Capital Region

Outlook 2021: Business acumen helps chairwoman guide Make-A-Wish through pandemic twists and turns

Cobleskill 15-year-old Cheyenne in July with her new pool she received through Make-A-Wish. Lisa Clifford, right, chairwoman of the Make-A-Wish Northeastern New York Board of Trustees
Cobleskill 15-year-old Cheyenne in July with her new pool she received through Make-A-Wish. Lisa Clifford, right, chairwoman of the Make-A-Wish Northeastern New York Board of Trustees

Published Feb. 25, 2021 in Outlook

After attending several Make-A-Wish Northeast New York events, Guilderland resident Lisa Clifford saw firsthand the impact of granting a wish to a critically ill child.

“When you see the power granting a wish has on a family, it’s very moving,” said Clifford, who became chairwoman of the Make-A-Wish Northeast New York Board of Trustees in late 2020. “It creates hope and hope is critical.”

Since the Make-A-Wish Northeast New York chapter was founded in 1987, more than 1,950 wishes have been granted.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled the nonprofit organization’s ability to grant travel wishes such as cruises and trips to Walt Disney World, which Clifford said account for a large majority of the wishes.

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

“Right now, like other organizations, it’s a difficult time and we’ve had to pivot during this pandemic, and look at other ways to deliver a wish and make it impactful,” she said. “We typically grant 90 to 100 wishes every year, but we have a backlog now. We’ve been doing things like shopping sprees and backyard adventures instead.”

The pandemic has also had an impact on the organization’s events.

“Our gala and walk last year were virtual, and we had to figure out how to make them stand out and be engaging,” Clifford said. “We have fundraising goals and we had to make sure we were doing the best we could.”

She added that Make-A-Wish Northeast New York staff and board members continually reached out to corporate donors and individuals to let them know that wishes are still waiting to be granted.

“We have a lot of in-person events that are huge sources of revenue for us, but fortunately we saw an increase in online giving,” Clifford said. “We were able to use our website and social media to get the word out. The hardest thing is not seeing the end in sight of when this will get better.”

Meaningful contributions

For Clifford, these challenging times reinforce the importance of being involved in a meaningful organization.

“Stepping in as board chair during a pandemic is not ideal, but I’ve been amazed by our staff’s ability to creatively reimagine how we do things,” she said. “It’s amazing that we’re not only surviving but thriving during this.”

Clifford credits previous Make-A-Wish Northeast New York board chair Sarah McKinney for showing her the ropes.

“I was able to walk side by side with the previous chair to better understand the history, how processes work, and dig deeper into our mission delivery, finances and governance, which has been really helpful,” Clifford said. “It helped me learn more about the organization overall.”

McKinney joined the nearly 20-person Make-A-Wish Northeast New York Board of Trustees alongside Clifford in 2014.

“Lisa provides a great perspective in helping guide the board and the organization,” said McKinney, who continues to serve on the board. “Her leadership as board chair is fueled by her business savvy, community involvement and her dedication to the wish children of 518 and 838 area codes.”

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

Since joining the board in 2014, Clifford — senior vice president and a family wealth strategist and wealth adviser with Key Private Bank — has been able to use her business contacts to help raise awareness for Make-A-Wish Northeast New York.

“Key Bank is very philanthropic, and they care about the community and their clients, and I’ve been fortunate that my Make-A-Wish and Key Bank paths have come together,” she said. “It feels great to contribute in a meaningful way with my personal relationships.”

The responsibility of the Make-A-Wish Northeast New York Board of Trustees is to ensure every part of the organization is properly functioning.

“We have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure our dollars are going to grant wishes in the 15-county community we serve, as well as the logistics of the wish delivery,” she said. “We also strive to make sure the staff, who always put their job and the kids first, feel valued.”

As board chair, Clifford is in constant communication with Make-A-Wish Northeast New York CEO William C Trigg III.

“Lisa is an invaluable asset to the Board of Trustees and to the chapter as a whole,” Trigg said.

“As board chair, her leadership skills, business and financial acumen, and valued fundraising capabilities continue to be vital to our success as a Capital Region charity.

“Moreover, Lisa has tremendous, genuine passion for our mission of creating life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. Her commitment to our wish kids and families is on display each and every day.”

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

It’s that passion that keeps Clifford involved with Make-A-Wish.

“You have to be passionate about the organization you serve,” she said. “If you’re doing it for networking, you’ll be counting the hours you’re there, and for me, every hour I spend at Make-A-Wish is time well spent.”

The Make-A-Wish story

Despite the pandemic, Clifford said Make-A-Wish Northeast New York is still receiving referrals for children ages 2 1/2 to 18 who are medically eligible to receive a wish.

“We don’t receive any government funding, so when the world opens back up we want to be able to grant those wishes,” she said. “There will be a large flow of wishes we’ll have the opportunity to grant, and I hope we have the financial support to do that.”

This year, Clifford said she hopes Make-A-Wish continues to be creative in finding new ways to reach donors.

“This is an opportunity to thank our current donors for believing in the mission and to let them know that the work is not done — their support is needed more than ever,” she said. “We’ll take a fresh look at our corporate sponsorships and share stories in new ways. We’re anxious to continue to grant wishes and get out in the community, and share the Make-A-Wish story.”

In two years, when Clifford’s term as board chair is complete, she hopes to have grown the number of donors to the organization and for those donors to know how valued they are.

“I want our donors to know how important their gift is in the lives of children and their families,” she said. “I hope I can continue to share my energy and enthusiasm with the board, and inspire them to continue to devote their time.”

Continuing her involvement with Make-A-Wish after her service as board chair ends is also important to Clifford.

“I can only imagine how difficult a critical illness diagnosis is on a family,” she said. “To have a wish granted and have that time together as a family is so important, and if I can help another family experience that, I will.”

Outlook 2021 Index: The Gazette’s annual guide to business in our region

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