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!