1:1 with Tennys Hanson
Over the course of 2019, Nicole Nakoneshny, KCI’s Lead, Knowledge + Insights, is going one-on-one with the members of our Philanthropic Trends Advisory Board to talk about the future of fundraising and philanthropy and explore What’s Next for Canada’s charitable sector.
KCI’S “WHAT’S NEXT?” INTERVIEW SERIES – Tennys Hanson
Tennys Hanson has focused her professional career on harnessing the power of philanthropy to transform healthcare and education in Canada.
Since 2000, Tennys has held a dual appointment as CEO of Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation (TGWHF) and Vice President and Chief Development Officer of University Health Network – Canada’s largest research hospital. She led the expansion of TGWHF from a team of 12 to its current complement of 100 staff. She is a key architect of several comprehensive fundraising campaigns, including the completion of a $550-million fundraising campaign for UHN in 2006 — the largest hospital campaign in Canada at that time. In 2018, TGWHF concluded a $1-Billion Campaign goal by raising $1.2 Billion.
Tennys’ career highlights also include a five-year post from 1995 to 2000 as University Campaign Director and Vice-President at University of Toronto Foundation where she led the Great Minds campaign. At Mount Sinai Hospital Foundation of Toronto, Tennys served as Vice-President and Chief Operating Office/Acting CEO from 1989 to 1995. She began her career as Executive Director of Campus Development and Public Affairs at the University of Toronto Mississauga.
Tennys has a distinguished record of volunteer service, having served as President of The Mississauga’s Board of Trade, President of Mississauga Symphony, Chair of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce Education Committee, and as a Governor of Sheridan College. She was a Director of the University of Toronto Alumni Association, Junior Achievement of Peel and the Mississauga Hospital. She is an Honorary Life Member of the Mississauga Board of Trade, as well as a recipient of the Governor General’s Silver Medal and Arbor Award from the University of Toronto.
In 2008, Tennys received the Outstanding Fundraising Professional Award from the Great Toronto Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. An advocate of lifelong education, her continuing studies include a Certificate in Nonprofit Leadership from Harvard Business School.
Nicole: As leader of one of Canada’s largest and most successful hospital foundations, what would you say are the top 2 issues facing the hospitals when it comes to fundraising? And where are the biggest opportunities?
Tennys: I would say the challenges are in raising unrestricted money. Another challenge we face is raising money to cover the full cost of research projects, which includes, for example, salaries of the staff that are doing the research. A lot of granting agencies don’t include essential expenses such as these in their funding. So, being better able to make the case, for these priorities, is something that many of us are grappling with.
As for opportunities, I’d say that next generation philanthropists, new communities, and estate planning are areas we should focus on tapping into.
Nicole: That opportunity of the “next generation”, whether at the macro level of engaging younger people as a whole, or at the more micro level of the children of current major donors, is top of mind for many charities. Do you find younger generations of major donors are approaching their philanthropy differently than their parents? What’s been your experience in building relationships with this group?
Tennys: I would say that we’re relatively nascent in doing this. Like boomers, the next generation is driven by impact, probably even more-so. The days of donors writing cheques simply because you do good work are over.
Another interesting thing we’ve learned is that timing of meetings with the younger donors is important when getting people together around this. We had some great success in running a behind-the-scenes event recently that was geared towards a younger audience. However, we had to start at 7:00PM because many of the attendees are raising younger families, so they needed to get home from work, take care of family obligations, then come to the event.
When it comes to an older demographic, these events are usually scheduled 5:30-7:00 pm so these equally busy people can attend events later in the same evening. So, something as simple as understanding what logistically works best for people in any age category is important.
It’s crucial to remember that there’s no such thing as “deserve”. No charity is “entitled” to a gift. We have to earn them. That’s something that takes a great deal of time, effort, energy and resources.
Nicole: Circling back to the challenges question, something we often hear about is the desire for “more and faster”; high and, in some cases unrealistic, expectations of the fundraising enterprise whether for big leaps forward in revenue, the next mega gift, campaign envy, etc. What advice do you have on how to deal with this challenge?
Tennys: Managing expectations needs to be done on an ongoing basis. For instance, we had the most phenomenal gift last December of $25 Million paid in full. When we got this gift, I made it clear to the Board that we can’t expect this to happen every day; this is a really exceptional circumstance – an extraordinary gift. So you have to keep reinforcing that.
Also, it’s crucial to remember that there’s no such thing as “deserve”. No charity is “entitled” to a gift. We have to earn them. That’s something that takes a great deal of time, effort, energy and resources.
Nicole: Is there an issue or challenge facing our sector that isn’t getting enough attention in your opinion?
Tennys: I worry that we’re not doing enough to develop the next group of senior staff leaders. I think that people often move from organization to organization too quickly because that’s where their next apparent higher career move is. We need to invest in staff, develop their skills, and get them ready for upward career progression. Another challenge that too much movement creates is a lack of relationship continuity with donors. Higher turn-over rates aren’t helpful to fundraising.
Nicole: You’ve said before that stewardship is one of the most important things in fundraising, and also one of the hardest things to do well. Can you elaborate on this?
