090: Boston Speaks Up with George Deveney of Make-A-Wish
George Deveney is the Chief Advancement Officer at Make-A-Wish Massachusetts and Rhode Island, headquartered in Boston, MA. Make-A-Wish is a non-profit organization on a mission to create life-changing wish experiences for children with critical illnesses. In 2023, Make-A-Wish Massachusetts and Rhode Island celebrate 40 years of providing life changing experiences to kids and families who deserve it the most.
Deveney has dedicated his life to helping others and he has no plans of taking his foot off the gas. Prior to joining Make-A-Wish, Deveney spent the majority of his career at City Year, an education-focused non-profit organization that unites young people from diverse backgrounds for a year of full-time service to keep students in school and on track to high school graduation. At City Year, Deveney led development of the organization and successfully launched regional teams in more than 10 cities including London, Denver and Orlando.
As a Dorchester native, the return to the Greater Boston area to serve this community he once called home was inevitable. For Deveney, getting the opportunity to lead development for Make-A-Wish, one of the most well-recognized non-profit organizations in the nation, is his own dream come true. And as one could imagine, growing up in the area has left Deveney with strong family ties to Boston and surrounding neighborhoods. This has allowed Deveney to stay in tune with local culture, and more importantly makes this role that much more important to him.
In his role, Deveney is responsible for driving the organization’s growth in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. We unpack his specific efforts to do so in this episode as we also explore Deveney’s career journey, what he finds so special about Boston that brought him back, his passion for helping others through non-profit organizations, and much more.
Before we get into the written Q&A, here’s a video highlight from the episode:
Where did you grow up? And how would you describe your childhood?
My roots are in Dorchester; when I was 7, my mom and I moved to Gainesville, Florida. Unfortunately, my mom lost her second battle with cancer when I was 12 and I moved back to Dorchester to live with my aunt and uncle. My mom was a teacher and I’m so glad for the foundation she gave me in so many regards. So I guess my childhood was split between Massachusetts and Florida; I grew up pretty quickly. My teen years were spent on the Red Line … Ashmont to Alewife and everything in between.
If you could go back and give your 18-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Show up to class prepared! Do the reading! It makes school more tolerable!
What is the biggest challenge you had to overcome to get to where you are today?
A combination of impostor syndrome and not acknowledging my worth. I remember vividly when I was being headhunted after a really successful stretch at City Year and that was a real turning point in my career. One, because it was so nice to feel wanted and two, because it made City Year - a place I really valued - step up and invest in me in a truly meaningful way. Imposter syndrome can happen to us all and I have navigated a lot of situations in my career. Once I accepted that I belonged in my own mind, I became unstoppable (at least in my own mind!) which helps combat any doubt.
Would you consider Make-A-Wish your dream job? Why?
My dream job is to be 15th man for the Celtics but I don’t think that’s happening! I would say, I’d sure like to give away money as a career instead of asking for it but as far as loving a mission, seeing the impact our work has on families and the community, this job is pretty great. There is a lot of joy at Make-A-Wish and really, what more can you ask for in a job?
While you were spending time working around the world (Chicago, Philadelphia, London, etc.), what do you miss most about Boston?
The first thing that comes to mind is probably sports? We are such a sports town and sports was always a big part of my experience here. But being a Boston sports fan when you are in all these other places around the country and around the world is a lot of fun too. It’s fun to rep Boston sports - especially the last 20 years or so!
What excites you the most about the New England community right now?
Honestly, it’s personal - what excites me the most about the New England community is experiencing it all again through the eyes of my children. George Jr. and Julie are here and my wife is from Louisiana so I’m about to not only show them what I know but also see more. New England is such a special part of the world and we have it all at our fingertips. I don’t want to take that for granted.
What are some of the most powerful lessons working in non-profit organizations has taught you?
That the third sector should be fun but still needs to be run like a for-profit. You have to recognize when it’s time to grind and when it’s time to take your foot off the gas and appreciate the mission. The power of team. The value of working with likeminded people with a common outlook but different approaches.
Can you reflect on some of your most treasured moments at Make-A-Wish?
Definitely our events when we get to bring together supporters, Wish Families, volunteers, and our team to celebrate the power of our mission and inspire - it really refuels us and gives us the push to keep going.
Where do you see Make-A-Wish® Massachusetts and Rhode Island in 5 years?
Granting the wish of every eligible child in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. It’s going to take resources like we’ve never seen but it’s doable.
Let’s get deep for this one… If you could be remembered for one thing in life, what would it be?
Being a good dad.
FINAL QUESTION: We like the idea of ending our episodes with a challenge for the listeners/readers. Whether it be reaching out to an old friend, reading 5 pages a day from a book, creating a new healthy habit… What is one challenge you have for the listeners?
Try a new recipe. Give yourself plenty of time and no distractions. Get all the ingredients sparing no expense and with no shortcuts and then do it.