Make-A-Wish Foundation – Interview with Los Angeles AWE Leader Tricia Justice, on being a Board member for a non-profit organization.

We recently had the honor of interviewing our AWE Leader Tricia Justice, VP, Human Resources at Brightview Landscapes Development. In addition to her role at BrightView Landscapes Development, Tricia is the Chairman of the Board of the Make-A-Wish Foundation – Greater Los Angeles, a non-profit organization whose mission is to grant life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. The belief that a wish experience can be a game-changer for a child with a critical illness is what drives and inspires them to try and grant the wish of every eligible child.

Tricia highly recommends doing one’s research and finding an organization that really speaks to your heart. This was no different for Tricia – after fostering and adopting animals all her life, she ultimately found that helping children spoke to her heart more than anything else.  As it did for her, once you take that first step, you will gain the confidence to be able to join a Board anywhere. Make-A-Wish is actively looking for Board members now!

AWE: How did you get involved on a Board?  What was the first step you took?

Tricia: The first Board seat I ever held was with a church I attended. Most Boards today are made up of white males – when they meet a woman that is part of the organization that is smart and hardworking and has the ability to think on her feet, the immediate reaction tends to be, “wow, not only is she a good set of hands but what’s a more effective way to include her as a thought leader within our organization.” And that is often the typical path because women are generally not raised to put themselves out there and ask for a Board seat.  When you start volunteering or giving of your time, in return, you get so much intrinsic value from that.  I was ushering every Sunday while serving meals to the homeless, one Thursday a month. You go from “okay, I’ll volunteer once a month then you’re volunteering every Sunday and every Thursday.”  After taking that first step and holding a Board seat, that then gave me the confidence that I could do it anywhere.

 AWE: There are so many non-profit organizations that need help – what drew you to Make-A-Wish Foundation?

Tricia: I was raised from an early age to give back, as I have been very blessed in my life.  My personal mantra that I wrote in high school, which still lives with me today, is “leave it better than you found it”.  The “It” is any organization that I work for and any person that I meet.  That desire to give back and to improve the world led me to Make-A-Wish.  The charity resonated with me as a way to get involved with children, since I could not have any of my own and as my 6 nieces and nephews were getting older, it simply made sense to avail my passion and volunteerism further in this direction.  

AWE: What are the added responsibilities of being on a Board?  What is the time commitment?

Tricia: Like anything in life, if it is important to you, you learn to balance it out. When you initially join a Board, depending on the Board – most meet quarterly so you’re committing a couple of hours a quarter. Then if you get more involved and become a thought leader and while continuing to add value, you may then be asked to chair a sub-committee at which point, could lead to a couple more hours a quarter. Right now with Make-A-Wish, because we are in crisis mode due to the current economic environment – how do we continue to raise funds and continue to grant wishes when there is no way we can put a sick kid on a plane? We are now meeting every other month, but I think if it’s important to you, you make time for it and of course, it is crucial to have the support of your supervisor and/or your organization as well.” Support from our respective organizations allows you to push back effectively because if I didn’t push back on my calendar, every minute I have scheduled for Make-A-Wish would get double-booked with my work with Brightview, so having that support of your organization and your supervisor goes a long way.

AWE:  What was the process of getting on a Board? What did you do to prepare?

Tricia: Do your research and determine what speaks to you, be it Make-A-Wish, or any other non-profit that exists.  Check out the ratings of the organization and ensure you are getting involved with a good one.  Reach out to one or two current Board members and gain additional insights and perspectives on the organization.  Mentally check your schedule and ensure you have the time to participate in Board meetings and get comfortable asking family and friends, as well as your company, to support you in your mission of fundraising.  Then submit your resume and enthusiastically present yourself as a candidate as you would for any other role. 

I did a lot of research and I have done that with each organization that I have volunteered for.  The most valuable asset I have to give is my time. If you are interested in a Board, you should choose what really speaks to your heart and then do research because you will find that there are tons and tons and tons of organizations out there that give back. Ultimately Make-A-Wish really spoke to me.

