South Dakota philanthropist gives $100 million to nonprofit

A South Dakota businessman and philanthropist said Tuesday he is donating $100 million to the National University System, a nonprofit that focuses on education and philanthropy initiatives.

The donation by T. Denny Sanford is the largest in the nonprofit's history and comes a year after Sanford gave $28 million to the network, which supports students looking for alternative ways to learn.

The new gift will expand the system's Sanford Harmony program, which aims to help preschool through elementary school students learn to work together and respect one another by decreasing stereotyping, bullying and aggression.

"Denny's vision of creating a better world starts with addressing these issues at the youngest ages, and it could not come at a more crucial time when the nation faces increasing challenges in our schools, homes and in the workplace," said Michael Cunningham, chancellor of the National University System.

System officials say the Sanford Harmony program could reach up to 30 million students nationwide and around the world. It emphasizes diversity, inclusion, empathy, critical thinking, communication, problem-solving and peer relationships. The objective, Sanford said, is for students to carry those qualities through life and to ultimately reduce the divorce rate.

"It really creates harmony among the kids," Sanford said. "But as I said, the long-term goal is harmony among adults. Preventative medicine is the purpose of the whole program."

Sanford is best known for donating about $1 billion to the Dakotas-based health system that carries his name.

Sanford has supported two other programs to the system. Sanford Inspire aims to help teachers inspire students and the Sanford Institute of Philanthropy provides education and training programs for nonprofits.

Sanford's gift brings total funding to National University System programs to about $170 million, from various sources.