We’re proud to celebrate the people who connect our incredible community and bring us together in this work. This month, we’re shining a spotlight on Michael Happ, a monthly donor and former President of Resilience’s Board of Directors. Read our interview to hear from Michael about getting involved in the anti-rape movement and the importance of supporting nonprofits.
Read our interview with Michael below.
You were on Resilience’s Board of Directors from 2009 to 2015 and served as the president of the board at a time. How did you first get connected and involved with Resilience?
My first exposure to Resilience (at that time, Rape Victim Advocates) was through a friend I knew through church who was a trained advocate. She had a personal connection to the issue being a very young person who had survived assault and was very active in being an advocate in a lot of ways through a lot of organizations. She went through the training with Resilience and responded to hospital calls, and she did that for several years. So I would hear about those things through her. That was my first exposure, but at that time it was just something admirable that someone I knew was involved with.
A few years later I was talking with a close friend of mine about wanting to do something to make a difference. I wasn’t very satisfied with my career at the time and I wanted to get some fulfillment elsewhere and do something good in the world. She said to me, “Well, I’m on a board and if you’re interested, we can talk more about it. It’s not for the faint of heart, and it’s not just a governance board that people just sort of put their name on. It’s a hard-working board that takes a lot of time and energy to be on.” She told me about it and I was interested, and I informally spoke with a few more people. Then I applied to join the board. So I was recruited to the board by a current board member at the time that I was close to. Other than knowing that I am against violence and don’t want people to suffer, I was not a person who considered myself particularly knowledgeable on this subject matter before joining the board. I made that clear at the time and said, if that’s okay, then I’m going to be learning as we go. I jumped in and then I actually served in several roles. I was vice president of the board. I was president of the board twice, then I was secretary at one point, I believe.
You’re a nonprofit executive, fundraiser, consultant, writer, and community activist. Tell me a bit about your work and what you do now.
I’m the Executive Director of the District 214 Education Foundation. We’re headquartered in Arlington Heights. It’s a very large high school district out in the northwest suburbs and the second-largest high school district in the state. I run the nonprofit foundation that is associated with the district. It is its own independent 501(c)(3) with its own board of trustees. But it’s also very much a part of the district, supporting the educators, students, and families. The foundation is in a bit of a transition period trying to build up and become something bigger and more impactful than it’s ever been, and that’s what I was hired to do and what I’m working at right now. We’re still laying that groundwork and making big plans. I work to raise money and help enhance students’ education in any way we can beyond the limits of public financing. We look after the health and well-being of students and their families, safety and security, emergency relief, that sort of thing, and also expand opportunities available to them, giving scholarships, giving trades certification, internships, apprenticeships, exposure to college opportunities, particularly for first-generation American students and folks who are from families where no one has gone to college before. That’s what I do now, and it’s fulfilling.
You have been one of Resilence’s monthly donors for many years. In your opinion, why is it important to support an organization like Resilience?
Like a lot of donors, I give monthly to this organization because I have a personal connection. I was personally involved, and because I had relationships with staff and other volunteers, it means something to me. I feel invested having spent my own time and energy furthering the mission in any way I could. I feel not only an obligation but a desire to do whatever I can to keep that mission going, even if it’s just $10, $50. Anything I can do to keep it going because it’s part of my legacy as a human being trying to leave the world better than I found it. There are so many worthwhile organizations and I don’t give to all of them, but I give to a few because of their mission. Certainly, Resilience counts on that line. But also I give because I still want to feel like I’m giving something and being a part of the team, even if I’m not around anymore giving my time and my energy and resources.
It’s really important to give to organizations that work in areas that many people find difficult to talk about. Sexual assault is uncomfortable for people, even in recent years when it’s had a moment at the front of people’s consciousness. With the MeToo Movement and other sorts of newsworthy events, it’s rightfully been put forward a little bit in people’s attention spans. But even with that, it’s an issue that will always carry that sort of difficulty of fundraising. It can be something people don’t like to hear. We don’t like to hear about pediatric cancer either, but that is a faceless enemy that is not human and we can all band together and there’s no other side of the equation. However, on an issue like sexual assault, we don’t like to talk about it because it’s humans hurting other humans. Because it’s an issue that involves sex and sexuality, sexual identity, gender politics, and all of these things that can be a fundraising challenge. It can make people embarrassed or uncomfortable to even have at the forefront of their giving priorities. It won’t always feel good talking about it, even though they should.
