Milestone: Inside Wolverine’s Community Outreach

Giving back is in Wolverine World Wide Inc.’s blood.

Since it was established in 1959, the Wolverine Worldwide Foundation has supported more than 190 charitable organizations through initiatives that inspire outdoor activity, a connectedness to community and an appreciation for natural environments.

Over the last five years, in particular, it has doled out $5 million to fund programs that further this mission, involving roughly 900 employee volunteers who regularly lend manpower to a multitude of causes each year.

“We are trying to impact areas where our employees live and work, or organizations that have a broad national scope,” said Christi Cowdin, director of investor relations and corporate communications at Rockford, Mich.-based Wolverine and VP of the foundation.

Many of the foundation’s activities are, perhaps naturally, geared toward the outdoors and community engagement. Recently, it teamed with the West Michigan Biking Alliance for the opening of the Merrell Trail, a bike path project to inspire outdoor recreation. Wolverine contributed more than $25,000 to the project.

“Health and wellness are important to us, and we want to promote that. Many of our brands have outdoor pursuits, and our products are utilized outside for recreational activities,” said Cowdin. “Many of our employees are involved in their own communities, and we want to be a part of that.”

But, she added, “It is just as important to us to give to a food bank in Howard City, Mich., where we have a distribution facility, as it is for us to give a gift to Trout Unlimited and partner with them to impact Rogue River, a fishing stream here in Michigan.”

To that end, the foundation also donates to schools in the Grand Rapids, Mich., area to support reading initiatives and it sponsors the ArtPrize competition by providing guided tours to visitors.

It’s not strictly about giving money away, though. Wolverine is adept at raising funds via fun-filled activities that encourage participation from the community. A charity golf outing last year, for example, raised $15,000 each for the Make-a-Wish Foundation and The American Cancer Association’s Relay for Life.

Employees also engage in softball tournaments, ice-cream socials and garage sales, all the while using the company’s brands as a way to interact with consumers and benefit organizations such as Two Ten Footwear Foundation.

Neal Newman, president of Two Ten, told Footwear News, “You can’t talk about Two Ten’s success without mentioning Wolverine on a personal and corporate level. Wolverine’s generosity goes beyond their financial contributions. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the entire Wolverine family.”

To be sure, the time and effort the firm’s employees put into bettering their local community match, if not surpass, Wolverine’s financial endeavors. Through various programs, they have cleaned up U.S. Highway 131 in Michigan and beautified streams in downtown Rockford, as well as tutored children through the Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan and United Way’s School of Hope programs.

But above all, Cowdin is most proud of the Foundation’s unique, 7-year-old program with United Way, which aims to recycle product to aid various groups of people, from the homeless and distressed families to women trying to learn new skills to re-enter the workforce.

“Every wholesaler has goods that [are returned] that are not in saleable condition but that are absolutely in perfect wearable condition,” explained Cowdin. “We work with [local courts to give a pair of footwear to] kids who are put into the foster-care system. Giving a new pair of shoes to a 12-year-old who may not have had new shoes in who knows how long is really touching.”

In the end, the foundation’s goal is to leave a footprint on the community in a positive way. Said Cowdin, “We want to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our peers in the community and inspire people to participate and lend support.”