MacKenzie Scott’s latest $84.5 million donation could transform Girl Scouts as you know them

MacKenzie Scott is chipping away at her promise to give away half of her multi-billion dollar fortune.

On Tuesday, the Girl Scouts of the USA announced a $84.5 million gift from the billionaire, the biggest donation from a single benefactor in the organization’s history. The money will go toward updating facilities, hiring new staff and making membership more accessible for girls from all backgrounds, the Girl Scouts said.

That includes creating new diversity, equity, inclusion and racial justice initiatives for “communities that have been under engaged,” the announcement said. The donation will also support “expanding girls’ access to STEM exploration, building upon areas of interest such as hands-on coding, aeronautics, and sustainability,” the organization added.

“The support from all our donors, including Ms. Scott, is critical in delivering on our work of imagination and transformation,” Girl Scouts of the USA CEO Sofia Chang said in a statement. “We’re excited to prove how Ms. Scott’s investment in girls will change the world — because when one girl succeeds, we all succeed.”

The funds will also “future-proof its facilities,” making the Girl Scouts’ buildings more climate resilient and accessible to visitors, the announcement said. Girl Scouts of the USA didn’t immediately respond to CNBC Make It’s request for clarification.

Since the pandemic began, the youth organization’s membership has dropped by 30%: It was a little more than 1 million in 2021-2022, down from roughly 1.4 million in 2019-2020, according to figures the group released last year.

The donation will be divided between Girl Scouts of the USA and 29 local councils selected by Scott herself, the organization said. One council in Southern Arizona is using its portion of Scott’s gift, about $1.4 million, to continue a previous initiative: transforming a van into a mobile science and technology classroom, its CEO Kristen Garcia-Hernandez told NPR on Tuesday.

Philanthropic contributions are increasingly important, as many people incorrectly assume the Girl Scouts raise enough money to fund itself from cookie sales alone, Garcia-Hernandez said. The Girl Scouts sell up to roughly 200 million boxes of cookies per year, but the organization says the majority of those proceeds stays with local councils and troops.

Scott has an estimated net worth of $28.4 billion, making her the 41st-richest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. In 2019, she signed the Giving Pledge, promising to give away at least half her wealth. So far, she’s making good progress: She’s given $12.8 billion to 1,200 organizations, according to Forbes.

Her Girl Scouts donation aligns with her other sizeable gifts to community-focused organizations, including Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Habitat for Humanity. Scott’s philanthropy is focused on groups who face disproportionate obstacles, and she believes it will have a ripple affect on surrounding communities, she wrote in a March blog post.

“A growing body of research on this contains numerous examples: Bike lanes designed to protect cyclists improving local retail sales and property values for everyone, seatbelt laws adopted to protect young children saving the lives of people of all ages … workforce and education opportunities for women and girls leading to global economic growth,” Scott wrote. “When we help one group, we often help them all.”

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