One day in March, Hannah Miller, the development director of Jackson Street Youth Services in Corvallis, frantically ran through the building and grabbed Executive Director Kendra Phillips-Neal. 

“She put her phone in my hand and had me read the email,” Phillips-Neal recalls. “We both stood outside silently screaming. There were tears and a lot of hugging.” 

It was good news. On March 19, billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott’s Yield Giving organization announced that three nonprofits in Oregon would receive unprecedented funding. Scott donated $2 million each to Raphael House and Familias En Acción in Portland and $1 million to Jackson Street Youth Services in Corvallis.

The donations were among a $640 million donation spree to more than 360 nonprofits Yield Giving embarked on this year.

With no imposed requirements, these large donations will allow these nonprofits complete freedom to serve their communities how they know best. The funding comes at a time when nonprofits are playing critical roles filling gaps in services that local governments often don’t have the resources or funding to provide. In the Portland area, Raphael House will increase their capacity to help domestic violence survivors and Familias En Acción will bring more health care to Latino residents. Jackson Street Youth Services will provide more services for homeless youth in Corvallis.

The award is a third of Jackson Street Youth Services’ annual budget of $3.2 million.

Yield Giving stipulated that the donations would go to organizations with an annual budget of $1 million to $5 million, involving small nonprofits rather than large organizations. 

MacKenzie Scott at a 2018 Vanity Fair Oscar party. Scott recently donated
$5 million to three Oregon nonprofits. dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Scott, who was previously married to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, isn’t just donating big money to small nonprofits, she’s giving the nonprofits carte blanche. Organizations have freedom to choose how they spend it. It is unheard of for philanthropists to fund small nonprofits with such large sums, but Yield Giving insists nonprofits know best what their communities need and how to spend the money.

The organization operates under a belief in "adding value by giving up control."

Scott is among the richest people in the world. In 2019, she signed on to the Giving Pledge—a movement of philanthropists who've pledged to donate the majority of their wealth to charitable causes. 

In 2022 the Center for Effective Philanthropy started a three-year study of Scott’s giving. 

The study’s authors note that restricted giving is the prevailing approach for foundations. Often, foundations like Scott’s want to fund specific initiatives, but the study notes they also harbor “a paternalistic sense that nonprofits cannot be trusted to allocate grants and gifts wisely.” 

By the second year of the study, researchers said Scott’s Yield Giving donations helped nonprofit organizations expand their capacity and cultivate better internal cultures. 

Amanda Ives, director of development at Raphael House, sees this grant as a rare opportunity.

“It's rare that you have these opportunities as a smaller, lesser known nonprofit, to access this type of funding,” Ives says. “This money is unrestricted and doesn’t require reporting after being spent.”

Raphael House’s services and shelter beds are in addition to what Multnomah County offers. The organization has 11 rooms for domestic violence survivors, nine of which are for families. Raphael House says more than half of its residents are children. 

Phillips-Neal, of Jackson Street Youth Services, says the Yield Giving funds are “something most nonprofits dream of.”

Familias En Acción, which recently received a $2 million grant from MacKenzie Scott, works to promote better health outcomes for Oregon's Latino/Latina residents. familias en accion

Margarita Gutierrez Lemus was in her third week as executive director of Familias En Acción when the news broke that they were receiving $2 million from Yield Giving. 

“This allows us to dream a little more than we are normally able to,” Gutierrez Lemus says.

This isn't the first time Scott has poured millions into Oregon charities. In 2022, the Portland chapter of Friends of the Children received $8 million from Scott, as part of a larger $44 million gift she gave to the national organization.

What the money will do

The unrestricted grants to the three nonprofits could have seismic impacts on each organization’s operations, but exactly what those impacts will be will vary.

Jackson Street Youth Services

For Jackson Street Youth Services, which serves homeless and at-risk youth in Corvallis, the money will help pay off a new building and provide better benefits to the org’s staff.

Jackson Street has been operating from a small rented building in the corner of a church parking lot, but they always planned to do something bigger and bring back drop-in services. With the MacKenzie Scott funding, they can pay off a recent loan and officially own a larger building they’ve been renovating.

“This came at a beautiful time for us,” Phillips-Neal says. “The building will open in January 2025. It’s going to be fantastic. We also decided we will implement a simple IRA plan for our employees, in place July 1."

Raphael House

In Portland, Raphael House has provided shelter and services to survivors of domestic abuse since 1977. The organization provides 24 percent of the emergency domestic violence shelters in Multnomah County and 93 percent of families served in ongoing programs find safe housing.

The nonprofit is in the process of strategic planning for how to use its windfall funds.

Raphael House leaders say they’re incorporating ideas from staff, stakeholders, their board, and survivors.

“Our hope is this will bring more funding and resources to our sector,” Ives says. “Domestic violence services are sparse and need more funding and resources. Two million is amazing, but it’s going to take more investment to continue this critical work. If we really want to do the work that is impactful, this kind of funding needs to reach other domestic violence service providers to meet the need we have in our community and fill gaps in funding." 

Familias En Acción

Familias En Acción, founded in 1998, provides Latino families with support for health care. The organization focuses on health equity, nutrition, and health education. 

“Our mission is broad; working toward improving health and wellness in Oregon,” Gutierrez Lemus says. “The unique piece is that a lot of direct service staff come from the Latino and Latina community.” 

Gutierrez Lemus says they’d like to focus more on rural areas outside of the Portland Metro area, which often have less access to culturally specific services.

However the organization decides to spend its $2 million donation, it will have blessing of Yield Giving, which, to date, boasts more than $17.3 billion in donations to nonprofits "use as they see fit for the benefit of others."

"We each come by the gifts we have to offer by an infinite series of influences and lucky breaks we can never fully understand," Scott wrote in her Giving Pledge letter in 2019. "In addition to whatever assets life has nurtured in me, I have a disproportionate amount of money to share. My approach to philanthropy will continue to be thoughtful. It will take time and effort and care. But I won’t wait. And I will keep at it until the safe is empty."