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Daniel Carney


Healthy Kids and Kidneys

1169 Oak Valley Drive
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48108
People need the freedom to make mistakes in order to nurture innovation without fear, says National Kidney Foundation of Michigan’s CEO Daniel Carney. Creating an environment where new leaders can flourish is key to his leadership style. 
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
National Kidney Foundation of Michigan President and CEO Daniel Carney: That’s something myself and my management team have talked about a great deal because we’re always looking to the future and what needs to occur for the organization to thrive even after we leave. I think my job as leader is to create an environment where others can become leaders. I’m of the school that in my position as CEO you want to promote an environment where people can grow, they can thrive, they can try new things, and make a mistake without fear. I’m also a big believer that any leader needs to be willing to step out of the
We often can get important work done faster, cheaper, and often better than more traditional sectors or older sectors such as for-profit and government.
spotlight and let it shine on others; when you do that, their light reflects back on you. I’m not big on quotes and slogans, but I did see something years ago from Loa Tzu: “When the best leader’s work is done, the people say ‘we did it ourselves.’” That’s what I would hope leaders could strive for.
What is your dream for kids?
Coming from a nonprofit health environment, I would say all I dream for kid is that they have the opportunity for happy and healthy lives. I do think that’s a big dream and something I fear is becoming harder to realize than it has been in previous generations, although its still attainable. 
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
I hate to think about that in terms of government intervention or anything like that -- many nonprofits in particular are very competent and can do things because many of us are often more able to adapt and change. We often can get important work done faster, cheaper, and often better than more traditional sectors or older sectors such as for-profit and government. I’m not sure there is one concrete thing that can be done.
How do you know you’re making progress?
We of course have a strategic plan; we’re very focused on that. For each of our goals and objectives we are absolutely committed to evaluation. We evaluate our progress against objective measures for program outcomes -- how well we do our program activities. We are involved in measuring how much change happens with individuals and communities; we know what the results are because everything we do is measured and evaluated. We are professionally evaluated by our evaluators we have on staff, or in collaboration with places like U of M. It comes down to knowing what we want to accomplish, how to measure what we want to accomplish, and evaluating it in scientific ways.
What are you most proud of?
First and foremost, our organization in our area -- meaning kidney organizations -- provides more programs and services to more people than any other state or regional kidney organization. We know that our programs do change lives, and again, we can prove it -- it’s not just wishful thinking, we know when we do that. Also, as an organization, one of the reasons we are
When we go into the community, we work closely with local community groups to implement our programs.
successful is that we have an environment which is open to innovation and collaboration. We don’t do things in a silo; we’re always looking for other organizations to work with. When we go into the community, we work closely with local community groups to implement our programs.
Also, we really like the fact that we have received Charity Navigator’s four-star rating for four years. That places us in the top five percent of organizations across the country. We’re committed to what they evaluate -- financial integrity and good governance, et cetera. We work hard to be among America’s best charities. One of the things people are constantly amazed at is that we have maintained and continued growth even through the Great Recession, both programmatic and financial. We’ve even been adding jobs here during the recession, which speaks to the quality and the importance of the programs we are involved in.
What are the biggest challenges in getting Michigan residents engaged in taking ownership of their health?  
I believe strongly that people need to understand if we’re talking about things like obesity that leads to so many health issues, that they understand what the consequences of that are. Obviously one issue is education, but it’s one thing for people to know that being obese or not taking care of their diabetes correctly or not taking their medicine for high blood pressure is bad. But once you know that, people need to have the tools to deal with it -- and sometimes tools are very specific things, in terms of, “if I do this, this, and that I can prevent or reduce the progression of XYZ.” A lot of times it’s not that simple.
We’re helping people learn techniques to overcome some of the barriers to better health. It’s not just a matter of making a decision one day to start living a healthier life. There are so many obstacles people have to overcome. Exercise is not so easy when you can’t go out and walk safely in neighborhood. Of course people have to make a decision to do that, too -- it’s one thing to be aware and then make a decision, it’s another to make a decision to live a healthier life. There’s some personal responsibility in that too. As a health-related organization, our job is to inform, educate, and provide tools so that people can live happier healthier lives.
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