Hannah Hanford

Title: Executive Director of the Adirondack Health Foundation and Community Relations
Hometown: Keeseville, New York
Education: B.S. in Hotel Administration from Cornell University
Community Involvement: Longtime Rotarian with membership spanning four different Rotary Clubs, most recently Saranac Lake Rotary Club; Saranac Lake Women’s Investment Club; Adirondack Planned Giving Society
Family: Two grown children—McIntosh Forrence, who is a winemaker in Lyle, Washington and Jonathan Forrence, who is an art major at SUNY Plattsburg—and a very large dog named Cooper.

As any nonprofit agency can attest, it can be a challenge to find volunteers who are willing to participate in fundraising for a cause. Many people would rather visit their dentist than approach someone for support for a charitable cause. Hannah Hanford is one of those rare gems who is passionate about charitable giving, and as her reflections will attest, her passion is infectious to those around her at Adirondack Health in Saranac Lake.

Hanford has lived in the Adirondacks most of her life. She now resides in one of the original “cure cottages” that were used in the treatment of tuberculosis patients at the historic Trudeau Sanatorium in Saranac Lake. Originally targeting a career in hotel management, Hanford credits much of her career success to allowing her life path to take its course and being open to new opportunities. “When I started my college career I never would have guessed that all these years later I’d be working in health care,” she explained. “Here I am, and I can’t imagine a more rewarding career than the one I’ve had.”

Hanford shared some of her insights and passion for her work during a recent conversation with Strictly Business:

SB: What are you most proud of professionally?
HH: I have been in health care since 1980 and philanthropy since 1996. In all aspects of health care, but especially in fundraising, personal relationships make all the difference. Those are developed through time and trust. What makes me proud is that the people I’ve met along the way have become friends and colleagues. Those who have been board members, and even more importantly, those who are donors to the causes that I have worked for, are truly respected friends.

SB: What does it take to run a successful fundraising campaign?
HH: Success in my particular field does not belong to an individual. It is through the hard work of so many that you realize a successful fundraising campaign or foundation. It isn’t due to the head of the organization as much as it is the leadership of the board and the willingness of the committee members to work on behalf of the organization. Oftentimes, the successful fundraiser is the one who is able to step back and give those people the support they need to do that job. Cheer them on, encourage them, and sometimes gently remind them of deadlines. I think the magic of philanthropy is orchestrating engaged volunteers who speak to loyal donors to help make a transformational gift to your organization.

SB: Who was your most influential mentor?
HH: Kevin Carroll, who was president and CEO of CVPH. Twice in my career he offered me the opportunity to develop a program from scratch. The first one was an in-house physician recruiting pro- gram. I didn’t know much about that at all, and he offered me the opportunity to learn, expand my horizons and try something new. We developed a program that was successful in bringing really talented and caring physicians to our community.

After that I took some time off to be with my boys. About the time that I was getting a little antsy, Kevin called me out of the blue to talk about the newly formed hospital foundation and its leadership role. He asked me to become the executive director of the foundation. Again, I was able to develop a program from scratch and learn along the way. I found both opportunities to be incredibly reward- ing. Looking back, I can see that I was able to take a germ of an idea, nurture it and help it to become a full-fledged program. Both of those programs continue today.

SB: What advice would you give to someone starting their business career?
HH: It is important to be open to the opportunities that present themselves along your career path. Rarely does a career go from Point A to Point B in a straight linear progression. After college, if I had believed that the only thing I could do was be a general man- ager of a hotel, I am not sure how happy I would be today. But I was open to other opportunities, so I was able to see that I could learn to do something different.

SB: What strategies do you recommend for people who are taking on a role or going into a new industry?
HH: Some things that can be helpful are to call colleagues and find out what works for them. Get involved in professional organizations and get some training. Make some friends who you can call on when you need to bounce an idea or problem off someone who works in the same field. Communicate honestly, openly and frequently with your boss to get feedback, tweaking and direction. And finally, jump in with passion. Generally, if you do all those things you will be successful.

SB: What qualities do you think are needed for success?
HH: A big part of success is just believing that it can happen. Dare to dream big, and figure out what measured steps you need to take to get there. Integrity is incredibly important, as well as having a trusting relationship with the person who you report to and with those who report to you. Be impeccable to your word, and be passionate about what you do.

SB: What is something that no one would guess about you?
HH: In my freshman year at Cornell, I was one of only 14 women in a class of 140. When I interviewed for admission into the School of Hotel Administration, it was 1975 and the equal opportunity movement was just getting started. At that time, I was entering a male-dominated field. Seats in the freshman class were highly sought after. The per- son who interviewed me asked me why they should give one of those seats to a female, who in their experience would graduate, work for a few years and then get married and have kids and leave the field. Growing up in the North Country I never really thought that being female was something I would have to overcome. This experience was my first exposure to what some women might have found to be difficult in a career path. It motivated me to be very involved and to strive to prove any nay-sayers wrong.

SB: What do you do in your free time?
HH: I unplug. I give 150 percent to every day. The work I do requires a lot of personal engagement. When I am on my own time I like to restore the reservoir by being on the water paddling or swimming, or being on the snow in the winter time, either snowshoeing or ski- ing. Basically any activity that will tire out the dog.

SB: What do we need to do today to ensure a prosperous future in the North Country?
HH: Speaking as someone who lives in the Adirondack Park, I believe the work that the Common Ground Alliance is doing has been transformational. I strongly support their efforts to get individuals and communities throughout the Park to work together and build a strong future. While each of us has slightly different goals for our communities, we know that if one community is strong, that bene- fits all of us. During the last few years amazing work has been done by Adirondack leaders to bring disparate parties together to find the things we have in common and maximize the potential to move those forward while honoring their differences. That has been so much more helpful to move our future forward than trying to com- pete against each other. It lets us send a stronger message to those outside of the Adirondack Park who might visit, and it is going to be good for all of us in the long run.

SB: What inspires you?
HH: My career is incredibly rewarding. I represent the 800 people who work for this health system who do amazing, incredible things every day. I have met extraordinary people and have witnessed the magic happen. Sometimes here at the hospital I get to watch when that new piece of equipment or that new program actually impacts patient care. Being able to relate that back to the person who made that happen is a pretty special connection.

At the end of every day I go home feeling like I have been able to assist individuals who want to recognize the wonderful care they have received here by giving back and making the system stronger for the next person who needs care. I am in the fortunate position to see how that flywheel keeps turning and allowing us to do the amazing work we do. And that’s pretty special.