsula’s other affiliate, Habitat of East Jefferson County, is celebrating too. It’s not a direct recipient of Scott money, said Executive Director Jamie Maciejewski, but $436 million goes a long way toward raising awareness of Habitat’s work everywhere.
“Truly this gift will be transformative for Habitat for Humanity across the country,” she said.
Scott’s donations will be turned into homes people can afford to buy; they also will have a strong impact on Black home ownership, which Maciejewski noted is a priority for both Scott and Habitat.
When Scott makes her donations, she prefers to let the recipients do the announcing. Aside from an occasional blog post, Scott doesn’t discuss her gifts, which exceeded $8 billion in the past two years after her divorce from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who was then the richest person in the world.
As part of the divorce settlement, Scott received 4 percent of Amazon’s shares. With a net worth of about $48 billion according to Forbes, Scott has signed the Giving Pledge, through which many billionaires have promised to donate more than half their wealth.
Just in the past 10 days, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America announced that they and 62 local Boys & Girls Clubs had received $281 million from Scott, none of them in Washington state.
The Fortune Society, a New York-based group that helps the formerly incarcerated re-enter society, announced that Scott donated $10 million to its cause.
“The very interesting thing,” said Robinson, “is that [Scott’s] team went to Habitat International and said, ‘We want to get this data on your affiliates,’” and then selected the donation recipients based on those facts.
Robinson said she was not privy to any criteria used to choose Habitat of Clallam. But Scott is “every nonprofit leader’s unicorn … this is what you lie awake at night hoping for.”
The Clallam affiliate, founded in 1991, is now in the process of finishing its 35th and 36th homes. Those two houses are part of the Maloney Heights community in Port Angeles.