Gaye Adams Massey's phone rang with a gift unlike any the YWCA St. Paul had ever received.

A secretive philanthropist wanted to cut the YWCA a $3 million check — the largest one-time private donation in the organization's 113-year history. It was an out-of-the-blue grant that Massey, the CEO, hadn't even applied to receive.

"This gift is just a wonderful recognition of our impact in the community," Massey said Wednesday. "It couldn't be better news at the end of a challenging year."

MacKenzie Scott, an author, philanthropist and former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, announced Tuesday in a blog post that she gave away $4.1 billion in the past four months to 384 organizations — including more than $25 million to six based in Minnesota. It's part of her pledge to give away a majority of her wealth in her lifetime.

Once the initial shock wore off, Massey said, she was grateful for the surprise gift at a critical point for year-end budgets. To put the $3 million grant in perspective, the YWCA has a $5.5 million annual budget and received $1.8 million in contributions all of last year. Massey said they will use the money for youth empowerment, employment and supportive housing programs, operating 57-units of housing for low-income residents.

"It's huge for us," Massey said. "We're hoping she sets a model for philanthropy."

The other five grantees in Minnesota include: Casa de Esperanza in St. Paul, which works with Latin communities to end gender-based violence; Community Reinvestment Fund USA, a national community development financial institution based in Minneapolis; Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, the state's largest nonprofit lender for affordable housing; Duluth Area Family YMCA; and YMCA of the North (formerly YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities).

The $15 million to Community Reinvestment Fund (CRF) USA is the largest single grant in the organization's 30-year history. CRF, which usually brings in about $5 million a year in contributions, will use the money to create more culturally specific products to help Black and Indigenous business owners and other people of color.

Frank Altman, CEO of CRF, said a nonprofit consultant called him to request his organization's finances, only explaining that an anonymous donor wanted to help. Soon after, they called back with the news of the $15 million.

"I just about fell on the floor," Altman said. "It was like no other philanthropic transaction ever .... It raises our net worth from $35 million to $50 million overnight. It puts us on a completely different level."

Greater Minnesota Housing Fund received $7 million that will help leverage investments in adding affordable housing locally.

"I was floored," said Warren Hanson, the CEO, adding that the previous record for a donation from one person was $500. "I was almost in tears."

Casa de Esperanza and the Duluth and Twin Cities YMCAs declined to disclose the amount of money they received, but Duluth YMCA CEO Sara Cole said it is one of the largest grants in more than a century for the organization.

Patti Tototzintle, CEO of Casa de Esperanza, added that it was also a record donation for her 36-year-old organization and will help it start reserves and grow as a national organization.

In her statement online, Scott said she wanted to "accelerate" her philanthropy in 2020 to help people affected by the economic crisis as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said her advisers took a "data-driven approach" to find organizations with strong leadership and results in communities with high food insecurity, racial inequality and poverty.

"This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling," Scott wrote online. "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."

She said the organizations were immediately paid the "unrestricted grants," which means the nonprofits can use the funds in any way they want. In Duluth, Cole said, the unrestricted grant is rare and was without the usual cumbersome, lengthy process of applying for a grant.

"It's a newer model of doing philanthropy," Cole said. "That's a really powerful new trend."

At the YWCA, while donations from Minnesotans have increased this year, so have expenses.

"The need has been huge," Massey said.

Minnesota has its own batch of billionaires who have supported the state's nonprofits. James Binger, the late former Honeywell president, started the Robina Foundation, a limited-life foundation to give away all of its $165 million to four institutions instead of existing indefinitely like most foundations.

Andrew Dayton, the son of former Gov. Mark Dayton and philanthropist Alida Rockefeller Messinger, started the Constellation Fund, a data-driven foundation giving unrestricted funds to nonprofits.

Earlier this year, several high-profile Twin Cities philanthropists put money into the Boston-based GreenLight Fund, which touted "a new form of philanthropy" by identifying issues Minnesota nonprofits aren't already addressing and replicating programs here that have been successful elsewhere in the U.S.

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141