Tennys: It seems like it should be intuitive, but I do think it’s difficult to do well. You’re dealing with individuals, and not everyone wants the same thing. Some people want detailed reports, and others want no more than one page and a quick annual meeting. There is an art in understanding how each donor wants to be stewarded. What they want/find important can even change over time, so it’s unfortunately not as easy as simply asking them. It needs ongoing thought and attention.
Additionally, as an industry, we typically don’t allocate appropriate resources to it.
Nicole: Something we talk about a lot as fundraisers is engagement. It seems easy to say, but what does it really mean? What would you say is an effective way to engage a donor?
Tennys: I find connecting them with individuals on the ground who will ultimately be implementing what the gift is aiming to achieve (in our case medical professionals and researchers) really motivates donors. Typically these people are very impressive, committed, and passionate. So it’s a genuine, inspiring interaction for the donor.
Nicole: TGWHF wrapped up its $1 Billion campaign last year. What was it like to run a $1 Billion campaign?
Tennys: It’s like running a bunch of smaller campaigns at once. We basically had 12-14 campaigns going simultaneously during our $1 Billion campaign (Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, Sprott Department of Surgery, Krembil Brain Institute, Don Johnson Eye Institute, etc.). It’s very similar to University model in that the campaign is centrally controlled but decentralized. You’ve got multiple campaign cabinets, staff managing each of these cabinets, and any of these individual campaigns can be anywhere from $20 Million to $200 Million.
Donors today are also more interested in funding solutions to big issues. To address a big complicated challenge, donors know that there often needs to be multiple organizations working on different aspects of it.
Nicole: A trend we’re observing is the growing number of transformational gifts being made in Canada. Is there anything about this trend that surprises you? Do you think we can expect to continue to see gifts of this magnitude?
Tennys: I think it’s demonstrative of what’s happening in the country as a whole. Since I startffed in this profession, we’ve gone from a country that thought the government should take care of everything, to one that thinks the people should have more ability to impact social initiatives. We also have a larger population of wealthy people now. So the bigger gifts are understandable.
Additionally, I think part of it is because fundraising is maturing into a more professionalized career. We’re getting better at putting these big ideas in front of donors and attracting outstanding levels of investment. And yes, I think this will continue.
I also think the stock market is a good predictor of philanthropic activity. And on that note, I think we can expect to see even more big gifts, particularly if Don Johnson is successful in his efforts to eliminate capital gains tax from gifts of privately held shares as well as real estate. That will unlock some massive philanthropy and be a major game changer.
Nicole: From your perspective, how has the involvement of volunteers evolved over time? Can you predict what it will look like going forward?
Tennys: We’ve always depended heavily on our volunteers, and I think we will continue to do so. We couldn’t function without them.
Our board members are integral to our success in governance, stewarding, investing, raising, and granting. Our board members and volunteers chair and populate our committees (finance, investment, governance, etc.). And, it’s important to find the right people for these roles. For example, those who are on our investment committee are experts in the investment industry.
We also ask our board members to really become a champion of an area that they’re most passionate about. Sometimes we have more than one board member focused on one area. The most important thing is that they really believe what they’re doing, and that they’re excited about it. Their involvement can include organizing an event to raise funds for their area, or going and talking to their network of friends to cultivate. And, we often involve our board members in thanking our donors. I think that in the future, we will focus even more energy on involving our volunteers in our stewardship programs.
Nicole: I’d like to close by asking how you think fundraising has changed over the years? And how has it stayed the same?
Tennys: One thing that has changed is that there is more collaboration among organizations now than there has been in the past. Both with simple things like sharing information with one another, but also in larger ways like developing joint approaches for transformative gifts.
I think this is partially because donors feel that there is overlap and duplication of efforts, so they’re asking for more collaboration. Donors today are also more interested in funding solutions to big issues. To address a big complicated challenge, donors know that there often needs to be multiple organizations working on different aspects of it. So collaboration is something we’re seeing more of, both because donors are asking for it, and because, sometimes, it is a smarter use of resources.
Another thing that’s happening is that donors who have family foundations are hiring professionals to help them make decisions about where their money should go. This could be someone with professional experience in the sector they’re looking to donate to, or a fundraising professional.
One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is that relationships are still one of the most important things for us in fundraising.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I’m inspired by my hospital, the people, and the work they’re doing.
What was your first experience with “charity” – either giving or receiving?
It was probably when I won a scholarship when I was in University. It felt like there was someone out there whose generosity allowed me to pursue my education, and it meant a lot.
How did you become a fundraiser? What was your first fundraising job?
After I graduated from University of Toronto, I got a job with them at the Mississauga Campus doing Community Relations. Gradually they started focusing more on fundraising, and I was a logical person to work on that, given my role in the Mississauga Community. In essence, my fundraising career evolved.
Why did you stay?
I love education and health. I’m intrigued by the research side of these sectors. I’ve also been fortunate to work in great institutions with wonderful people, and I think that’s a big part of why I’ve stayed for so long.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Burr Gibson, who was the external counsel for the U of T campaign, gave me this advice years ago: “You can have influence, but don’t ever think you have control.”
What’s a piece of advice you wish you had received?
Throughout my career I think I’ve worried too much about having everything be perfect. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be your best work.