Recently, we had the opportunity to catch up with Jill Skinner, chief communications officer for Lifesize customer Make-A-Wish Central and South Texas, about all things communication, collaboration, video and even the organization’s upcoming flagship fund-raising event, Over The Edge.
Lifesize: Tell us about Make-A-Wish’s mission and how you carry it out here in Central and South Texas.
Jill Skinner: Our mission is to create life-changing wishes for kids with critical illnesses. Our chapter covers 40 Texas counties, from Temple/Killeen all the way down to Laredo. Roughly 550 kids in our territory are diagnosed with a critical illness every year, and we’ve been able to fulfill around 300 wishes a year.
A first-of-its-kind study about the medical and financial impact of a wish on a child battling a critical illness, done by a pediatric neurologist, shows that children who receive a wish have the emotional and physical strength needed to fight their illness and undergo fewer hospitalizations as well as shorter lengths of stays, and it shows that a wish can give a child a higher chance of survivability. This is something we’ve known anecdotally for a while — that a wish isn’t just a nice thing but is a necessary part of an overall treatment plan. The biggest myth that we work hard to dispel is that Make-A-Wish only grants wishes to children who are terminal. That’s not the case. Over 75% of our kids successfully defeat their illnesses and go on to lead fulfilling lives.
Eighty-five cents of every dollar we raise goes directly to granting wishes. We grant all kinds of wishes, from trips to meeting a favorite celebrity or athlete, and from wishes to give back to wishes to have something like a swimming pool or treehouse. We even grant wishes to be something, like a superhero. We rely on the community, individual donors, corporate donors and in-kind donations to help us do all that.
Lifesize: How critical are communication and collaboration in delivering on that mission?
JS: There’s a ton of collaboration that goes into granting wishes, both on the local and global levels. There are 62 Make-A-Wish chapters nationwide plus 42 chapters internationally. Each chapter grants the wishes of kids in its own territory and assists when a child from another territory has a wish that takes place in their area. We all work together to create an experience as personal and unique as the child.
On a local level, we collaborate with our donors to give them an experience that will best connect them to the mission, like throwing a send-off party for a child leaving for their trip or simply sharing a child’s story and their wish experience. All of this is coordinated between the chapter’s development and wish-granting teams.
We collaborate with our community, too. For example, we granted a wish in San Marcos for a little boy who wanted to meet SpongeBob SquarePants but wasn’t able to travel. The production studio shipped us an authentic SpongeBob costume, and we threw a whole parade where community members lined the streets cheering our wish kid on as he came face to face with his favorite character. It was amazing.
Lifesize: How does the organization currently use video?
JS: Video is the best way to share a story. We have a small but mighty staff so we’ve never really had the resources to do that consistently — but when we have a great video, we like to share it at donor events so that they can better connect with what a wish experience looks like. They can see a child on their wish and be part of it. When you can see and share in the joy of that child’s experience, it makes all the difference in the world in terms of connection and impact.
I think video helps cut through the nonprofit noise in a giving city like Austin by capturing and telling our powerful stories in a way that shows the spirit of what we’re doing through the kids’ eyes.
Lifesize: What are you most excited to be able to do more of with the power of Lifesize?
JS: We’re thrilled to be working with Lifesize, in part because we’ve struggled to bring together our Austin office, our small outpost office in San Antonio, and our regional and governing boards. With Lifesize, we all feel like we’re in the same room and on the same page during meetings. We’ve been challenged in finding the perfect technology to enable that, and we’ve found it with Lifesize.
Bigger picture, we’re looking at being able to build more of a shared experience with wish families and donors while they’re actually on their wish. That’ll be huge in bringing them closer together and letting donors understand the profound impact they’re having.
Lifesize: Tell us about Over The Edge, how it came to be your chapter’s signature event and how Lifesize is involved this year.
JS: With all the nonprofit events and galas in our territory, we thought we’d do something unique, so we started Over The Edge nine years ago. Over The Edge challenges people to face their fears (namely a fear of heights), raise a minimum of $1,500 and rappel down a high-rise. For many years, we’ve been fortunate to partner with 600 Congress in downtown Austin, a building 32 stories tall. Trust me, it’s a long way down. I’ve done it ... twice.
Many rappelers are hesitant to step over, but they’re inspired by these brave wish kids. These kids go through so much and face unfathomable obstacles and fears every day — we can do this for them. Many of our wish kids come to cheer the rappelers on, holding signs that say things like, “You’re brave!” or “Thanks for going Over The Edge for kids like me.” We have around 200 participants each year, so we’re nearing 1,800 rappelers over the past nine years. We still have a few spots available for June 8 and 9, but you’d better visit our website to sign up and start fund-raising soon!
This year, we’re excited that Lifesize is setting up cameras to capture and livestream our rappelers as they head down the side of the building, either laughing and smiling or screaming! (Very few people scream, by the way.) It’ll be great to have action videos to use for promotion and fund-raising next year, but it’s also a chance for rappelers to prove they actually went through with it, relive the experience and tell their personal stories for years to come.