384 Ways to Help

MacKenzie Scott
13 min readDec 15, 2020


Emily Dickinson lived much of her life isolated in a single room, and I’ve found her poetry coming to me a lot this year. Though her isolation was voluntary, I doubt it was easy. Her room overlooked a cemetery, and many of her poems are focused on death.

As the winter of 2020 approached, I might have expected one of those poems to keep floating to mind, but instead it was her writing on hope: “’Hope’ is the thing with feathers,” it begins, “/ That perches in the soul / And sings the song without the words / And never stops — at all -”

Maybe it was the unspoken question she posed at the end from her solitary room: “I’ve heard it in the chillest land / And on the strangest Sea / Yet — never — in Extremity / It asked a crumb — of me.”

So what does hope feed on?

This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling. 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.

It would be easy for all the people who drew the long demographic straws in this crisis to hole up at home feeling a mix of gratitude and guilt, and wait for it to be over — but that’s not what’s happening. The proliferation of community fridges, COVID relief funds, impromptu person-to-person Venmo gifts, viral debt relief campaigns, and mutual aid initiatives has been swift and uplifting. In March, a 19-year-old girl in Chicago sent a group text to her friends suggesting they buy supplies for people in their neighborhood who had lost their jobs. She posted two Google forms — one for people who needed help and another for people with help to give — and by two days later they’d raised $7,000. “We’re really excited,” she said.

Me too.

After my post in July, I asked a team of advisors to help me accelerate my 2020 giving through immediate support to people suffering the economic effects of the crisis. They took a data-driven approach to identifying organizations with strong leadership teams and results, with special attention to those operating in communities facing high projected food insecurity, high measures of racial inequity, high local poverty rates, and low access to philanthropic capital.

The result over the last four months has been $4,158,500,000 in gifts to 384 organizations across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C. Some are filling basic needs: food banks, emergency relief funds, and support services for those most vulnerable. Others are addressing long-term systemic inequities that have been deepened by the crisis: debt relief, employment training, credit and financial services for under-resourced communities, education for historically marginalized and underserved people, civil rights advocacy groups, and legal defense funds that take on institutional discrimination.

To select these 384, the team sought suggestions and perspective from hundreds of field experts, funders, and non-profit leaders and volunteers with decades of experience. We leveraged this collective knowledge base in a collaboration that included hundreds of emails and phone interviews, and thousands of pages of data analysis on community needs, program outcomes, and each non-profit’s capacity to absorb and make effective use of funding. We looked at 6,490 organizations, and undertook deeper research into 822. We put 438 of these on hold for now due to insufficient evidence of impact, unproven management teams, or to allow for further inquiry about specific issues such as treatment of community members or employees. We won’t always learn about a concern inside an organization, but when we do, we’ll take extra time to evaluate. We’ll never eliminate every risk through our analysis, but we’ll eliminate many. Then we can select organizations to assist — and get out of their way.

We do this research and deeper diligence not only to identify organizations with high potential for impact, but also to pave the way for unsolicited and unexpected gifts given with full trust and no strings attached. Because our research is data-driven and rigorous, our giving process can be human and soft. Not only are non-profits chronically underfunded, they are also chronically diverted from their work by fundraising, and by burdensome reporting requirements that donors often place on them. These 384 carefully selected teams have dedicated their lives to helping others, working and volunteering and serving real people face-to-face at bedsides and tables, in prisons and courtrooms and classrooms, on streets and hospital wards and hotlines and frontlines of all types and sizes, day after day after day. They help by delivering vital services, and also through the profound encouragement felt each time a person is seen, valued, and trusted by another human being. This kind of encouragement has a special power when it comes from a stranger, and it works its magic on everyone. We shared each of our gift decisions with program leaders for the first time over the phone, and welcomed them to spend the funding on whatever they believe best serves their efforts. They were told that the entire commitment would be paid upfront and left unrestricted in order to provide them with maximum flexibility. The responses from people who took the calls often included personal stories and tears. These were non-profit veterans from all backgrounds and backstories, talking to us from cars and cabins and COVID-packed houses all over the country — a retired army general, the president of a tribal college recalling her first teaching job on her reservation, a loan fund founder sitting in the makeshift workspace between her washer and dryer from which she had launched her initiative years ago. Their stories and tears invariably made me and my teammates cry.

This kind of chain reaction was captured perfectly by a longtime advocate for people with disabilities: “We work with people who have been marginalized for many reasons… Some of our greatest moments of success come through small gestures when a client’s hope is restored…. Feeling valued is an amazing sensation. I see the eyes of our clients light up when their efforts are appreciated…. Good begets good. I have always believed this, but I have been sorely tested over the past few years.

