T. Denny Sanford

 NET WORTH: $2.5 billion

SOURCE OF WEALTH: First Premier Bank, United National Corporation

FUNDING AREAS: Health, Education, Children, Education

OVERVIEW: This Giving Pledge signatory has already given an estimated $1.6 billion to charitable causes, and plans to distribute most, if not all of his remaining fortune within the course of his lifetime. The vast majority of his money goes to help children, and to children’s health initiatives in particular.

BACKGROUND: T. Denny Sanford was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in psychology. After college, he started a firm representing manufacturers of construction materials, which eventually went public, and was then sold, netting Sanford $20 million. At 45, he moved to Florida, but ended up divorcing and moving back to Minnesota, where he dabbled in venture capital. When an opportunity presented itself to purchase a small bank in South Dakota, Sanford jumped on it, and renamed the Bank First Premier, which has now become part of United National Corporation.


HEALTH: Back in the early 2000s, when Sioux City Health was building the first new children’s hospital in the U.S. in more than a decade, their development director persuaded Sanford to make a $16 million donation in exchange for naming rights to the hospital. This relationship has proved to be a long and extremely beneficial one for the health system, which received a whopping $400 million in 2007 and promptly changed its name to Sanford Health. In 2011, the organization received an additional $100 million and Sanford’s money has also helped facilitate a $15 million partnership with the Mayo Clinic around pediatric research.

Outside the health system, he’s given $20 million to the University of South Dakota Medical School, which renamed itself the Sanford School of Medicine, and made significant contributions to the Burnham Institute for Medical Research. The first, in 2007, was for $20 million to create the Sanford Center for Childhood Disease Research. The second, in 2010, was for $50 million, which caused the institute to rename itself the Sanford-Burnham Institute. And then there’s the $100 million he gave to create a breast cancer foundation in honor of his mother, the $100 million he gave to UC San Diego to create the Sanford Stem Cell Clinical Center, $30 million to build a facility for embryonic stem cell research called the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, and the $10 million that went to the Florida Hospital for Children.

EDUCATION: Though Sanford rescinded his $35 million gift for the University of Minnesota’s new football stadium, he did eventually contribute $6 million in 2009 for naming rights to the athletic hall of fame, closing out the university’s $86 million funding drive for the stadium. He’s also given $5 million to South Dakota State for a student athlete center. He gave nearly $19 million he gave to the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, creating a partnership with Teach for America. Sanford also recently partnered with the State of South Dakota to create the Build Dakota program, providing scholarships at technical schools. $50 million was put behind the program. He also donated $1 million to launch the Sanford Institute of Philanthropy at National University, where students can better learn the art of fundraising, an issue Sanford believes to be overlooked, yet vital in nonprofit education. Arizona State University, as well, is home to the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics. 

Sanford recently gave Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans a $30 million gift to establish the Horatio Alger-Denny Sanford Scholarship Program, a 10-year initiative that, starting with the 2019-20 academic year, will provide $3 million annually in scholarships to Alger scholars who choose to attend any of a dozen institutions selected by Sanford. 

Sanford, along with another major donor, also recently gave Dakota State University $30 million to fund the construction of Madison Cyber Labs to expand the school's footprint as one of the country's most innovative cybersecurity research institutions. 

RESEARCH: In addition to the hundreds of millions of funding Sanford has dedicated to medical research, he has given $70 million to an underground physics laboratory in South Dakota that does groundbreaking research on nuclear fusion, among other things. 

CHILDREN: Sanford’s first major philanthropic gift was for $2 million to the Children’s Home Society of South Dakota back in 1998. He has since donated another $15 million to the organization, and $7 million to the Roundup River Ranch, part of Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Camps for seriously ill children, and $1 million to the similar Whispering Hope Ranch Foundation. In a creative effort to boost the spirits of ill children, Sanford donated $9 million to the San Diego Zoo based on the idea that old, fun footage of animals would benefit these kids during their hospital stays. Sanford recently gave a $30 million gift to the San Diego Zoo. The gift will go towards the estimated $69 million cost of constructing a brand new children's zoo to be named the Sanford Children's Zoo.

SOUTH DAKOTA: Sanford has contributed $15 million to the Crazy Horse Memorial, making a $5 million donation in 2007, and giving another $10 million in 2013. 

LOOKING FORWARD:  Sanford appears to realize that he may not have too many more years to decide how he wants to get rid of his fortune. He appears to want to give it away in large chunks as well. Stem cell research seems to be a major areas of interest, though, and any major programs that address health and education issues for kids, or organizations like the Make-A-Wish Foundation stand to gain from Sanford’s desire to give away his fortune.


Denny Sanford Foundation
206 W 14th St. P.O. Box 1030
Sioux Falls, SD 57101
(480) 922-8998