Interested in Denny Sanford’s Money? Be Direct

Credit and banking mogul T. Denny Sanford’s motto is, “Aspire to inspire before you expire.” He owns a Falcon Jet. He has a net worth of $900 million. Between 1997 and 2007, he gave over $500 million to an array of children’s organizations and hospitals. And in September, 2013, he handed UC San Diego $100 million to establish the Sanford Stem Cell Clinical Center. Literally. $100 million in one enormous lump.

There are no strings attached to Sanford's money, no bean counters, no application process fraught with red tape. Sanford’s inbox is always open for proposals, which he reads himself. If he likes you, he’ll write you a check—likely, a very big check—from his personal checking account. There’s no lumbering dead-wood organization, no board of trustees. No bullshit, either. But how do you catch his eye? What does it take to snag one of those big checks?

Well, let’s start with what not to do. Don’t be obtuse. Don’t try to sophisticate your proposal with unnecessary flowery language. This guy eats at McDonald’s and drove a Dodge Caravan until his embarrassed staff persuaded him to buy an Audi

Sanford likes earnestness, and he likes children’s initiatives. He lost his mother when he was four years old. He started working afternoons and weekends at age 8. This is a guy who puts a high value on a kid’s privilege to be a kid­—to be free from responsibility and worry and pain.

When he started down the road of charitable giving, he started by pouring money into pediatric hospital care and similar projects: $2 million to the Children’s Home Society of South Dakota in 1998; $16 million to Sioux Valley Health for a new children’s hospital in 2002; $400 million to that same hospital five years later. The hospital, as you might expect, is now called Sanford Health, and it’s reported to look like a cross between a pediatric Mayo Clinic and Disneyland.

The direct-care component of such places likely appeals greatly to Sanford. These big hospitals are saving young lives—there is no doubt about that—and our guess is that the nuts-and-bolts altruism hits Sanford’s sweet spot. For a guy without anything more than a personal assistant, Sanford wants to support streamlined, efficient organizations that don’t beat around the bush. When he’s getting ready to fund a proposal, he wants to see a clear, direct line between his checkbook and the people who will benefit from it.

Got it? Great. Send him an LOI already. P.O. Box 1030, Sioux Falls, SD, 57101.