Make-A-Wish Foundation of Nebraska

An Interview with Ms. Brigette Young, President of Make-A-Wish Foundation® of Nebraska
By Dennis Schufeldt and Zubeyir E. Dindar, Creighton University MBA students

Since 1980, the Make-A-Wish Foundation® has given hope, strength and joy to children with life-threatening medical conditions. From their humble beginnings with one boy’s wish to be a police officer, they’ve evolved into the largest wish-granting charity in the world with 64 chapters in the United States and its territories and 35 international affiliates, granting over 200,000 wishes since inception. The Nebraska chapter was formed in 1983 and, since then, has granted wishes to over 1,700 children throughout the state, now averaging about 100 wishes a year. Besides the Omaha, Lincoln and Kearney offices, the Nebraska chapter has volunteer teams in Scottsbluff, Sidney, North Platte, Hastings, Grand Island, Fremont and Norfolk.

Ms. Brigette Young is the president of Make-A-Wish Foundation of Nebraska and has held this position for more than two years. She was born and raised in Bellevue, Nebraska, with strong, Catholic values. Her father was an accountant, and ethics was very important to him. Ms. Young stated that “It wasn’t called ethics; it was just about doing the right thing. There was no question about it.” Throughout her career, she’s always had positive mentors to follow and work for who helped her to attain high standards. It was quite a pleasure to meet with Ms. Young and learn her thoughts about ethics and the admirable practices in the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

What does “Ethics” mean to you?

“Ethics‟ is doing the right thing when nobody is watching—always holding yourself to a high standard.

Do you have an employee ethics training program?

“Any employee, volunteer, board member, or anybody that is going to be involved with Make-A-Wish on any level, no matter how small, is always trained on „What our philosophy is and how we do business. ‟ We take that to the next step, having every single person sign a „Conflict of Interest and Ethics Assurance Form‟ every year to ensure everyone understands the standards we abide by.”

What type of screening processes do you use to make sure you hire ethical people?

“Everybody goes through a background check, and some may also get a credit check. We have employees and volunteers doing fundraisers for us who have access to confidential files, and they are also handling money for us. So the more involved they are with the organization, the more in depth the background screening, which may also include a credit check.”

Do you have special procedures in an interview that gauge the ethical level of a candidate? Can you give us an example?

“We are currently hiring for a director position in Lincoln. We went through about 25 interviews, and parts of our questions were looking for information that would help us gauge a potential employee’s ethical barometer without asking, „Are you an ethical person? ‟ We asked a lot of scenario questions about dealing with Wish families. We would give them a particular situation and ask them how they would handle it. We would then gauge the response, knowing that some information is confidential. They might say „I wouldn’t divulge this, but I can talk about this. ‟That’s how we pull all that information, particularly in the hiring process.”

What are the biggest ethical challenges for a charity organization to overcome?

“I guess in general for charities and non-profit organizations, when you have volunteers and such a large number of non-paid staff, you must put extra checks-and-balances in place. This is common among all non-profit organizations. It is not just about doing background and credit checks, but it is also related to your day-to-day business operations. So in our case, if somebody is handling money, there are always two people that count it and seal it with two signatures on it. So you put procedures in place to ensure that even if everybody signs the “Conflict of Interest and Ethics Assurance Form‟ and passes background checks and nothing comes up, you still follow it down even further so that it would be very difficult for somebody to steal from a non-profit, which I know happens, but not here. We are very strict from the national office all way down to the chapters; there are lots of policies and procedures in place. Even though you’ve done the top screening, you still put procedures in place so that nothing is going on.” It’s also doing everything the right way, no matter what, even though there might be a shortcut. If it is not ethical, you just don’t do it. So it is maintaining a high level of expectations for yourself and for your business.”

Being a charity that deals specifically with children, do you feel added pressure to make sure every aspect of your organization is upheld to high ethical standards?

