Michael and Paulette Bohnsack moved to West Michigan from Chicago nearly 30 years ago, when Michael landed a job at Wolverine World Wide in Rockford. Early in his career, Michael became very involved in Wolverine World Wide’s annual United Way fundraising campaign. Michael and Paulette found their passion in helping people who were living in poverty or who had been affected by cancer, and making sure that all children had equal opportunities to thrive in school and in life. Michael is currently Director of Community Engagement at Wolverine World Wide and Co-Chair of Heart of West Michigan United Way’s 2016/17 Campaign. We sat down to talk about his family, philanthropy in West Michigan, and why he chooses to dedicate so much to United Way.
Why United Way?
In West Michigan, there are a lot of philanthropic opportunities. You have to sort out where you want to go. When we moved to Rockford, we embraced United Way. I’ve always looked at United Way as the one charity that you could give to that could touch a lot of different organizations, not just one. Through volunteering first, I saw firsthand the good work that United Way does in our community and the thousands of people it touches. It compelled me, as I gained more wealth and ability, to try to make a difference. It’s a gift that can touch many lives. It’s not segmented. I knew then and I know now that it can take care of a lot agencies in the area that I live.
Would you suggest that more people who don’t know about United Way start by volunteering?
Volunteering is just as important as giving, and United Way allows you to engage at whatever level you want. Get closer. Lean in to what United Way does, and once you do that a couple of times, you can see that it's not one-dimensional, it’s multi-dimensional. Then you’ll be an advocate, and then I think you’ll find in your heart that you want to give whatever you can. You get a touch of reality, and when you touch it and see it, it makes you want to make a difference.
You have volunteered on a lot of different levels with United Way, from working with funded agencies, to coordinating campaigns, to strategic planning positions. What have you learned from those higher-level volunteer experiences?
When you give dollars to any charity, you want to know where it goes and what good it does. The monies that I give are not as substantial as a major foundation, but I know that whatever I’m giving, it’s going to make a difference. That’s really important to me and my wife, for sure. The fact that United Way vets that and is constantly monitoring what those agencies are doing, it kind of makes me feel like my money is being managed like as if I were in a mutual fund versus owning a stock and just letting it run.
You’ve been a big part of the annual Wolverine World Wide Super Mega Tent Sale over the years, and it’s become one of Heart of West Michigan United Way’s biggest annual fundraisers.
Sometimes they even give me a microphone, and I love that! I used to announce high school soccer games.
What have been some of your best experiences from the sale?
My whole family has gotten on board with the United Way tent sale. One year, I had every member of my family working that sale. A picture from that day is still the screen saver on my iPad. We let our kids know what we were doing, but more importantly, why we were doing it. The thing that makes me proud is that our kids have grown up and are now choosing to give back on their own. Now, my daughter has a job at the American Cancer Society, and I’m a little mad her, because she got my dream job. She gets to work for a nonprofit full time!
Do you see more nonprofit work in your own future?
I’ve chosen to get more and more involved with United Way, and will do for a long, long time. As long as I’m on this earth, I’m sure that I’ll be involved with United Way. Let’s put it that way.
For just $20 a week, you can extend your reach into our community and connect with other community-minded individuals who are working together to create lasting change through Heart of West Michigan United Way's Leadership Circle. Learn more at www.hwmuw.org/leadershipcircle.
This interview has been edited and condensed.