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Make-A-Wish planning to expand

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Kristen Johnson

Kristen Johnson

Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Since it was formed in 1987, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Eastern North Carolina has filled over 2,000 wishes for children with life-threatening medical conditions.

Now, as it prepares for its 25th anniversary in the fiscal year that begins Sept. 1, the Eastern North Carolina chapter of the Phoenix-based Make-A-Wish Foundation of America has a new president and CEO and ambitious plans to expand.

Operating with a staff of nine people and an annual budget of $2 million, including $1.5 million in cash and $500,000 in in-kind donations, the chapter serves 49 counties and expects to have filled 186 wishes in the fiscal year that ends Aug 31.

The chapter plans to increase the staff by three to four positions over the next year, and to increase to 200 the number of wishes filled, and then increase that number by 50 a year.

By fiscal 2014, the group aims to fill 300 wishes and increases its annual cash budget to $3 million.

“We plan to do that by building a culture of philanthropy and really focusing on allowing others to invest in what we are doing,” says Kristen Johnson, who joined the nonprofit March 14 after serving as director of annual programs, communications and stewardship at Duke Children’s Hospital & Health Center.

At Duke, Johnson oversaw an annual fundraising effort that generated $5 million to $6 million a year.

Key goals for the expanded fundraising effort will be to focus on larger gifts, develop corporate alliances, communicate more strategically, and begin a “stewarding” program for donors, “showing them how valuable they are to our program,” Johnson says.

While Make-A-Wish gets roughly half its donations from individuals and roughly half from corporations, the corporate gifts are larger.

Johnson says stewarding donors “is one of the most important things you can do to keep that donor engaged, to allow them to truly understand what their investment is doing in the lives of children.”

Make-A-Wish also plans to create a new position to manage corporate alliances and also plans to expand its fundraising focus to cities in Eastern North Carolina.

Children with life-threatening illnesses are referred to Make-A-Wish by a broad range of individuals, such as physician, caregivers, care teams, social workers, family member or friends.

Dr. Hope Seidel of Cary, Apex and Fuquay-Varina Pediatrics, the medical director on the Make-A-Wish board, works with the child’s medical team to make sure the child is medically eligible, and the agency then assigns volunteers to meet with the family and child to learn about the child and what his or her wish might be.

Make-A-Wish grants four types of wishes – to go somewhere, like Disney World; to be something, like a princess or firefighter; to meet someone, like a celebrity or sports star; or to have something, like a shopping spree or computer.

“Our goal is to grant wish of every deserving child who has a life-threatening illness in Eastern North Carolina,” Johnson says, estimating that number now is 400. “We’re reaching about half our capacity.”

The average wish costs $6,900.

“What we’re trying to do,” Johnson says, “is reinvent the fundraising portion of what we do.

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