T. Denny Sanford

 NET WORTH: $2.6 billion

SOURCE OF WEALTH: First Premier Bank, United National Corporation

FUNDING AREAS: Health, Education & Youth

OVERVIEW: T. Denny Sanford conducts his philanthropy through the Denny Sanford Foundation. This Giving Pledge signatory has already given an estimated $1.6 billion to charitable causes, and plans to “die broke” by distributing 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 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 that represented manufacturers of construction materials, eventually went public, and 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. The hospital changed its name to Sanford Health in 2007 after a whopping $400 million. In 2011, he gave an additional $100 million and also helped facilitate a $15 million partnership with the Mayo Clinic around pediatric research.

Outside the health system, he has given $20 million to the University of South Dakota Medical School, which was renamed the Sanford School of Medicine, and made significant contributions to the Burnham Institute for Medical Research. He has also given away $100 million to create a breast cancer foundation in honor of his mother—the Edith Sanford Breast Center—$100 million 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, $10 million to the Florida Hospital for Children, and nearly $5 million to Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.

EDUCATION: Though Sanford rescinded his $35 million gift for the University of Minnesota’s new football stadium, he did eventually contribute $6 million in 2009 for naming rights to the athletic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 has also given $5 million to South Dakota State for a student athlete center. He gave nearly $19 million to the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, creating a partnership with Teach for America. Sanford recently partnered with the State of South Dakota to create the Build Dakota program, which provides scholarships to technical schools. 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 is also home to the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics

Sanford recently gave the 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, 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.

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, as well as $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 another $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.

OTHER: Sanford made a $5 million donation to the Crazy Horse Memorial in 2007, and another $10 million in 2013. He also funds the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF), a cutting-edge physics laboratory located in a former gold mine in South Dakota.

LOOKING FORWARD:  Sanford seems to realize that he may not have too many more years to decide how he wants to get rid of his fortune. He seems to prefer giving 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 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