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First CEO role, growing for impact - Liam Willis

Liam Willis joined the Gut Cancer Foundation in July 2019, taking on the role of Executive Officer after years of successful fundraising for non-profits in both the UK and New Zealand.

His appointment as Executive Officer was a perfect fit for the Foundation, as their Board recognised the need to secure new sources of income to fulfil their mission. This mission involves funding vital research and raising awareness about gut cancers within the local community, with the ultimate goal of increasing survival rates and preventing cancers of the digestive system among New Zealanders.


Gut cancers are a significant issue in New Zealand, with 17 people being diagnosed every day. In fact, collectively they are the most common type of cancer in the country, affecting over 6,000 individuals each year.


One of the initial challenges Liam faced in his new role was establishing a clear identity for the charity. A crucial aspect of this process was defining their mission, despite the complexity of cancers of the digestive system. This form of cancer encompasses at least seven main types, including pancreatic, bowel, anal, stomach, liver, oesophageal, and gallbladder cancer. Some of these cancers already have dedicated charities providing support and raising funds for research. Liam was determined to collaborate closely with these organisations, aiming to build a brand that would engage donors and effectively support individuals with cancer and their families.


Liam and his wife relocated to New Zealand from the UK in 2011, and they quickly fell in love with the country. They purchased their first house and started a family, having three children. Liam has been working in the charity sector for two decades, gaining extensive knowledge and expertise in fundraising. He possesses a deep understanding of how to develop and implement successful donor engagement campaigns. Liam emphasises the importance of knowing both current and potential donors, recognizing that data plays a vital role in effectively engaging supporters. In his first role in New Zealand, Liam worked as a fundraiser for the Auckland City Mission.


In 2023, Liam, his wife, and their young children took a sabbatical to travel across Southern Africa in a 4x4 with two rooftop tents! This break was encouraged by the Gut Cancer Foundation's Board of Directors and provided Liam with an opportunity to reflect on his achievements at the organisation and build up the energy to go again. Under his leadership, the team has grown from a single person to a team of five, and he has more than tripled the Foundation's income while raising the charity's profile. Now that he has returned to his role as Executive Officer, Liam is determined to accomplish even more and continue the fight against gut cancer through education, research, and support.


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