“That is a big ABSOLUTELY”. ‟We deal with children and their families who are in extremely sensitive and difficult situations. We are dealing with their medical information so we are sure to follow HIPPA regulations. We are not a hospital or health care organization, but we have medical files on children, so we think it is important to keep patient confidentiality. All of that information is guarded and protected. We take it very seriously. “On that same note, with children and family members, we actually have a Publicity Information Form so that parents and families may give us permission to use a child’s picture, name and their diagnosis. So you’ll see on our brochures there are Wish Kids on them. Those are all from families who have submitted the form and given us authorization for that. Usually it is only a first name.”

Are you selective about from whom you’ll accept donations?

“Absolutely. We have specific standards from our national office. Tobacco companies, for instance, fall into a category of donors that we will not accept donations. It is about protecting our name and our families and our children. Sure, they want to give us money, and they’d help us with our mission, but it also hurts the Make-A-Wish name by having it tied to something that doesn’t fit our family friendly image.”

Is there something unique in Omaha in terms of moral responsibility?

“I was born and raised in Omaha. I really think Omaha is different than some other towns and cities. We do hold people accountable to higher standards. We’re friendlier and nicer and more ethical than a lot of people across country. “There are good people everywhere, but I think it is probably a bigger struggle in larger cities, like Los Angeles and New York. I am sure they have a much more difficult time dealing with some issues than we do here in Omaha. It is just kind of an expectation of the people of Omaha. So I think some of the scandals that you see happening all over the country are less likely to happen in Omaha.”

What type of ethical situations are you currently facing? Please give an example of something you experienced recently.

“I guess it probably deals with Wish Kids. Since winning the BBB Integrity Award, we have had a lot of media contacts asking for Wish pictures and Wish stories and things like that. So we are just making sure we have taken the appropriate steps and followed policy and procedures to make sure we have permission to release any information about Wish Children.”

What ethical challenges do you think our youth will see throughout their careers?

“That’s a tough one, having worked in the non-profit sector for the last 20 years. I think it is really different for those working in the for-profit world. I think there are ethical decisions and challenges in the non-profit world, but I think it is different than the for-profit organizations. “I think when the economy is bad, you see people struggling to get positions and, sometimes, they lower their standards. I think that is probably the biggest challenge. When you’re struggling and trying to get a job, any job, you might get in somewhere that isn’t necessarily of the ethical standards that you like but you stay there because it is a job.”

Can we say there are not many ethical dilemmas in the volunteer organizations?

“I would hope the non-profit industry in general would not have as many ethical issues. Many for profit companies probably face much more difficult ethical situations than a non-profit organization.” “We have what we call external events handled by volunteers or outside organizations that do fundraising events for us, such as golf tournaments. The organization that does the event handles all the planning and expenses, and they just send a check. Even though we don’t have control over that, we still make them sign a contract and an agreement stating that however they do the external event, it will be held to the highest standards. They manage the event and use our logo in the right way. So we do put that piece in place to help guard the Make-A-Wish name.”

What is the most memorable Make-A-Wish that you can remember?

“There are so many. They are just phenomenal! “The most memorable one...It is really so hard to talk about it, was a little boy who was four. He had a horrible cancer, and he wanted to go to Disney World, but he became very sick. His parents had taken RJ to see specialists across the country, but treatment didn’t work and, basically, they had to bring him to back home to Nebraska, just to keep him comfortable as much as possible until the inevitable, which, according to the doctors, was only a week or two. So we received a phone call from the family right when they got back on a Friday stating that they were disappointed because they would not be able to make the trip. But he really wanted to go to Disney World and meet Donald Duck. We

contacted our national Make-A-Wish planner the person responsible for all of our larger national events. She happened to be at Disney in the corporate office. She was able to immediately talk to the right person and set up the whole event. So RJ was able to meet with Donald Duck on the following Tuesday in his home. It was the last time that he was coherent. According to his sister, “It was the last time we saw RJ smile”. ‟He passed away four days later. It truly was the sweetest, most heartfelt wish I have been involved with.”

For information on helping make wishes come true, please visit www.nebraska.wish.org.