The "Home" sign in Danville. Courtesy of Danville Regional Foundation.

MacKenzie Scott, philanthropist, novelist, and ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has given $13 million to Danville Regional Foundation. This gift will support the organization’s mission of catalyzing long-term transformation in the region, according to a release from DRF today. 

(Disclaimer: The Danville Regional Foundation is one of Cardinal News’ donors, but donors have no say in our news decisions; see our policy.)

The Bridgespan Group, a consulting firm that guides the philanthropic decisions of many wealthy donors, including MacKenzie Scott, approached DRF back in March, said Clark Casteel, president and CEO of DRF. 

“It was sort of a pitch,” Casteel said. “They were really interested in DRF and how we thought about our work in the region. …They said okay, so you may hear from us in a week. It may be a month, or it may be a year.”

About six months later, almost to the day, Casteel said DRF heard back about receiving the money. 

As one of the world’s wealthiest philanthropists, Scott joined The Giving Pledge in 2019. This is a promise by the world’s richest individuals and families to dedicate a majority of their wealth to charitable causes. 

Once a quarter or so, a list of Scott’s grantees is updated on Medium, an open online platform in which anyone can write, where Scott has 26,000 readers.

In her most recent post, from March, she listed 465 nonprofits that she had donated to since the previous June. The total amount donated was $3,863,125,000, according to the post. 

Still, after giving away millions of dollars, Scott is still the 31st richest person in the world, according to Forbes. So she continues to make large gifts to organizations like DRF, often in waves.

“We’re as curious as anybody else when this tranche [of grantees] comes out, when she posts these, to see who else got them, where they got them and the reasoning behind it,” Casteel said.

Casteel said Scott has never visited Danville in person, to his knowledge.

But the gift speaks volumes about the great work that the region is doing collaboratively, he said, more so than anything that DRF has done specifically.

DRF started its first grantmaking around 2005, he said, with about $180 million available to invest. In the first 15 years of the organization’s life, it spent around $150 million in grants in Danville and Pittsylvania County, and in Caswell County in North Carolina. 

Today, the current endowment is well over $200 million, Casteel said.

“Our primary focus is on economic transformation,” he said. “We think about the community development pieces that make the economic development work more successful, like education, health and wellness.”

Casteel said he thinks DRF attracted Bridgespan’s attention because of a common interest in rural health, and the collaborative work that the organization has done in the region. 

In their initial meeting, Casteel and Annie Martinie, who leads DRF’s health-related work, laid out “our work and the grant making we’ve done over the last 15 years and all the various partners who are working together in our region to really change the economy,” Casteel said. 

Since its conception, DRF has invested in Piedmont Access to Healthcare Services, the Health Collaborative, the Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness, and the Ramsey Memorial Medical Center. A full list of DRF’s health grant recipients can be found on its website. 

But it’s too early to say what exactly DRF will do with the $13 million from Scott, Casteel said. 

“I think it’s going to amplify so much of the work that’s already going on in this region,” he said. “There’s a lot of good stuff going on here. And this region’s really making some great progress. And these funds are going to be able to amplify the transformation.”

Other recent donations from Scott include $281 million to the Boys and Girls Club of America, $275 million to Planned Parenthood, $133.5 million to Communities in Schools, and $15 million to provide eyeglasses to the farm workers of developing countries. 

Grace Mamon

Grace Mamon is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach her at grace@cardinalnews.org.