CEO Daniel Gumnit on leadership, equity and expanding our national reach

Daniel Gumnit CEO Children's Cancer Research Fund

Daniel Gumnit wasn’t sure what to expect when he joined Children’s Cancer Research Fund as CEO in August, in the middle of a global pandemic. The first time he met his staff, they were in separate tiny boxes on his computer screen. But his first impression of CCRF is that no matter the circumstance, the organization has remained highly collaborative, which he says matches his leadership strategy – leadership lives throughout the entire organization.

“I really believe that the board’s role and my role as CEO is not to have the most power, but to think the farthest into the future,” he said. “My role is helping figure out where we are going to be three, five, seven years down the road, heavily relying on the folks I’m working with to focus on the present and the past.”

Gumnit joins CCRF after nine years as CEO of People Serving People. We asked Gumnit questions about leadership, his background in the science and nonprofit spaces, his views on diversity, and how he hopes to accelerate Children’s Cancer Research Fund’s growth into the future.

Tell us a little bit about your background in science and how that will be important to your leadership at CCRF.

I think enthusiasm to really dig into the science is going to be critically important in this role. After all, our goal is to eliminate childhood cancer. If I’m going to be effective in helping shape where the organization makes investments in research, new treatments, and cures, I need to have a good understanding of the science.

Luckily, that’s right in my wheelhouse – for years, I led organizations, that created medical and healthcare-related media. One of the efforts that I’m the most proud of was heading a team that created one of the first national medical training and certification systems on the web. I also received an Emmy for developing a national primetime PBS program on live organ transplants. Additionally, many members of my family are medical doctors or scientists, and my two children are in PhD programs studying genetics and neurophysiology. My reading-for-fun materials frequently include scientific journals and articles. I’m a bit of a nerd in that way.

Since the Hageboeck family founded CCRF 40 years ago, the organization has grown, particularly in the last 5 years, to one with national reach. What are your plans to navigate this growth while staying true to the mission of the families who have been with us from the beginning?

The goal of Children’s Cancer Research Fund is the same as it was 40 years ago – to fund the most promising research that will yield better, safer treatments and cures for kids fighting cancer. Historically, much of that top-notch research has been in Minnesota, and that’s still true. One thing I love about the field of pediatric oncology is that it’s such a collaborative field, and the next generation of cancer researchers (and research funders) are becoming more and more interested in a collaborative approach. This is a generation of scientists who is used to working remotely and interacting online, and their work isn’t just happening within the walls of any one institution.

My goal is to continue to have strong roots in Minnesota and honor our long-standing relationship with the University of Minnesota, while expanding our influence and impact nationally. If we want to continue funding the most effective work, and engaging donors across the country, increasing our focus on national collaboration is the way to go.

What is your philosophy on diversity, equity and inclusion, and how do you hope to apply that to Children’s Cancer Research Fund as an organization?

First, in order for us to be the most effective organization, we have to have the broadest perspectives helping us do our jobs the best that we can. If our organization has a diversity of voices and outlooks, we can come up with the best solutions to serve families. The families we work with don’t all look the same, and it is important that we bring people into the organization whose life experiences more closely align with the people we are serving. We can do this by building relationships that span time and are built on respect.

The same thing holds true in the field of research – funding researchers from different perspectives will lead to better outcomes. Bottom line: if we as an organization place the families that we serve at the center of our work, it will make us better at how we deliver services, and increase our impact on the pediatric oncology cure and treatment discovery system.

You’ve been at Children’s Cancer Research Fund for about two months now – what have you learned about the organization’s culture and impact so far?

I’ve learned that our donors are passionate about our cause and deeply invested in what we’re doing. I’m grateful for the leadership of our founding families, staff and management. In my new role, I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. I’ve also learned that where we are focusing our efforts, in the areas of hard-to-treat diseases, Emerging Scientists, and survivorship, is very effective. We are putting our funding in areas where other people and organizations are not, which gives it the potential to have a big return. We’re investing in preclinical trial research and bridge funding, meaning we’re planting seeds that allow scientists to leverage our funding to get funding from other sources.

But most importantly, I’ve learned that the stories our families tell are amazingly powerful, and that what our children are experiencing moves our donors in profound ways. I’m honored to be joining this organization and I’m eager to see how we can continue to grow, reaching more donors with the stories we tell, and reaching more families with the research advancements we make possible.