Me too.

Our hopes are fed by others.

Though I’m far from completing my pledge, this year of giving began with exposure to leaders from historically marginalized groups fighting inequities, and ended with exposure to thousands of organizations working to alleviate suffering for those hardest hit by the pandemic. Witnessing the determination, creativity, and compassion of people in a crisis has been inspiring: cash cards for farmers in Puerto Rico; direct deposits for furloughed workers without access to employer-based benefits; rental assistance for immigrant families without access to government relief; young volunteers stepping in for vulnerable older ones to deliver millions of meals to newly isolated seniors; shelters and counseling centers forming partnerships to handle the surge in domestic violence; two former debt collections executives enabling donors to anonymously forgive $1,000 in crushing medical debt for struggling families with every gift of $10.

If you’re craving a way to use your time, voice, or money to help others at the end of this difficult year, I highly recommend a gift to one of the thousands of organizations doing remarkable work all across the country. Every one of them could benefit from more resources to share with the communities they’re serving. And the hope you feed with your gift is likely to feed your own.

ACE (Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs)

Alcorn State University

Blackfeet Community College

Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York

Bowie State University

Casa de Esperanza

CEI (Coastal Enterprises, Inc.)

Center for Disaster Philanthropy — COVID-19 Response Fund

Chicago Community Loan Fund

Chief Dull Knife College

Claflin University

Clark Atlanta University

Community First Fund

Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo — COVID-19 Community Recovery

Community Foundation of Greater Memphis — Mid-South COVID-19 Regional Response Fund

Community Foundation of New Jersey — New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund

Community Investment Corporation

Community Reinvestment Fund, USA

Community Vision Capital & Consulting



Delaware State University

Dillard University

Direct Relief — Fund for Health Equity

Easterseals (National Office)

Easterseals affiliates

· Easterseals Central and Southeast Ohio

· Easterseals Central Illinois

· Easterseals East Georgia

· Easterseals Iowa

· Easterseals Louisiana

· Easterseals Massachusetts

· Easterseals Michigan

· Easterseals Midwest

· Easterseals North Georgia

· Easterseals Northeast Central Florida

· Easterseals of Greater Houston

· Easterseals Rehabilitation Center, San Antonio

· Easterseals Rehabilitation Center, West Virginia

· Easterseals serving Chicagoland and Greater Rockford

· Easterseals serving Greater Cincinnati

· Easterseals South Florida

· Easterseals Southeastern Pennsylvania

· Easterseals Southwest Florida

· Easterseals Tennessee

· Easterseals Washington

· Southwest Human Development

Elizabeth City State University

Enterprise Community Partners

Families and Workers Fund

Family Independence Initiative — COVID-19 Response

Feeding America (National Office)

Feeding America member food banks

· America’s Second Harvest of the Big Bend

· Arkansas Foodbank

· Banco de Alimentos de Puerto Rico

· Central California Food Bank

· Coastal Bend Food Bank

· Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma

· East Texas Food Bank

· El Pasoans Fighting Hunger

· Feeding the Gulf Coast

· Feeding the Valley Food Bank

· Food Bank of Alaska

· Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina

· Food Bank of Central Louisiana

· Food Bank of Eastern Michigan

· Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas

· Food Bank of Northwest Louisiana

· Food Bank of the Albemarle

· Foodbank of Northeast Louisiana

· Forgotten Harvest

· God’s Pantry Food Bank

· Golden Harvest Food Bank

· Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine

· Greater Cleveland Food Bank

· Harvest Regional Food Bank

· MANNA FoodBank

· Mississippi Food Network

· Montgomery Area Food Bank

· Mountaineer Food Bank

· Ozarks Food Harvest

· Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma

· Roadrunner Food Bank

· San Antonio Food Bank

· Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee

· Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana

· Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee

· Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley

· South Texas Food Bank

· Southeast Ohio Foodbank

· Southeast Texas Food Bank

· Three Square Food Bank

· Vermont Foodbank

· Wichita Falls Area Food Bank

Food Research and Action Center

Genesis LA

GiveDirectly — Project 100+

Global Fund for Women

Goodwill Industries (National Office)

