Robert Half meets... Make-A-Wish UK

By Robert Half on 28th October 2021

We have a passionate team here at Robert Half, and when we decide to do something, we commit: go big or go home – and our charity work is no different. Recently, we’ve been working with Make-A-Wish as part of a global fundraising campaign. So far, we’ve raised more than $170,000 worldwide, with $30,000 coming from the UK – and we’re not planning on stopping any time soon.

So when UK CEO Jason Suckley came for a visit we jumped at the chance to learn more about the charity. It goes without saying that Make-A-Wish does amazing work that truly changes the lives of children with critical illnesses, but we wanted to find out more about how it turns wishes into reality, how it switched to a virtual existence and how we can help.

Here’s what happened…

You mentioned that you are granting about 1,200 wishes a year, which is amazing, but in terms of where you could get to, what restrictions do you have?
Our vision is to reach every eligible child, and we know that there are 63,000 children in the UK with a critical illness. Our main restriction we have in reaching more children is resources, so sometimes that’s money, sometimes that’s networks - it really depends on the nature of the wish. We might need products, time or celebrity access. The more we can expand our networks, the more wishes we can fulfil.

Do people ever say no?
Both businesses and individuals do say no, but we have a good brand, which opens a lot of doors for us. If they’re the subject of a wish usually they won’t. Generally speaking, individuals, whether that’s sports personalities or celebrities, will say yes when a child wishes to meet them.

We also have business partners who can help with wishes, for example, we do a Lapland wish, which we’re about to do this Christmas and we charter a plane to take the kids to Finland. we take about 45 families and that’s obviously supported by a travel partnership.

That’s amazing! Do you get to go as well?
No I don’t. I need to make a excuse so I get to go really!

How do business partnerships with Make-A-Wish work?
We do everything we can to add value to their business, for instance through engaging their employees in what we do in a meaningful way or through shared marketing content that tells the story of a wish that they have helped with. It doesn’t always have to be about money. We can help positively promote our business partners at the same time as they’re helping with wishes – and that works for them.

The majority of the families we work with are happy to share the stories of their wish, which means we can see the impact on the individual children and their families who benefit, something that is important to a lot of our business partners.

Similarly we might go to another business and they might say no, for example if they are already working with a charity or commercially it doesn’t make sense to them. Some will do it because it is about doing the right thing, where for others it needs to offer measurable value in PR or engagement.

How did you have to adjust for the pandemic and lockdown?
At the start of Covid a lot of things ground to a halt, we had 2,000 children waiting for a wish and there were lots of different types of wishes within that. We work with children with various prognoses, so we have rush wishes, priority wishes and we have normal wishes – those would be a little longer term, where a rush wish might need to be completed in a couple of days.

In this case, we were having constant conversations with children and families to find out if they’d like to wait for their wish or if they’d like to change, and if they had any ideas. Gradually over covid, we changed about 600 of those wishes to different ones – or virtual experiences.

This has been about adapting the nature of the wish whilst still meeting the needs of the child. A good example of this was Elliot’s wish to be a football mascot. We worked with Leeds United to grant Elliot’s wish through a virtual mascot experience. As you can see from the videos, despite the restrictions at the time, this turned out to be a hugely impactful wish for Elliot!

Tell me about the work you did with Disney
Of those 2,000 wishes about 400 were for Disneyland Paris – so we worked with them to create new wish experiences. For example, in the UK, in September we created a wish that brought Disney to 140 children and their families.  It was literally the first time they’d ever done something like this, but it really paid off for the children, for Disney, for us.

In a way, Covid enabled us to create something different – so now hopefully we’ll be able to offer more Disney wishes in the UK, as well as trips to Disneyland Paris, which means that those children who can’t travel can still meet their favourite characters.