At Resilience we always want to talk about strength and the power of building up that strength. The work is vital and some of it is invisible. It’s not like Teach for America, where it’s very much public and you’re doing these good deeds in front of everybody. A lot of the great work of Resilience is done between two human beings in a conversation that no one else is ever going to hear. That’s why I think it’s important.
You have more than two decades of nonprofit experience as well as a background in fundraising. For those who are able, why is it so important to give to nonprofits? Why is fundraising something you are passionate about?
I think it’s important that people put their money where their values are. Because the truth is nothing in this world happens without money. That’s not actually true. Things can happen. Individual actions can happen without money, and you can go to a demonstration or you can volunteer and go help someone. But by and large, for change on a large scale, it takes money. And nonprofits are full of people who are overworked and underpaid and scraping by. It’s important for people to give in a tangible way that helps put their values out there into the world and helps some other human beings’ condition improve in some way. And that’s the net effect for somebody else. But also, I believe very strongly it serves a purpose within. We all have a desire to give, or most of us do. We have a desire to see a difference. We don’t like to give our time or energy or money and then not have a sense of where it went or what happened to it or whether it made any difference at all. But people have a deep desire for their own lives to have meaning and for their own imprint on this world to be a good one. It’s important to give to the things you believe in so that you yourself are living a fulfilling life and leaving the legacy and effect on the world that you want. If you haven’t been in a position to make your career working in your social passions, if you didn’t go to work in a nonprofit, then there might be a piece of you that is not being served by your job. I think it is important for all of us to fulfill that side of ourselves by giving to what we believe in.
What is one thing (such as an event, memory, or milestone) that you were most proud of during your time on Resilience’s Board of Directors?
Three things. Number one is that events during my time that raised more money than had been raised before, had a bigger impact, and reached more people. That spread awareness not only of the organization but of the issues that are important as part of those events. I was proud of that.
We were also able to internally get some of the organization’s operations on more steady ground. To relieve that area of stress for the staff, enable the staff to be more effective at their jobs, and we grew the staff during those years significantly. So I was proud of that organization building because it meant we could have a bigger impact in the Chicago area.
The third thing that comes to mind is one day when I was participating in the Standing Silent Witness event. A person singled me out in that line and came up to me and said right into my face very closely, “You know men can be victims, too.” And I looked at him and I said, “That’s true. You’re right. That’s true.’” And I decided that talking to this person for five minutes was going to be more important than staying in character for the exercise. We stepped aside, and he told me about his own experience many years earlier. I said that it’s really important that people recognize that this sort of thing can happen to anyone and it does. We have people working hard on that, and we also have people who would be glad to talk to you. This is a place for everyone. There’s no one profile of a survivor of assault. I didn’t say this to him but I was thinking the more people understand that victims are not one profile, particularly one sex and gender, the better. The fact that it is perceived as an issue that only affects women makes men even less likely to step forward when they are affected. But I took that time to talk to that man and then later found out that he had gotten in touch with some of the Resilience staff. I don’t know what help or guidance or resources he was provided with, but I know that even if he talked to our staff for five minutes, his life was made better. And I was proud of that.
What’s one fun fact about you?
I want to give two answers to that. One, I have an encyclopedic knowledge of Super Bowls. Two, I met my wife because of Resilience. My wife and I met for the first time years ago at a gala planning committee meeting. She was attending that meeting only on behalf of her boss, a former honoree serving on the gala committee who couldn’t make it. We engaged in conversation at that time because I thought she was very smart and I thought perhaps we could establish a junior board or a feeder board for future board members to get more smart people in the organization. We talked and we even met for coffee with another friend. So we were in touch at that time semi-professionally. She also volunteered on the hotline at that time. And then, it was almost four years later, exactly to the day, life was different for both of us. I asked her if she would like to meet socially and then we did and we’ve hung out every day since. And now we have a daughter. We met because of RVA/Resilience because we both cared about it. So when I asked her if she’d like to spend some time together, the only thing she knew about me at that point was that we certainly shared at least some values.