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How colleges are handling their surprise donations from MacKenzie Scott

How colleges are handling their surprise donations from MacKenzie Scott


Natalie Schwartz

February 9, 2021

Top officials at Palo Alto College received a strange email late last year. The sender said they were interested in making an investment in the Texas community college, but the email didn’t include a company logo, address or phone number.

“In today’s climate, you think it’s more than likely a phishing email,” said Palo Alto President Robert Garza.

When Garza finally decided to talk over the phone with the sender, he learned it wasn’t a scammer but rather a representative for billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, who was interested in donating $20 million to the college — its largest one-time gift yet.

“I thought we broke up, (that) I didn’t hear correctly,” Garza said. “Community colleges like ours, particularly on the south side of San Antonio, where we do some transformational work, often do not receive gifts like this.”

Palo Alto is one of 42 colleges that received a donation last year from Scott, who grabbed headlines when she revealed in a December blog post that she had given away more than $4.1 billion of her fortune. Her team singled out 384 organizations that had “strong leadership teams and results,” with an emphasis on those without much access to charitable donations, she wrote. She also donated to more than 100 other organizations earlier in the year.

She gave the money with “no strings attached” — a rarity in the higher education fundraising world. Altogether, colleges received more than $800 million from Scott, with individual gifts ranging from $1 million to $50 million, according to Higher Ed Dive’s analysis of press releases and local media reports.


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