Goodwill affiliates

· Goodwill Easterseals Miami Valley

· Goodwill Gulf Coast

· Goodwill Hawaii

· Goodwill Houston

· Goodwill Industries — Knoxville

· Goodwill Industries of Akron, Ohio

· Goodwill Industries of Central Illinois

· Goodwill Industries of Dallas

· Goodwill Industries of East Texas

· Goodwill Industries of Fort Worth

· Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids

· Goodwill Industries of Kansas

· Goodwill Industries of Kentucky

· Goodwill Industries of Michiana

· Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee

· Goodwill Industries of New Mexico

· Goodwill Industries of North Florida

· Goodwill Industries of Northern Illinois

· Goodwill Industries of Northern New England

· Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina

· Goodwill Industries of San Antonio

· Goodwill Industries of San Diego County

· Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Louisiana

· Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin

· Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette

· Goodwill Industries of the Inland Northwest

· Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont

· Goodwill Industries of the Southern Rivers

· Goodwill Industries of the Valleys

· Goodwill Industries of Upstate/Midlands South Carolina

· Goodwill Keystone Area

· Goodwill Manasota

· Goodwill Northern Michigan

· Goodwill of Central and Coastal Virginia

· Goodwill of Colorado

· Goodwill of Greater Cleveland and East Central Ohio

· Goodwill of Middle Georgia & the CSRA

· Goodwill of North Georgia

· Goodwill of Silicon Valley

· Goodwill of Southeast Georgia

· Goodwill of the Finger Lakes

· Goodwill of the Heartland

· Goodwill of the Southern Alleghenies

· Goodwill Serving the People of Southern Los Angeles County

· Heart of Texas Goodwill Industries

· Southern Oregon Goodwill Industries

Grantmakers Concerned With Immigrants and Refugees — California Immigrant Resilience Fund

Greater Minnesota Housing Fund

Hawai’i Community Foundation — Hawai’i Resilience Fund

Hispanic Federation — Emergency Assistance Fund

Hispanics in Philanthropy

Housing Development Fund


Indian River State College Foundation

Institute of American Indian Arts

Invest Detroit

Lake Area Technical College

Lambda Legal

Latino Community Credit Union / Latino Community Development Center

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Lehman College, City University of New York


Lincoln University

Meals on Wheels America (National Office)

Meals on Wheels member programs

· Hawai’i Meals on Wheels

· Meals on Wheels Atlanta

· Meals on Wheels Central Texas

· Meals on Wheels Diablo Region

· Meals on Wheels Durham

· Meals on Wheels Foundation of Northern Illinois

· Meals on Wheels Greenville County

· Meals on Wheels Montgomery County

· Meals on Wheels North Central Texas

· Meals on Wheels of Albuquerque

· Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland

· Meals on Wheels of Eastern Kansas

· Meals on Wheels of Metro Tulsa

· Meals on Wheels of Northwest Indiana

· Meals on Wheels of Rhode Island

· Meals on Wheels of Southwest Ohio & Northern Kentucky

· Meals on Wheels of Staten Island

· Meals on Wheels of Tampa

· Meals on Wheels of the Greater Lehigh Valley

· Meals on Wheels of Wake County

· Meals on Wheels People

· Meals on Wheels Plus

· Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee

· Meals On Wheels Programs & Services of Rockland

· Meals on Wheels San Diego County

· Meals on Wheels San Francisco

· Meals on Wheels South Florida

· Meals on Wheels Texoma

· Meals on Wheels Western South Dakota

· Natrona County Meals on Wheels

Mission Asset Fund — Immigrant Families Fund

Mitchell Technical College

Morgan State University

Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles

Ms. Foundation for Women


National Urban Indian Family Coalition

National Women’s Law Center

Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund

Navajo Technical University

New Hampshire Charitable Foundation — Community Crisis Action Fund

Nonprofit Finance Fund

Norfolk State University

North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University

Northeast Community College

Palo Alto College, Alamo Colleges District

Prairie View A&M University

Prestamos CDFI (a division of Chicanos Por La Causa)

Pride Foundation

Primary Care Development Corporation

RCAC (Rural Community Assistance Corporation)