Rapid Fire

  1. Most common wish?
    Disneyland Paris
  2. What would your wish be?
    Now, as opposed to when I was a kid, I would like to play the part of Tony in West Side Story
  3. What about when you were a kid?
    I would have wanted to meet by favourite Aston Villa football player, Brian Neville
  4. Most common pandemic wish?
    Gaming equipment. A lot of kids are socially isolated, and in lockdown they were even more so because of shielding, so it was their way of socialising!
  5. Most unusual wish?
    A little girl wanted to be taken to a castle in a carriage drawn by unicorns in order to battle with ninja warriors in grounds
  6. Most impressive wish (or hardest to pull off)?
    We’ve had a wish to go into space and with the help of the RAF we ended up providing a zero-gravity experience for the child and their father in a special plane

How did you come to be CEO of Make-A-Wish UK?
I had a previous career in the private sector, then working for charities for about 16 years. My background is in marketing, and I’d always loved the Make-A-Wish brand, so as soon as I saw the role advertised I thought ‘That needs to be me’. It’s been more than I could have possibly imagined – it’s changed my life actually because I’ve learned so much and seen so much emotion. I’ll never be the same person again after this.

You said you work on the front line too, is that difficult?
It is. You meet people then you find out the child passed away and that’s hard, and you see difficult circumstances. There are quite often tears in the office, but actually when you’re there with the child it’s quite easy to manage your emotions because you know it’s not about you – you avoid drawing attention to yourself because you know you need to focus on the child.

Overall, it’s a very, very, happy experience, rather than a sad one, because you see joy. Pure Joy. And that’s a privilege to be able to share those moment with children and their families.

Which wish story sticks in your mind?

 

You’re always looking for volunteers and support. How can people get involved?

We’re about to start advertising for more volunteers – the more, the merrier. We’re very flexible and volunteer-driven so as a rule there’s no required time commitment. Certain roles will naturally take more time than others. One of the roles we’ve recently introduced in ‘Community Leader’ – somebody who will actually manage the network in a particular region make sure wishes get granted – which could be around two days a week, or more.

But we know not everyone has that time to spend so if you were to be a ‘Wish Visitor’ essentially you are offered the opportunity to visit when there’s a request in your local area but there aren’t any quotas or time requirements – when you can do it, you will. It’s not really fair on volunteers if you’re imposing set amounts of time for doing something.

In terms of the people you work with, do the parents and the children ever give back?
Some of our best volunteers have had a direct connection with Wish - I can give you an example if you like. So, we had a fundraising event on Monday night, and there was a chap there who was volunteering. After he’d become a Wish Visitor, his daughter unfortunately was diagnosed with a terminal condition so she then had Wish Visitors come to her to find out what she wanted; she ended up meeting the cast of Coronation Street. She’s passed away now, but Simon (her father) is now one of our community leaders. He spoke at the event on Monday and there was a lot of power in what he had to say that wouldn’t be there if he hadn’t also been a Wish parent.

What is your goal for the future?
We need to reach every child. It’s not fair that some children get this and others don’t so I’d like to be there in five years. In the next 12 months, I’d quite like to be doing 1,500 wishes a year. Recruit more volunteers and diversify our support space, which means acquiring more individual corporate supporters. I want to get the word out that we’re not just a ‘nice’ charity – we really make a difference to these children.

How do you choose between children?
Unfortunately, we have a limit we have to stick to because of needing the resources to back it up, but usually we’ll stop taking referrals halfway through a month – then we have to choose between children.

We’re about to launch a new brand campaign highlighting the dilemma we face actually. These illnesses take these children’s childhoods and we’re in a difficult place where we have to decide who gets a wish and who won’t. We’re asking people to put themselves in our place: how would you choose? Hopefully, with enough support, one day we won’t have to choose; every child who is eligible will get a wish.

We like to get to know the people we work with, and the ‘Robert Half Meets’ series means that you can get to know them too. Keep an eye out for Active Interviews with Patrick McCubbin, as well as our regular meetings with clients, consultants and external partners. If you’d like to work with us, get in touch and if you'd like to donate to Make-A-Wish you can do it here:

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