At first, Jami Duffy thought the donation inquiry in her inbox at Youth on Record wasn’t real. Rather, she suspected a Russian scam.
Duffy, executive director of the Denver-based Youth On Record, was skeptical of the email she received promising a large monetary contribution from a mysterious donor. In the past, she had never encountered something quite like it.
“This came from a source I didn’t know,” she said. “They didn’t say who the donor was in the email. They didn’t say it was coming from a foundation.”
To her surprise, the money was coming from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott and her husband, Dan Jewett. Scott, who divorced Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, in 2019 and left the marriage with a stake in the company, is one of the richest people in the world. On Tuesday, the philanthropist announced she was donating $2.7 billion to 286 organizations. Forbes estimates that Scott’s net worth is $57 billion, making her the 22nd wealthiest person in the world.
In philanthropy, it is rare to have a donor seek an organization out. Donations involve cultivating benefactors over time, Duffy said.
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“I was raised by law enforcement officers, so I have a healthy amount of skepticism when it comes to internet crime,” she said. “It’s not that alarm bells went up, but I had just never received anything quite this cryptic before.”
The anonymous email arrived in Duffy’s inbox in May.
The $1 million donation will help propel Youth on Record’s “Big Idea,” an initiative that will connect aspiring creatives to working musicians across the country — a mission that the organization has kept to since their start in 2008. The project also is focused on bringing more racial equity into the music business.
In a blog post announcing the donations, Scott said she wanted to focus on smaller, community-based non-profits.
“People struggling against inequities deserve center stage in stories about change they are creating,” Scott wrote. “This is equally — perhaps especially — true when their work is funded by wealth. Any wealth is a product of a collective effort that included them. The social structures that inflate wealth present obstacles to them. And despite those obstacles, they are providing solutions that benefit us all.”
Her contribution to Youth on Record helped offset 25% of the total cost for the “Big Idea” project, scheduled to launch in January.
The “Big Idea” will work to expand on Youth on Record’s concept, which goes beyond music itself and focuses on the artistic, community and economic impact of making music.
“We will work with artists who care about artistic excellence, making a positive impact in their community and making a sustained living,” Duffy said. “Rather than just art and or just money, we’re throwing in that community impact because that’s our value.”
This next phase will center around the creatives who have aged out of Youth on Records programs — normally for people between 12 and 24 — and will focus on their careers. However, the “Big Idea” will not only provide career support services for past students, but also work to change the larger ecosystem of music.
With this new project for working musicians, Duffy wants the concept to expand to a national level. As the “Big Idea” grows, Duffy hopes it will enable the American music industry to grow as well.
“The music industry has been built on the backs of BIPOC communities, in particular Black artists, and they have yet to see the reward from that as a collective,” she said. “So part of our work is to address racial and social inequities in the music industry itself through this triple-impact bottom line model.”
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