Reinvestment Fund

RIP Medical Debt

Salish Kootenai College

Santa Fe College

Self-Help Ventures Fund

Southern Bancorp Community Partners

Southern Partners Fund

Texas A&M International University

The San Diego Foundation — COVID-19 Community Response Fund

Tougaloo College

TruFund Financial Services

Turtle Mountain Community College

United Way chapters

· Capital Area United Way

· Heart of Florida United Way

· Metro United Way

· Mile High United Way

· United Way Bay Area

· United Way California Capital Region

· United Way de Puerto Rico

· United Way for Southeastern Michigan

· United Way of Berks County

· United Way of Broward County

· United Way of Central Indiana

· United Way of Central Maryland

· United Way of Central Massachusetts

· United Way of Central New Mexico

· United Way of El Paso County

· United Way of Genesee County

· United Way of Greater Cincinnati

· United Way of Greater Greensboro

· United Way of Greater Knoxville

· United Way of Greater Los Angeles

· United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County

· United Way of Greater Nashville

· United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey

· United Way of Greater Rochester

· United Way of Greater St. Louis

· United Way of Metro Chicago

· United Way of Miami-Dade

· United Way of Northeast Florida

· United Way of Northern New Jersey

· United Way of Palm Beach County

· United Way of Racine County

· United Way of Rhode Island

· United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County

· United Way of South Hampton Roads

· United Way of Southeast Louisiana

· United Way of Southern Cameron County

· United Way of Southern Nevada

· United Way of Southwest Louisiana

· United Way of the Columbia-Willamette

· United Way of the Greater Capital Region

· United Way of the Greater Triangle

· United Way of the Midlands

· United Way of the National Capital Area

· United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona

· United Way Suncoast

· Valley of the Sun United Way

University of Maryland Eastern Shore

Urgent Action Funds

Virginia State University

Voorhees College

Walla Walla Community College

West Kentucky Community and Technical College

Whittier College

Winston-Salem State University

YMCA of the USA (National Office)

YMCA associations

· Capital District YMCA

· Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA

· Duluth Area Family YMCA

· Fox Valley Family YMCA

· Greater Green Bay YMCA

· Greater Philadelphia YMCA

· High Point YMCA

· The Heart of the Valley YMCA

· The SKY Family YMCA

· The Y in Central Maryland

· Treasure Valley Family YMCA

· YMCA of Cass and Clay Counties

· YMCA of Central Florida

· YMCA of Delaware

· YMCA of Florida’s First Coast

· YMCA of Greater Boston

· YMCA of Greater Charlotte

· YMCA of Greater Cincinnati

· YMCA of Greater Cleveland

· YMCA of Greater Houston

· YMCA of Greater Indianapolis

· YMCA of Greater Montgomery

· YMCA of Greater New York

· YMCA of Greater Omaha

· YMCA of Greater Seattle

· YMCA of Greater Spartanburg

· YMCA of Greater Tulsa

· YMCA of Metro Atlanta

· YMCA of Metro Chicago

· YMCA of Metro Detroit

· YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas

· YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles

· YMCA of Metropolitan Washington

· YMCA of Middle Tennessee

· YMCA of Northern Utah

· YMCA of San Francisco

· YMCA of South Hampton Roads

· YMCA of Southern Arizona

· YMCA of the Capital Area

· YMCA of the Chesapeake

· YMCA of the Inland Northwest

· YMCA of the North

· YMCA of the Triangle Area

YWCA USA (National Office)

YWCA associations

· YWCA Billings

· YWCA Bradford

· YWCA Brooklyn

· YWCA Cass Clay

· YWCA El Paso del Norte Region

· YWCA Evanston/North Shore

· YWCA Evansville

· YWCA Glendale

· YWCA Greater Austin

· YWCA Greater Baton Rouge

· YWCA Greater Cincinnati

· YWCA Greater Cleveland

· YWCA Greater Flint

· YWCA Greater Harrisburg

· YWCA Greater Pittsburgh

· YWCA Hamilton

· YWCA Hartford Region

· YWCA Kalamazoo

· YWCA Knoxville and the Tennessee Valley

· YWCA Lancaster

· YWCA Madison

· YWCA Mahoning Valley

· YWCA Metropolitan Chicago

· YWCA Metropolitan Phoenix

· YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee

· YWCA New Hampshire

· YWCA North Central Indiana

· YWCA Northern New Jersey

· YWCA Northwestern Illinois

· YWCA O’ahu

· YWCA of Binghamton and Broome County

· YWCA of Central Virginia

· YWCA of Greater Atlanta

· YWCA of Greater Los Angeles

· YWCA of Greater Portland

· YWCA of Lubbock

· YWCA of Metropolitan Detroit

· YWCA of Northwest Ohio

· YWCA of Queens

· YWCA of the City of New York

· YWCA of the Greater Capital Region

· YWCA of the Sauk Valley

· YWCA Oklahoma City

· YWCA Quad Cities

· YWCA Rock County

· YWCA San Antonio

· YWCA San Diego County

· YWCA San Gabriel Valley

· YWCA Seattle|King|Snohomish

· YWCA South Florida

· YWCA South Hampton Roads

· YWCA Southern Arizona

· YWCA St. Joseph

· YWCA St. Paul

· YWCA Syracuse & Onondaga County

· YWCA Tri-County Area

· YWCA Tulsa

· YWCA Ulster County

· YWCA Walla Walla

· YWCA York