Man Gives Away $400 Million to Hospitals

Businessman T. Denny Sanford's $400 million gift to the South Dakota Sioux Valley Hospitals & Health System is proof that sometimes if you want something, you just have to ask.

Sanford, chairman and CEO of United National Corp., has been generous to the Sioux Valley Health System before, helping fund a 2003 children's hospital project with a $16 million donation.

More than a year ago, Sioux Valley CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft came to Sanford with a plan to transform the organization at a cost approaching half a billion dollars. It only took a few hours of talking before Sanford said he was in, and this weekend Sanford and Sioux Valley announced their ambitious plans.

"I am pleased to make a gift with the potential to have a lasting, positive impact on the health and well-being of children and adults in South Dakota and throughout the country," Sanford said in a statement.

Over 10 years, Sanford's donation is expected to result in 9,200 jobs and $1 billion in economic development. The money will fund research, children's health initiatives, and medical education.

Sanford's gift is one of many recent massive donations coming from both wealthy and well-known benefactors. Last year, Warren Buffett, the prolific investor and second richest man in the world, committed to giving away $46 billion, 85 percent of his wealth, through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

"Gifts by those like Buffett and by these celebrities, like Bono and people with big names, have set an example for others to give as well," said Todd Cohen, editor and publisher of Philanthropy Journal. "People are becoming more aware of the needs that are out there."

Buffett and Gates top BusinessWeek's most recent list of the "50 Most Generous Philanthropists." Sanford also made the list, along with financier George Soros and CNN founder Ted Turner, who have both donated 69 percent of their own wealth, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has given away 17 percent of his net worth.

"What wealthy people are finding is they have enough for themselves and for their heirs, and what's left over, rather than giving it through bequests later, they're giving it now," Cohen explained.

By giving it now, the donors have a chance to see their money work. Oprah Winfrey, also on BusinessWeek's list, recently opened a school for girls in South Africa, personally footing the $40 million bill and promising to stay involved in the project.

"It's not just about using your money wisely and making the best investment possible by investing in the future of young girls," Oprah said on ABC's Good Morning America. "Now I have a lot of responsibility. … I feel it."

Cohen said Boston College researchers estimate that as this generation of wealthy philanthropists pass on their fortunes over the next half century, an astonishing $6 trillion will go to charity.

And this weekend Sanford made the first $400 million payment.

"Now is the time to set things in motion that can truly make a difference in people's lives," Sanford said. "My greatest desire is that this gift will create and sustain a momentum that results in major healthcare innovations and improvements in the human condition for generations to come."

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