Giving It All Away: The Latest Big Gift From Billionaire T. Denny Sanford

 Sanford (left) with Michael Cunningham, chancellor of National University

Sanford (left) with Michael Cunningham, chancellor of National University

T. Denny Sanford, the philanthropist and credit card mogul whose net worth is $2.5 billion according to Forbes, today announced a new $100 million donation to benefit children through lessons stressing collaboration, communication, and tolerance for differences.

The gift will be administered by the National University System, the recipient of several other big Sanford gifts, including the lead gift in a $10 million campaign to improve fundraising, after the philanthropist observed a shortage of talented fundraisers among charitable causes he supports.

The latest $100 million gift from Sanford, who has pledged to give away his fortune in his lifetime, will expand lessons currently offered to some 1.5 million children to reach up to 30 million children nationwide. Sanford Harmony, as the lessons are called, provides teachers with lesson plans, storybooks, activity cards, and other materials at no cost.

The Sanford Harmony program has been evaluated by the Johns Hopkins University Center for its ease of implementation, after initial research found that it increased empathy and school enjoyment while also reducing classroom aggression. It is based on eight years of research at Arizona State University in its school of social and family dynamics, which has also received generous support from Sanford.

As we've reported, a handful of funders—including the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, bankrolled by the hedge funder David Einhorn—support work that directly aims to foster greater empathy, while a larger a pool of funders back social and emotional learning initiatives in schools. 

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Sanford, who has given some $1.6 billion to charity, said that he is making his latest $100 million gift to foster social emotional health and well-being in a society that has become increasingly divisive.

“I look at my philanthropy as an investment, and if you look at the things I invest in, virtually all are health related,” Sanford told Inside Philanthropy. “Emotional health is important as physical health.” Sanford Harmony, he added, “is preventative medicine” with the potential to reduce problems like suicide and mass shootings as children mature into adulthood.

Sanford Harmony is one of three programs the philanthropist has started at the National University System since 2014. The other two are Sanford Inspire, which seeks to improve teaching, and the Sanford Institute of Philanthropy, which offers a master’s program with the $10 million raised to train nonprofit leaders in fundraising and other essential skills. Altogether, the three programs have attracted some $170 million in contributions from Sanford and other donors.

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