Q&A With Make-A-Wish President Mia Hoagberg

Dec 18 2018


Mia Hoagberg makes people’s dreams come true for a living. Talk about a dream job? But she’s also seen her own dreams come true, as the head of Make-A-Wish and parent to two thriving children. I visited with her recently to talk about her career, which is never boring and always moving forward, just the way she likes it.

Q: I love the way you talk about “creating a life of importance.” Can you share more?

A: A wise man once told me and you only get so many days. That was my dad. At the time he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and it was one of his rare moments of clarity. When I’m worrying about something unimportant or someone has been rude or when I’m cranky, I ask myself if this is how I want to spend my day. My dad was right that we only get so many days and none of us know how many that is.

Q: You and I have discussed “mommy guilt” and how it can be difficult to make time for both your career and your family. Can you share your perspective on this topic now that your kids are older?

A: Ahhh, mommy guilt. It plagues us all. I’d venture to say there’s a fair amount of parent guilt these days now that many dads are taking on more hands-on care for their kids. During different points in my life I worked full time with kids, part time with kids, and stayed home with kids. When I was at work I missed my kids; when I was home with kids I felt like I should be at work. I never felt like I was doing it right. My kids are now 23 and 20. They are kind, funny, driven, interesting people. They both left Minnesota for college and are adept world travelers. It’s so fun to see the competent adults they’ve become. I’m not sure what would have changed had I been home with them the entire time they were growing up. I have no doubt they would have been different, but different doesn’t mean better. I do know I wished other people would have been more supportive and less judgmental when I was raising my kids. Being a parent is hard enough without someone telling you you’re doing it wrong. I think kids are generally happy when their parents are happy. I hope that people are more supportive now of whatever decisions families make regarding child-rearing. It’s a hard job and supporting people in their decisions, even if they are not the same as yours, is essential.

Q: Do you have any “life hacks” that help you fit everything into your busy schedule?

A: I think the most important decision anyone makes is who they choose as a life partner. I was blessed to meet someone who is not intimidated by my passion and drive for my career. He cheers me on and encourages me to be my best self. He is also an equal partner in keeping our household running and kids growing. He did at least half of the dirty diapers, stayed home with sick kids, drove kids to practice, helped with homework and Target runs. I’ve also become very comfortable not keeping up with others when it comes to the Pinterest perfect house. I actually have a magnet on my fridge that says, “My kitchen is dirty? Someone call the who gives a s**t police!”

Q: As a child, your daughter exited her school bus and stepped into a crosswalk. The bus driver saw that an oncoming car was not stopping for the bus’s safety arm and he honked, causing your daughter to stop, which you say saved your daughter’s life. You later helped honor the bus driver for his quick thinking. How have life’s close calls informed the way you manage your priorities?

A: This experience with my daughter, and working with kids at Make-A-Wish, has helped me to cherish the little everyday moments. A great walk with my husband, laughing really loud with my friends, my whole family singing along to a Prince song in the car. I try to really enjoy those times when I feel especially connected to other people. Having an appreciation for just how short life can be has also made me less likely to waste time with some people. I’m always polite, but don’t make a lot of time for chronic judgers, complainers and energy-suckers. Life’s too short!

Q: I know it’s probably impossible to pick one, but what is one of your favorite stories of Make-A-Wish making someone’s dreams come true?

A: You’re right. I can’t pick just one. My favorite wishes are those that capture the spirit of the child: the boy who wished to be a garbage truck driver, the girl who wished to snuggle puppies and kitties, the boy who wanted to fly to Saturn in a red rocket ship. Make-A-Wish found a way for all of those wishes to come true, even flying to Saturn, through the use of virtual reality technology. Kids have simple, sweet and creative wishes. It’s up to us adults to say “Yes, and” to their creativity. I encourage my team to say “Yes, and” in all that they do.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you ever received from a female mentor? And how much of a priority do you put mentoring others?

A: My best advice was “Under Promise and Over Deliver.” It’s actually become my life motto. This was from a boss, who later became my job share partner. She was wise and kind: the perfect kind of mentor. I’ve actually had many great men that have supported me in my career as well and at times more than the women who surrounded me. I spend a great deal of time mentoring others. I know what it feels like to not get a call back after sending endless resumes. I encourage people to network their way into jobs they want, rather than apply for open positions they’re not thrilled about. I also tell my kids to be respectful and kind to everyone throughout your career. Life has a way of circling around and it’s amazing how many times old connections become your biggest advocates.

Q: I am passionate about companies moving beyond “brand purpose” and actually taking brand action. I call it “Doing Well by Doing Good.” How important do you think it is that companies move beyond basic philanthropy and actually get involved in advocating for and making the lives of customers better?

A: Employees can sniff out hypocrisy in a minute. They know when an organization is just paying lip service to a cause. I encourage companies to jump in with a mission that resonates with them and really engage and give your employees an opportunity to connect. At Make-A-Wish we can tell when a company has wish granters among their employees. There’s something about getting to know these kids and their families. The wish granters are often connecting with