Since 1980, more than half a million critically ill children and their families have been given precious moments of hope and happiness by Make-A-Wish. While a global nonprofit today, the founding chapter was in Arizona.
The first wish, in 1980, was that of a young boy with leukemia. His wish was to become a police officer. The family worked with the local department of public safety to make him a police officer for a day. The experience included rides in a patrol car, a motorcycle escort, and traffic stops. For that day, the child was enjoying his life. Tragically, just a few days after his wish was granted, the boy died.
His life and wish, though, were an inspiration. The wishes of other children and families in need were heard and granted. A nascent movement developed and grew. The care available to children with critical illnesses has also progressed. Today, more than 80 percent of children who receive wishes from Make-A-Wish survive their illnesses. That is a hopeful number, but for a family in the throes of this kind of situation, every ounce of hope is precious.In 1982, a national magazine picked up the fact that wishes were being granted. That led to even more growth – and even more hope. Today, there are 59 chapters across the United States and 30 more around the world. In Arizona, where the program began, more than 7,000 wishes have been granted.
All of those wishes have a positive impact on young patients, their families, and care teams. A 2018 study in the journal Pediatric Research found that patients who received a wish were significantly less likely to visit an ER or have an unplanned hospital admission than those who did not.
By focusing on the future, rather than the present, Make-A-Wish seeks to make children happier, if not healthier. As Hollie Costello, the vice president of marketing and public relations at Make-A-Wish Arizona describes it, “We took an idea focused on happiness and expanded it and expanded it and expanded it to make as many kids happy as possible.”
All the funds needed to grant wishes come through the generosity of donors. Nothing is asked of participating families since Make-A-Wish Arizona’s goal is to support them through a difficult time.
When Make-A-Wish Arizona started, it was on a shoe-string budget fueled by word-of-mouth and a commitment to brighten the lives of children and ease the anguish of their families. More than 40 years later, lessons learned, and impact demonstrated, the organization has continued to grow and thrive thanks to a team of professional fundraisers.
Fundraising is critical as the average cost of granting a wish is approximately $10,000. Brenna Stewart, the Make-A-Wish Arizona philanthropy officer described how important it is to be in front of donors – and to engage with them at a personal level. “You hear about people engaging with donors just once, maybe at an event. Asking why someone gives reconnects them with a cause and helps cultivate them as ongoing donors,” she said.
When asking about favorite wishes, everyone agrees it is the next one. Costello, however, shared a recent one that had been particularly meaningful. There is a teenager facing a severe neurological disorder who had limited movement and was in a wheelchair. As he aged and grew, he became too heavy for his family to move. One favorite family activity had been time together in their pool. The son’s size made this impossible so he could no longer participate. The wish was for a pool lift. Now the son can sit in his pool chair and be fully included. His mom says it’s creating new memories for him all the time and that it has been used every day for six months. Every day.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way wishes work and the flow of donations – fortunately, there has been a clear upswing in contributions. Prior to the pandemic, 77 percent of Make-A-Wish Arizona’s wishes were travel related. The team had to come up with a new plan – one that could create 20-30 wishes – like the one described above – each month. The community, contributors, and care teams responded generously. Everyone wants to be a part of the happiness factor Make-A-Wish Arizona provides!
DipJar is pleased to be a part of the equation – and it’s had a clear, positive impact on fundraising efforts. The Make-A-Wish Arizona team first saw DipJar at an event and ordered one for themselves. Demi Simotas, the corporate and foundation giving manager at Make-A-Wish Arizona explained some of the appeal: “I spend a lot of my time working with employers. People enjoy the DipJars, its lights and sounds. It’s exciting to give employees at some of our largest corporate partners a new way to donate.”
And donate they have! The organization now has three DipJars, and over the past three years (including 2020) they have generated more than $14,000 for the organization. DipJar is pleased to be a part of Make-A-Wish Arizona’s continued success and the culture of happiness they seek to spread.