After researching multiple non-profits related to children, I called the CEO of the local chapter to express my interest.  I later met with the CEO and then the Chairman of the Board and discussed why Make-A-Wish was a fit for me and my personal goal of giving back.  I was able to express how my HR talents could benefit the chapter and the Board, and how I could use my personal network to raise funds for the organization.  After that meeting, I started with attending a meeting and then jumped in with wish-granting and fundraising. 

Again it’s your free time, it’s your off time… often it’s the nights and weekends that you are doing these things so it really needs to be something that speaks to your heart. Choose the charity that you feel most strongly about and then start with that quarterly meeting and see where your heart takes you.

AWE:  What has been most rewarding about working with Make-A-Wish?

Tricia: When I first joined the Board at Make-A-Wish, I went through wish-granting training and then went out to grant a wish with an experienced wish granter.  I met a beautiful young girl at 10 years of age who had been through 4 years of multiple surgeries and treatments.  I saw a shine of light in her and hope that one day she would return to being a “normal kiddo” who could do everything her friends were doing.  I spoke to her about what her wish was and why it was important to her. She had not been able to travel because of her health battle and she said my older sister went to Disney when she was young and told me how wonderful it was – she wanted a Disney wish. When she got back from her trip with her family, she made me a scrapbook with all her polaroid photos. That was what locked me in. That’s what cemented my commitment to Make-A-Wish and the difference I was making in these kids’ lives. I still feel like a member of that family. I still get a Christmas card from them every year. And that’s just one little girl. But that’s what matters – you’re saving and impacting lives one at a time.

AWE: What do Boards look for when recruiting new Board members?

Tricia: There’s really two roles that you’ll play. One, you’re bringing some degree of expertise. For me, being an HR professional I often get pulled in to help from an HR perspective. We are always looking for marketing people to bring that expertise. You act as a coach or consultant for the staff. There is a finance committee which is one of the sub-committees of the Board. We are always looking for a CFO or two or a VP of Finance, somebody that makes sure that the numbers make sense and work.  You are not managing the statements but you are providing oversight to ensure that everything we are doing is being done correctly from an accounting rules perspective. You are bringing functional expertise as well as oversight and guidance. It’s a governance thing: “Hey, are we running this charity as efficiently and effectively as possible?”

Then the second thing that you are bringing is your company and your Rolodex. The whole point of any event, our Gala for example is that you’ve got great talent in LA to perform and you invite people who have financial means to donate. Fundraising is important. My company (Brightview Landscapes Development) always buys a table and the President of our company and his wife attend annually.  I invite other executives and they all donate money.  You could be on the Board and your company may say “we can’t afford at this time to provide financial support of your mission but we will allow you to give your time.” But typically, if a company is going to let you get involved in something like that they will likely support you financially. Another event is our Annual Walk, I had a team from my church and a team from Brightview attend. I had about 43 or 44 people and we raised a lot of money at the Walk. So it’s really the financial fundraising that serves as a focal point.  You know I never thought that I could ask people for money until I got involved with non-profits. I’m not a salesperson. One, I don’t like rejection so I do not want to ask and be told no, but more importantly, how can I ask someone for money? But if it’s something like “hey, would you like to donate money to grant the wish for a child facing a life-threatening illness? Do you know that for every wish granted they are exponentially more likely to survive that illness than a child who doesn’t?” I could tell that story all day! And I can ask anybody for money! So that’s why I say people should truly get involved with something that speaks to their heart because if you can’t sell it why would you want to invest your time in it?

AWE: If someone is interested in getting involved with Make-A-Wish, what would you recommend they do?

Tricia: We are actually actively recruiting Board members right now and people can make a choice –they can get engaged in the LA Chapter or they can get engaged nationally. There are local chapters across the US as well as the national chapter that sits in Arizona. I know there are women across the country that are members of AWE, they can join their local chapter, wherever they live. One thing important to know is that the dollars I give go to the kids in my community. We are definitely looking for Board members and certainly looking for senior women that can bring an influential role to Make-A-Wish!

Please feel free to send me an email at tricia.justice@brightview.com or call me at 714-404-6201.  I am glad to make an introduction to anyone interested in getting involved.  It’s easy, it’s rewarding and you will be able to make an indelible mark in the battle to save children’s lives. 

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