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YMCA of Delaware receives record $10M donation


The YMCA of Delaware was awarded $10 million from MacKenzie Scott. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

WILMINGTON – The YMCA of Delaware has received a record-breaking $10 million donation from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, offering a bright spot to end what otherwise was a dark year for the nonprofit.

“I was floored. In 30 years of my career in the fundraising sector, this is the largest single donation I’ve seen, and it’s the largest several times over that the YMCA received. It’s just staggering, and definitely a high in an otherwise low moment,” YMCA of Delaware President and CEO Deborah Bagatta-Bowles told Delaware Business Times.

The YMCA of Delaware received notice of the donation roughly two weeks ago, when Bagatta-Bowles received a cryptic email from someone wanting to speak about a sizable donation. She was confused but intrigued, and within days, she was exchanging messages with Scott’s team 10 days before the Dec. 15 announcement.

“It was an incredibly unexpected and beautiful moment,” Bagatta-Bowles said. “‘Wow’ pretty much sums it up.”

The YMCA of Delaware, which operates seven locations throughout the state as well as a youth resource center, and an overnight camp and conference center in Worton, Md., has been hit hard by the pandemic. It lost $17 million in revenue a third of its budget due to the state’s shutdown and mandated safety protocols.

Membership dropped, and revenue has been further hindered by  capacities in programs like summer camps and swim lessons, according to YMCA officials. For the first time in 81 years, YMCA Camp Tockwogh closed for the summer, further hurting revenues. 

Meanwhile, the Y moved quickly to address community members who have struggled in the economic fallout of the state’s shutdown. Bagatta-Bowles said that childcare centers remained open for essential workers, while other Ys in the state were used as remote learning centers for students who lacked internet connectivity. The nonprofit also moved forward with its hunger relief program.

The YMCA of Delaware plans to use the $10 million to continue these programs geared to COVID-19 response efforts, but Bagatta-Bowles noted it’s possible a few hard years lie ahead.

“There’s just so much uncertainty, so I’m not sure I can say how long these programs will go on with this gift. But I will say it gives us room to breathe, not restoring what we lost,” she said. “We’re expecting positive news from the first and second quarter, but it may be two to three years to recover.”

In addition to COVID-19 response programs, the YMCA of Delaware plans to grow its fund for financial assistance. The Y also offers subsidized programs for those in need and typically distributes $5.5 million in financial assistance annually.

Scott’s donations are typically unrestricted, as her philosophy behind her philanthropic endeavors is to provide funding to organizations that have the strongest impact to address the community’s needs and to “get out of the way” and let the organization do its work, according to her Dec. 15 announcement.

Her donation to the YMCA of Delaware is one of 384 gifts valued at $4.2 billion, including historically Black colleges or universities (HBCUs) like Delaware State University. The state’s only HBCU received its own record-breaking $20 million gift. 

She has signed “The Giving Pledge,” a commitment by some of the world’s richest philanthropists to donate at least half of their wealth to charity. Scott is worth a reported $60 billion, with her immense wealth coming from her divorce from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Scott already donated $1.7 billion in July to organizations that included 10 HBCUS, meaning she’s gifted nearly $6 billion this year alone. In comparison, her former husband whose the world’s richest man has p

ublicly donated less than $1 billion this year. He has seen his net value increase by a reported $70 billion this year as Amazon’s stock surged amid pandemic-spurred online shopping.

To learn more about the YMCA of Delaware and how to lend a helping hand, visit www.ymcade.org.

By Katie Tabeling

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