A “great Canadian” with a passion for health care says farewell

Tennys Hanson retires from UHN Foundation after 23 years of momentous achievement

Described as a legend in the world of Canadian fundraising, UHN Foundation CEO Tennys Hanson is winding down a 48-year career devoted to transforming health care and education in Canada through the power of philanthropy.

“Over the last 23 years, our Foundation has raised over $3 billion. This is no easy feat,” says UHN Foundation Board Chair Raj Kothari. “The foundation that Tennys has built continues to fuel new standards of care and better patient outcomes across Canada and the world.”

During her tenure, Tennys was the 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, she concluded the Foundation’s first billion dollar campaign after raising $1.2 billion. In May 2023, UHN Foundation reached and surpassed its second billion dollar campaign goal – raising $1.02 billion – and almost one year ahead of schedule.

“I have never heard Tennys say no to raising funds for our urgent needs,” says UHN President & CEO Dr. Kevin Smith. “She understands the science and the care, so she always finds a way to make these projects compelling to our donors.”

Building a team

In April 2000, Tennys joined what was then Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation (now UHN Foundation) with a dual appointment as Vice President and Chief Development Officer of UHN. She had a staff of 20 full-time employees who raised $15 million in annual revenue.

Over the years, with Tennys’ superb talent in donor relations, board and volunteer management, and organizational leadership, UHN Foundation now has a team of more than 120 employees who raised $166 million last year.

“Tennys had a vision and a direction of what she wanted to achieve. She had a plan, put the plan in place and built the Foundation to what it is today. She is good at building a vision of what she wants to do, why she wants to do it, and why it’s necessary to do it to achieve success,” says Bryce Douglas, who was Board Chair when he recruited her to TGWHF.

She has served as an icon for women forging careers in the not-for-profit sector, as she as mentored many young fundraising leaders who have modelled her success.

“Tennys is an absolute role model and ahead of her time,” says Dr. Gelareh Zadeh, Medical Director of the Krembil Brain Institute and Senior Scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. “She is one of the first and few female leaders who has really shaped and changed the impact of philanthropy for the largest academic health institution in Canada.”

Early career

Describing herself as “a simple girl from Winnipeg,” Tennys earned her Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Toronto Mississauga Campus (then known as Erindale College). She began her career as Executive Director of Campus Development and Public Affairs at the University of Toronto Mississauga. 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 Officer/Acting CEO from 1989 to 1995. 

Her affinity for complexity, research and academic medicine led her to UHN, initially as Campaign Director for Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation and then as President and CEO. In 2021, following the amalgamation of Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation and Toronto Rehab Foundation, she became CEO of UHN Foundation.

Tennys implemented two strategies that paved the way for two decades of success. The first was to organize fundraising efforts as a “campaign of campaigns,” running multiple concurrent campaigns in support of UHN’s major priorities. The second strategy was the highly successful adoption of the board champion model that combined a board member, a UHN medical lead and a Foundation staff person to run the campaigns. Hospital foundations from around the world have learned from this model.

Success on the world stage

It was a source of tremendous pride for Tennys when Toronto General Hospital earned the number-seven spot in a listing of top 10 hospitals in a ranking published by Newsweek in 2019. Since then Toronto General has consistently ranked among the top five hospitals in the world – the only Canadian and publicly funded institution on the list.

“UHN could not do so many things that we do today without philanthropy and Tennys has driven that. She has taken us to the next level to compete successfully on the world stage,” commented Dr. Smith, citing examples such as funding the acquisition of Ontario’s first Gamma Knife, the construction of the Krembil Discovery Tower, the multi-purpose operating room, Ex-Vivo Lung perfusion technology, as well as chairs, professorships and fellowships that served as important recruiting and retention tools.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Tennys galvanized the Canadian donor community and industry to raise more than $14 million in direct support of frontline healthcare staff, providing critical resources such as Personal Protective Equipment, respite services such as meals and accommodation, resources for vulnerable communities and a special research fund for COVID-19 clinical trials and mental health studies.

One of her greatest strengths is harnessing the ability to tell UHN stories to inspire Canadians to support us to be number one in the world. She also had an uncanny ability to discern the motivation behind the donation.

A cause close to her heart

In personal causes, Tennys channeled her energy into establishing the J. Douglas and Tennys Hanson Foot and Wound Care Clinic at Toronto General in memory of her husband Doug, who passed away in 2018. In tribute to her service, a group comprising board members, donors, UHN staff and friends have raised more than $3.1 million to establish a Chair in Limb Preservation.  This fund will allow UHN to recruit a senior health professional who will build a program that will provide patients across Canada who are at risk of losing a foot or leg to amputation with specialized and compassionate care.

At UHN Foundation’s recent AGM, Tennys concluded her final report as Foundation CEO by acknowledging the reason for the Foundation’s success has been TeamUHN and the incredible work they do every day.

“It’s been a privilege to serve in this position and to support TeamUHN,” she says. “I want to say a profound thank you to our donors, our Board and our staff for what we have built together as a team over the past 23 years, for UHN and for the world.”

Tennys’ last day with UHN is June 30, 2023.

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