As part of her national giving campaign, philanthropist MacKenzie Scott recently gifted Blackfeet Community College its largest donation in school history.
“It was really unbelievable and still is,” said Karla Bird, Blackfeet Community College president, of the donation they received last month.
Bird was not authorized to release an exact amount, but said it’s enough to ensure the long-term success of the school, adding the Board of Trustees and administration will be working on a specific plan for the funds in the coming year.
“We want to take our time and identify our priorities,” she said. “For the time being, we really want to think about all the possibilities because we have a lot of ideas and want to make sure we’re using data-informed decision-making. Looking at the long-term viability of the college is really a priority for us.”
What makes Scott’s donation more remarkable is that it’s unrestricted, Bird said, allowing the college to take its time in deciding how to best use it.
“Our funding is primarily state or federal, so we operate on restricted funds and it always has a timeline,” she said. “This is different because it’s unrestricted and we do have the luxury to sit with it. It doesn’t have to be spent out in a year.”
Located on the Blackfeet Reservation, the tribal college was included in a national giving campaign Scott implemented in response to the pandemic. According to the school’s website, Scott identified organizations that were “operating in communities facing high projected food insecurity, high measures of racial inequity, high local poverty rates, and low access to philanthropic capital.”
In a Medium blog post published Dec. 15 called “384 Ways to Help,” Scott explained her efforts to accelerate her philanthropic giving in the face of the pandemic. Across all 50 states, she detailed how she gifted more than $4 billion to 384 organizations in 2020, Blackfeet Community College being one of them.
“This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling,” Scott wrote in the blog post. “Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color, and for people living in poverty. Meanwhile, it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires.”
Scott was formerly married to Jeff Bezos, head of Amazon, which she helped start. When the couple divorced in 2019, Scott became the second-wealthiest woman in the world with a net worth of more than $59 billion, according to Bloomberg.com. Following her divorce, she signed the Giving Pledge, a campaign in which she agreed to give away a majority of her wealth to charity over her lifetime.
Bird said for tribal colleges, large unrestricted donations like Scott’s are hard to come by.
“We’re a small tribal college and one of the things she identified in her blog was, these organizations don’t have access to philanthropic capital, and it’s so true," Bird said. "It’s not typical for our tribal college or any tribal college to have access to significant donors and so it really is unbelievable and such a generous gift.”
Salish Kootenai College on the Flathead Reservation and Chief Dull Knife College on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation also received donations, according to Scott’s blog post.