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COVID-19 forced pivot 'to a new future' for Make-a-Wish Foundation: CEO Richard Davis

Max Zahn with Andy Serwer
·2 mins read

The novel coronavirus has upended many companies that depend on in-person service, including restaurant chains like Ruby Tuesday and legacy retailers like J.C. Penney.

The pandemic has similarly disrupted day-to-day operations for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, a philanthropy that for four decades has granted wishes for ill children who sought a theme park visit or a meet-up with a celebrity — until health risks rendered those impossible.

In a new interview, Make-a-Wish Foundation CEO Richard Davis told Yahoo Finance the organization has put thousands of wishes on hold but also found creative ways to keep granting them, which include virtual conversations with celebrities and at-home presents that improve life for many forced to stay inside.

“I call it pivoting to a new future,” says Davis, who then described how the company approaches requests from a child who wants a wish that requires travel or in-person interaction.

“If he says I want to go to the Galapagos, I want to go to Disney World, or I'd like to be mayor for a day, then we're gonna hold on to those in order,” says Davis, the former CEO of U.S. Bancorp (USB).

90% of its wishes ‘evaporated’

But if a child’s wish remains impossible a year from now due to concerns about potential COVID-19 infection risks amid travel or large groups, the organization will fulfill an alternate request that can be achieved safely.

“We're gonna make that the biggest thing you've ever seen,” Davis says. “Because that's something that he wanted.”

The organization grants 16,000 wishes each year but 90% of its wishes “evaporated in March” due to travel risks amid the pandemic, Davis said.

Make-a-Wish Foundation CEO Richard Davis appears on "Influencers with Andy Serwer."
Make-a-Wish Foundation CEO Richard Davis appears on "Influencers with Andy Serwer."

Since the pandemic, though, children have come up with more attainable wishes.

“In the meantime, guess what my number one wishes are: cameras, pools, room remodels, tree houses,” he says. “Things that don't require travel but require more of an asset into my life something to make my life more productive and give me something I've always wanted.”

Davis spoke to Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.

The organization also relies on the generosity of celebrities, many of whom agree to spend time with a child who has asked to meet them. Luckily, celebrities quickly shifted to video calls in order to make children’s wishes possible, Davis said.

“Within a week, we had people like DJ Khaled, Justin Bieber .... and Oprah [Winfrey],” Davis says. “They did videos with our children.”

“I'll just go on to say that the videos were as remarkable as anything I've seen since I've been here,” he adds. “The selfless, thoughtful, sweet nature of the celebrities is unparalleled.”

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