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DRiWaterstone Client Stories: Wish of a Lifetime from AARP

We recently sat down with Tom Wagenlander, the Executive Director of Wish of a Lifetime from AARP to discuss his experience working with the DRiWaterstone team. In this conversation, we learned more about Wish of a Lifetime from AARP and the roles they were looking to fill, discovered the insights gained about their organization, advice for non-profits, and much more. 


DRiWaterstone (DRiW): Tell me a little bit about Wish of a Lifetime from AARP and your role there?  

Tom Wagenlander (TW): Wish of a Lifetime from AARP is a nonprofit based in Denver, Colorado. We grant lifelong wishes to older adults, these are life-changing experiences that encourage our recipients and beneficiaries to age with joy. We just granted our 2,500th wish, and we have been around since 2008. 

In the last three years, we have become an official charitable affiliate of AARP. This gives us a great affiliation/partnership to amplify the work we’re doing, and to change as many lives as possible. 

I am fortunate to be the Executive Director and lead a team that crafts these life-changing experiences and brightens the day of our oldest generations. 

DRiW: Tell me about the recent role Wish of a Lifetime from AARP was looking to fill? 

TW: As part of our affiliation with AARP, it’s really challenged us to grow in scale, scope, and capability. It’s one of the areas we really focused on—our Board—and our Board makeup. Our Board is going through a transition to match the ambitions that we now have as AARP. So, we identified two Board roles that we wanted to fill in 2023, and that started the conversation with DRiWaterstone. 

DRiW: Why did you choose to work with a retained search firm? 

TW: It was a strategic decision since we wanted to expand our network beyond our existing connections. AARP has a history of working with DRiWaterstone, so we talked to our contacts there and heard fantastic things, so it seemed like a great fit. We also wanted to work with a team who understood the complexities of the AARP landscape. 

DRiW: Describe your overall experience working with the DRiWaterstone team?  

TW: The Board profile we were looking for was matched by the candidate pool. I felt like the team paid attention to us and what we were looking for. They were able to distill my view, the founder’s view, and our executive sponsor’s view to create a slate of candidates that represented the ambition of our Board. That first discovery phase and that initial conversation I think really showed through as the process unfolded. I also appreciated the check-ins with Jennifer Dunlap and the team. It was clear they were casting a wide net, but one that met our expectations for the Board role. 

DRiW: What did you learn about your organization through the search process?  

TW: I think part of what we learned, while reflecting on the quality of the candidates, is that it reinforced the validity of our ambition – the way our mission resonated with the high-powered and capable individuals who were represented in the candidate pool. Anytime you get external or third-party feedback from someone who does not live this mission every day but sees the value in it, you can see those tangible results. It is a great moment of validation and reinforcement. We’re always looking for that feedback. I don’t know if it is a learning experience, but it is an appreciated experience that keeps us striving forward. 

DRiW: What advice do you have for nonprofit organizations looking to attract top talent in today’s market?  

TW: It’s important when you’re in those transformative moments to bring in outside prospectives—even outside your Board—and to expand your thinking by having engagements and conversations with groups out there in the marketplace that maybe aren’t familiar with what you do. It does represent a significant investment—and for non-profits—money is the air you breathe. It’s something that must be thought through cautiously and strategically, but it pays dividends when you’re experiencing that transformative growth. It’s easy to find comfort in the way you’ve done things previously, but sometimes you really have to challenge yourself to find that comfort in the discomfort when you’re trying to do big things. 


At DRiWaterstone, we have the pleasure to work with some of the best mission and purpose-driven clients and candidates in the non-profit and social impact space. To learn more about how we can help you build your high-performance teams and drive growth, email us – we’d love to talk! 

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At the end of every job interview, there comes a time when the interviewer asks: “Do you have any questions for us?” It’s no different when you’re interviewing for a position with a Board – and it’s an important chance for you to make sure the role is the right opportunity for you. Coming prepared with a list of questions indicates to the search committee that you have done your due diligence about the organization, and that you are genuinely interested in the prospective role, and the way that the organization operates. 

You’ll undoubtedly come up with questions during your conversation with the search committee, and you should have questions specific to your own goals and how they align with the role you’re interviewing for. Keep in mind that nonprofit Boards are volunteer positions. Why you want to give back to a particular organization is important, even if you are being recruited. But in case you get stuck, here are five questions to help distinguish yourself as someone who is serious about the opportunity to lend your expertise to the efforts of a Board: 

Question 1: What does success look like in this role? 

Asking this question is an excellent way to uncover both the long-term and short-term goals of the Board and to determine how you can best support them. Understanding their objectives and how they define success will allow you to make a more significant impact as a new Board member. Whether it involves increasing philanthropy efforts, spearheading strategic planning sessions, or leading a finance committee, understanding the role of (and vision for) the Board will help you align your skills and expertise with their specific needs—and help you discover if the opportunity is the right fit for you. 

Question 2: What is the organization’s overall approach and commitment to increasing Diversity, Equality, Inclusion and Belonging efforts? 

Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) in the workplace are key to expanding and broadening perspectives and maximizing success. Discover how the organization is taking actionable steps toward increasing their efforts – and how those efforts are being addressed by the Board as well. If you find  there is no plan or process related to DEIB, take the opportunity to discuss how you can help them define and achieve their DEIB initiatives through inclusive policies.  

Question 3: Can you estimate the amount of time needed for this position? 

Actively engaging as a Board member requires time, effort, and dedication. Now is a wonderful opportunity to understand just how much (or how little) of your schedule you will need to allocate to help guide and provide effective oversight for the organization. Whether that means leading Board meetings, participating in stakeholder calls, or attending fundraising events—your time will naturally be of the essence. While some Board-related work requires more time than others, it is smart to realistically compare your schedule with the prospective responsibilities and opportunities offered by the role.

Question 4: How does the Board and executive leadership team work together to achieve the organization’s mission? 

In this crucial role, you'll work closely with the executive leadership team to shape and uphold the organization's mission, vision, and purpose. Understanding how the two parties work together today (and how they have worked together in the past) can give you a lot of insight into how you might approach building relationships and achieving your goals. A collaborative relationship with the executive leadership team fosters innovation and informed decision-making, ensuring everyone is aligned with the organization's goals. Staying on the same page and working toward achieving a common goal plays a significant part in driving growth and impact—so it’s important to understand how this relationship works. 

Discover How We Can Help Inspire Purpose and Mission-Driven Organizations. 

DRiWaterstone Human Capital’s team has over 20 years of experience working with purpose and mission-driven clients, including nonprofits, foundations, associations, and social impact organizations to help them build high-performance teams and cultures. From initial outreach to job offer signing, we are there every step of the way to ensure a smooth and productive executive search experience.  

Learn more by booking a time with one of our amazing team members.  

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