Denny Sanford named International Outstanding Philanthropist

Denny Sanford, successful businessman and long-time supporter of health programs, children’s services and other charitable causes across the United States, has been selected to receive the 2012 Award for Outstanding Philanthropist, given by the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ (AFP) as the organization’s top philanthropy honor.

The award honors an individual with a proven record of exceptional generosity who, through direct financial support, demonstrates outstanding civic and charitable responsibility and whose generosity encourages others to take philanthropic leadership roles on a community, national and/or international level. Sanford will receive the honor on March 31, 2012, at a special Celebration of Philanthropy ceremony during AFP’s 49th International Conference on Fundraising in Vancouver.

Having built several successful businesses over the years in South Dakota, including First PREMIER Bank and PREMIER Bankcard, Sanford now redirected his life to towards philanthropic giving with a stated goal of “dying broke.” Preferring projects with a mission to enhance people’s lives, he has given more than $600 million over the past four years, including the largest donation to a healthcare organization in history.

In 2007, Sanford committed $400 million to the Sioux Valley Health System, now renamed Sanford Health.  The gift has transformed the institution, leading to the establishment of Sanford World Clinics in Oklahoma, Oregon, California, Israel, Ghana, Mexico and Ireland with several more under consideration.  The gift also supports several Sanford Research Centers including the Sanford Children’s Health Research Center—which focuses on the health needs of children.

In addition, with support from the gift, a commission of leading experts identified Type 1 Diabetes as the single most pressing healthcare issue and recruited researchers from around the world to find a cure in Sanford’s lifetime. This Sanford Research initiative is known as The Sanford Project.

“I’ve been an intentional investor all of my adult life, and have realized successful returns on my investments, but even more gratifying for me now is realizing a successful return on investment from a philanthropic perspective,” said Sanford.  “I’m so humbled and honored by this special recognition from AFP, and tend to believe that it is more about the unique impact on the lives of people, and especially children, than it is about the amount of money given. Of this I am especially proud and grateful, and give heartfelt thanks to AFP and its membership for facilitating so many gifts that make such a positive impact in the world.”

Sanford has given millions of dollars to variety of organizations, including his first significant contribution of $16 million for the Sanford Children’s Challenge in 2004, a campaign to build the only free-standing state-of-the-art children’s hospital in South Dakota. In 2008, he provided $30 million to the San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine (now the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine) and $20 million to the Burnham Institute of Medical Research in La Jolla, Calif. Later, he issued a $50 million matching gifts challenge to benefit the organization now known as the Sanford-Burnham Institute.

Some of Sanford’s other contributions include $70 million to the South Dakota Sciences and Technology Authority that is turning the former Homestake Mine into an underground laboratory; $20 million to expand educational programming at the University of South Dakota School of Medicine; $15 million to the Mayo Clinic; and $15 million to the Children’s Home Society, a home for abused children. Other million dollar gift recipients include the University of South Dakota Business School, the Arizona State University Foundation, the University of Minnesota and the Roundup River Ranch in Vail, Colo.

Sanford has recently committed to the Gates/Buffett Giving Pledge. He has also announced a donation of $100 million to help Sanford Health launch Edith Sanford Breast Cancer, named after his mother who died of breast cancer when he was four years old.

“What more need be said about Mr. Sanford?” said Andrew Watt, FInstF, president and CEO of AFP. “He gives away a prodigious amount of funds, but always in a considered and strategic way. He is a consummate philanthropist—someone who understands that making a difference is not just about money, but about leadership, innovation and impact. We are honored to be able to recognize him and look forward to hearing about his future accomplishments as he works to complete his lifelong philanthropic goals.”

For information about AFP’s other international award honorees, go to the National Philanthropy Day® website.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) represents 30,000 members in 227 chapters throughout the world, working to advance philanthropy through advocacy, research, education and certification programs.  The association fosters development and growth of fundraising professionals and promotes high ethical standards in the fundraising profession.  For more information, go to

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