Mike Gemm (founder and CEO)
In the summer of 2001 I was living in New York City, between my first and second years of business school; I had an internship at Ogilvy, a global ad agency, but I was completely lost and confused about my life's direction. I called a friend and asked her for some volunteering ideas, and she connected me with an opportunity to pick up trash and clean up the campsite for 400 bicyclists who rode 200+ miles over 4 days to raise money for AIDS research. While picking up trash, I had an epiphany.
It was AMAZING (yes, picking up trash can be the best thing for the soul)!
I had found it, but I had no idea what 'it' was for months and years afterward.
"It" ended up being a massive feeling of gratitude and an inner awakening of my spirit. I was so grateful to be working hard and keeping late hours to help these riders get to their goal. There was this one guy, Andrew, whose girlfriend had dumped him over the phone (!) during the middle of the ride. I noticed him because almost all the other riders were already on their way, but he was still in his tent. We talked. I listened. And then I helped him get on his bike and out on the course. When I saw him at the end of that day at the next camp, I cried, knowing that I was a catalyst in that moment for him to stay on track to his goal.
Could I be a catalyst for others?
I came back to school in the fall even more conflicted about pursuing my MBA - because I just wanted to volunteer and help people! (It was later I realized that volunteering doesn't pay off student loans well...) The rest of that fall was rough: 9/11 happened, I tore my ACL, my grandfather died. But out of those challenges, I found help at Notre Dame's Center for Social Concerns - and felt a clear call to serve. I knew in my heart that my CPA and my MBA could help organizations in the nonprofit space - I just didn't know how yet.
After a post-grad summer of spending time with my now-widowed grandmother, I moved to Colorado to be an AmeriCorps volunteer at a homeless-serving organization - and truly understood the concept of "where your greatest joy meets the world's greatest need." My CPA and accounting experience made me the perfect fit to step in to the financial challenges they were facing, and during my year there, I cleaned up their messy accounting operation (2 years behind in reconciling anything!), helped to buy a building and save them thousands of dollars as a result; and hired a full-time replacement. It was a challenging year, but I left certain that I had unique ways to serve this sector.
Over the next 15 years, I honed my skills and tools to help a wide range of nonprofits. How many former CPAs have helped organizations raise over $60M through sales-based fundraising? (Shout out to my time at For Impact | The Suddes Group) I've also used my CPA education and finance knowledge to turn around the financial departments at multiple organizations. And I've trained thousands of staff and board members in every sub-sector in the nonprofit space since 2003. It's been quite a ride.
So what's next?
I've been blessed to have this cool mix of strengths in math, empathy, and the desire to serve. My mission is to be a catalyst and use these skills and tools to help organizations have even more impact through fundraising, finances, and coaching. That's why I founded Gemm Consulting.
A few highlights:
National Chess Champion and 2-time national finalist
former CPA (and bookkeeper, tax preparer, and head of finance)
MBA, Notre Dame
$60M+ raised for clients
Thousands of staff and board trained in fundraising plans, strategies, and tactics