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People who make a difference: Michelle Dejno

Board member, volunteer, committee member, award recipient, mentor

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September 19, 2023

qtSSk51PumYNEENAH – Growing up in Eau Claire in what she described as a blue-collar family, Michelle Dejno – executive vice president of O’Connor Connective – said her parents didn’t have much to give, but that didn’t stop them from making an impact in their community.

“Time and participation – that is what we had to give back,” she said. “My family didn’t have a lot of wealth, but it was always, ‘oh, you need someone to drive, yep, I can do that.’”

Dejno said when she reached a point in her life where she had time, skills and finances to give, the values her parents instilled in her from a young age to give back inspired her to do the same.

“People watch their parents – mine didn’t really have anything to give and they still gave,” she said. “I think that is where my desire to give back stems from.”

A lifetime of giving
Dejno said she began getting involved in the Northeast Wisconsin community right after being transferred to the region for work.

Since that time, her involvement has spanned from volunteer to board member to mentor to advisor in multiple organizations throughout the area.

One of those being the Women’s Fund for the Fox Valley Region.

“I’ve been involved with them for nearly 20 years,” she said. “I chair the communications committee. My daughter was part of the girl’s grant-making efforts in 2013. I think the organization does a lot of great work and should be celebrated for addressing issues and challenges for committees, women and children.”

While working as the director of fund development and community relations for the St. Mary Catholic Schools system in Neenah, Dejno said she took a step back from volunteering.

“It felt like a conflict of interest raising funds for the organization I’m employed by and helping others,” she said. “But when I left my position there, I reengaged with many nonprofits I felt passionate about.”

One of those passions, Dejno said, is history.

“I am currently the board president of the Neenah Historical Society,” she said. “I am an avid lover of American history – so that organization is near and dear to my heart. (I enjoy being a part of helping) collect, preserve and educate people about our community stories.”

Dejno also serves on the board of directors and the corporation education committee for the Neenah-Menasha YMCA.

“The Y does incredible things for the community – it is not just a fitness center,” she said.

A communication major herself, Dejno said she shares her years of experience and knowledge of the industry as a member of the Fox Valley Technical College communications department advisory committee.

“The committee helps advise curriculum for upcoming communications majors,” she said.

Some of the other organizations Dejno is or has been involved with include:
Association of Fundraising Professionals (current board member)Fox Valley Technical College Communications Curriculum Advisory Committee (current committee member)St. Mary Catholic Schools (past board chair and member for six years)Fox Valley Memory Project (development committee member and communications counsel)Future Neenah (past board member)Tri-County Community Dental Clinic (past board member and PR committee)Neenah Rotary (past member)Valley VNA Senior Services (Holiday Avenue event volunteer)City of Neenah Landmarks (past commissioner) 
A balancing act
Jokingly admitting she’s probably one of those people who need to say ‘no’ – Dejno said balancing a career, home life and multiple volunteering roles can sometimes be challenging.

However, over the years, Dejno said she’s been fortunate to have employers who supported her community efforts.

“So, that was a blessing,” she said. “As well as my family – my husband is also involved in the community, especially when our kids were in school with booster clubs and things like that.”

For them, Dejno said, giving has become a way of life.

“When I looked at re-engaging in the community, I looked at things that provided programming or solutions that were important to me,” she said.

Dejno said she encourages others who are looking to give back to get involved in things that they are passionate about.

“Find something you’re interested in and passionate about because you are spending time and financial resources on that,” she said.

Like her parents inspired her to share her gifts with others through volunteering, Dejno said she has served as that for her two children – now adults themselves – as well.

“They grew up being dragged to fundraising events,” she said. “That was a part of their lives, and now they volunteer as adults.”

Instilling those values early, Dejno said, helps build a foundation of giving for a lifetime.

“I think the sooner you learn the value of that and the impact it has on your community and around you the better,” she said. “There are organizations I’ve worked with for 20 years – they become more than just a nonprofit you’re supporting. I mean, they’re your friends, and you’re engaged with the programming and you’ve embraced the challenge they’re trying to overcome – that’s pretty rich from a self-fulfilling perspective.”

Dejno said everyone has something to share.

“Even my 23-year-old who says, ‘I don’t have any money, I just graduated from college,’” she said. “Ok, give $10, or volunteer somewhere on a Sunday afternoon.”

Encouraging others
One of the things Dejno said she’s learned over the years is a giving-back mentality is learned behavior.

“Nobody wakes up when they turn 30 and says, ‘oh, I think I need to give some money or time to a nonprofit,’” she said. “It’s a learned behavior. It has to be modeled. It has to be prevalent.”

Dejno said as the chair of the youth and philanthropy committee for the Association of Fundraising Professionals – “which focuses on educating young professionals and young people on the importance and impact of development in our community” – her role is to help instill that spirit of philanthropy.

You have to fully understand the impact of those actions,” she said. “So, the younger you can instill that, the better opportunity that will stick.”

Dejno said she feels strongly about sharing your finances, time, skills and resources – “where you can.”

“Everybody has something to share,” she said. “I think it is important that everyone gives something of themselves. If it’s important to you, you make time.”

Rotary award
Recently, Dejno’s efforts to support her community were recognized by the Neenah Rotary Club – an organization she was once a member of when she first moved to the area.

Dejno was awarded the Jack W. Casper Service Above Self Adult Award – which is given each year to a Neenah-area adult (non-rotary club member) who best represents the idea of community action.

“They look for people in the community who go above and beyond in providing assistance, services – however you can – to make your community better and stronger,” she said. “And this year I was nominated and awarded the recognition.”

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