By Gerry Czarnecki
Denny Sanford is an entrepreneur and generous philanthropist. He has given away more than a billion dollars and he has no plans to stop. Sanford made his fortune as the owner of First Premier Bank and Premier Bankcard, but his plan is to “die broke,” as he often says, because he continues to give away money to a wide range of causes. In 2014, he founded the Sanford Institute of Philanthropy in La Jolla, California, through which he has partnered with a Florida organization, the National Leadership Institute. to help teach fundraising skills to nonprofit organizations. SFBW recently interviewed Sanford about his charitable work.
What types of projects or causes do you focus on?
I am passionate about finding new ways to impact the world. I only give to new approaches. One might say leading-edge initiatives. I want to give the new thinkers the benefit of making advances based on being creative.
When somebody comes to you asking for money, what is the biggest mistake that many make?
Too many fundraisers have a goal for a specific project and if they haven’t listened long enough to learn what I am interested in, then those people ultimately fail to get my attention. Because I am not going to give to something that is not already one of my passions.
In talking to the board directors of a nonprofit organization, what advice would you give?
That is easy. Make certain you have the right leadership and management in charge of the organization. I tell people all the time, when I started Premier Bank, we were really different in a sea of financial institutions, but the thing that made our company so successful was the people running it. They worked together and they achieved greatness. The same thing must be there for any nonprofit to succeed.
You consistently tell philanthropists they should “desire to inspire before you expire.” What drove you to say that, and what are you doing to achieve that?
Well, as you know I have given away a lot of money, and I want every penny of it to make a difference. I want the people and organizations who get that money to be inspired themselves, so that they can change the lives of those who experience their programs. As you know, at the Sanford Education Center at National University, I have funded three magnificent programs: Harmony, Inspire and the Sanford Institute of Philanthropy. All three of these programs are near and dear to my heart. They all inspire their targeted population to become better at who they are, and what they do.
What should people know about those programs?
They started with an encounter with John Gray, the author of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. When I read that book, the first thing that came to me was, this may be great for adults, but just think if we could impact millions of kids to learn these concepts when they are kids. We could potentially bring about change and prevent the erosion of male-female relationships that all too often lead to single-parent families and, even more often, neglected children without two parents to guide them. I tried to get him to work with us, but he was a sociologist, not an educator. I finally found some folks who could develop the idea I had for kids. It’s called the Harmony program and is now used at the National University in San Diego. We have impacted tens of thousands of kids.
Another program, Sanford Inspire, provides teachers a tool kit to inspire kids by getting them to believe in themselves. Most of us know that it was not the smartest teacher who made a difference in our learning—it was the one who inspired us to learn. That program has expanded nationally, and we are teaching tens of thousands of teachers all across the country to become the inspiration for the leaders of tomorrow.
Then, there is the Sanford Institute of Philanthropy. We are spreading the idea that it is the cause that matters for fundraisers, not the financial goal. This program is growing, and we have a wonderful affiliate in Florida, the National Leadership Institute, that is working to provide serious, philanthropic fundraising training for all who are willing to learn. ↵
Gerry Czarnecki is founder and chairman of the nonprofit National Leadership Institute (nationalleadershipinstitute.org), which helps boards of nonprofit organizations become strategic assets to the leadership team. His extensive background as a C-suite executive and CEO is coupled with current board leadership of corporate and nonprofit organizations. He is also chairman and CEO of the Deltennium Group. Contact him at 561.293.3726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.