In Sioux Falls, South Dakota we have a philanthropist named T. Denny Sanford. He made his money in the credit card business and gives away a huge amount. But he came under some criticism when he made a $400 million gift to the Sioux Valley Health System and it was renamed Sanford Health. After listening to folks whine in the Letters to the Editor page, I wrote this. It didn't stop the whining but it made me feel better.

In the Name of Philanthropy, Leave Sanford Alone.

March 18, 2007 - Sioux Falls Argus Leader, by Marty Gallanter

I’ve been a fund raiser for almost thirty years.  The first seventeen were in New York City where I met many people of great wealth who were and are incredibly generous.  Philanthropy is one of the obligations of great wealth in New York .  I’ve seen people write enormous checks, pledge small fortunes to a single cause, and even send their chauffeurs to deliver contributions in times of crisis.  In New York , almost everyone wants their name prominently displayed.  I used to think that whole obsession was tacky, but I was wrong.

Ambassador Walter Annenberg taught me differently.  I was there when he announced in 1989 that he was going to start giving away the vast fortune he’d earned in publishing and not wait for his death to do good.  The founder of TV Guide had always been generous, but now he was planning to contribute on a scale previously unheard of during a rich person’s life time.  When Annenberg passed away in 2002 he had nearly achieved his goal of “dying penniless.”  The foundations that bear his name are still working for good.

Annenberg was an inspiration for Bill Gates who made a sudden move from the world’s largest gatherer of wealth to the world’s largest distributor.  Gates inspired Warren Buffet and the Omaha billionaire pledged most of his own fortune to the Gates Foundation.  That was only a few months ago and I wrote about this historic contribution for this very newspaper.  Since that time, Sioux Falls made philanthropic history.

I’ve met T. Denny Sanford, but I don’t know him and I can’t speculate on his inspiration for phenomenal philanthropy.  But he was doing good work long before Buffet and Gates made their deal.  Sanford represents a “new generation” of billionaires. 

All philanthropic contributors, at every level, are needed, are important and do good work.  But the reality is that 80% of the money comes from 20% of the donors.  So every fund raiser has at least two lists mentally stored.  We rarely articulate them.  One is of the passionate, caring people who love our cause and always surprise us by how much they are willing to share.  The other is also about passionate, caring people, but those not yet motivated to give to their true capacity. We are always hopeful that we can move names from the second list to the first.

During the past thirty years of my philanthropic career I have witnessed the greatest creation of wealth in history.  Today’s philanthropists have far outdone the Rockefellers and Carnegies both in the amount of money they have earned and have given away.  Their example sends ripples through society.

Often their model is to place family names on projects.  The Kirby Science Center at the Pavilion, the Bill & Marian Sullivan Faith & Living Center at USF, the Floyd Career Learning Center , the Bowden Youth Center , and many of the buildings at Augustana, are samples of local named philanthropy. 

Naming is often a way to memorialize those who have gone before and frequently used to leave a personal legacy.  Each time a prominent family allows their name to be publicly displayed they are setting an example for others of means to follow.  Whenever someone of wealth drives by the new Sanford Health sign, they will think – if only for a moment – about philanthropy.  

Mr. Sanford said that he is not going to put his family name on any more institutions.  I hope he reconsiders.  Because if that trend continues, it’s possible that someday a public charitable connection will be a more important status symbol than an expensive car or a diamond ring.  When that happens, our communities will be better places and we will be able to thank the Annenberg, Gates, Buffet, Sanford, Kirby, Floyd, Elmen, Sullivan, Bowden, and all the other families who chose the route of named philanthropy.

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