Inside Track: Goorhouse secures CEO dream at 27
Relationship with Holland-based foundation he now leads began as a freshman in high school.
Mike Goorhouse landed his dream job at age 27.
When he was a sophomore in college, he decided his career goal was to lead a community foundation, figuring he would reach that goal near the end of his career.
But Goorhouse’s dream came true when the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area board interviewed him and offered him the role of president and CEO without even posting the job.
He had been working at the foundation for a couple years as the vice president of donor development with the unofficial expectation he would eventually take the top job, and sure enough, it happened.
Goorhouse admitted his résumé was quite a bit fuller than those of most 27-year-olds; he already had served on eight nonprofit boards by that time.
Goorhouse said his relationship with the Holland-based foundation he now leads began when he was a freshman in high school. He spent his whole high school career on the foundation’s youth grantmaking committee, which advises the foundation board on the grants awarded to youth-related causes, eventually becoming chair of the committee.
During that time, he attended a statewide leadership conference for community foundation youth committees, where he met leadership for the Grand Haven-based Council of Michigan Foundations, which supports more than 400 foundations in the state.
He said meeting those people is purely what led him to apply for a summer internship he completed after his first year at Calvin College.
The Holland foundation was not the first time an organization’s leadership had grander intentions for Goorhouse.
After his internship supervisor at the Council of Michigan Foundations accepted a foundation leadership role in Detroit, Goorhouse was hired to work part time during the final three years of his four-year college career, with a commitment to the council’s board he would take a full-time position upon graduation.
“They basically held the position for me for three years,” he said. “That's a pretty big commitment that they made.”
In the role, he provided resources to community foundations and youth grantmaking committees around the state and was in charge of planning the youth leadership conference he had attended as a student.
After college, he moved back to Holland and served on a couple of the community foundation’s board committees while working on the council.
Goorhouse said he was approached by his current employer about the vice president of donor development position about three years later.
“I went from this high school experience at the community foundation, which led to an internship, which fortuitously led to a part-time job, which then led to my first full-time job.”
Reaching his end-goal at such a young age, Goorhouse said the news he’d been hired was “surreal,” yet he had doubts, of course, about whether he was the right choice for the role.
The safer solution would have been to hire someone middle-aged with more experience and established relationships.
“They believed that I was the right person, and that meant a ton to me,” Goorhouse said. “It also meant I worked my butt off to make sure I delivered for them because they had that much trust in me.”
As a Holland native, he said he received a lot of support from the community, and people were happy to invest in and mentor him.
Still, he said it took a couple years of work to show donors and community leaders he had a right to be in the role.
“The fact of the matter was I was walking into high-level meetings with donors and company CEOs … as a 27-year-old,” Goorhouse said.
As a millennial, he said he had to break through some of the stereotypes associated with the generation, committing to deliver at a high level, be respectful, communicate well and commit.
“If you do all that, then I’ve found people come along,” he said.
To be successful in fundraising, Goorhouse said it takes two main points: being able to explain how a donation will make a difference and having the donor trust it will happen.
“Over my first few years here at the foundation, I think we did those two things,” Goorhouse said.
The numbers would say so, as well.
Last year’s $9.7 million in growth was the foundation’s largest ever, bringing total assets to $73 million, a jump of $20 million since Goorhouse began his role. He said estate gift commitments last year reached a record high of $30 million.
He said the foundation is on track to surpass the asset growth record by a couple million this year.
Goorhouse said the foundation spent time developing the strategic framework for how the dollars would be used in the community and then spent a couple years executing that plan before asking for money.
Once the foundation was able to show solid results of how donors’ money will be spent and the impact it has, he said he spent the last couple of years asking for money from a lot of people.
Not everyone says yes, he added, but a lot of people have.
“The name of the game is you don't receive investments in your organization if you don't ask,” he said. “And you don't receive investments if they don't trust you and you don't have a good game plan.”
This work recently earned Goorhouse a Business Journal 40 Under 40 award for the fifth consecutive year.
Goorhouse calls community foundation work the perfect career for him because of his unique balance between strong financial skills and strong relationship-building skills, which he said comes in handy while investing $80 million per year with the intention of ultimately bettering the community.
Besides having a goal and a vision to get there, Goorhouse said being a successful leader — or being successful in any field or relationship — takes listening during that journey and ensuring everyone’s voice is heard.
To Goorhouse, that means building meaningful relationships with a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds. Whether in their 80s or their teens, whether from different races, ethnicities or financial backgrounds, no matter where they stand politically, Goorhouse said he is able to connect with anyone.
“If you can do that well, you will succeed in about any endeavor,” he said.
Goorhouse said those connections mean more to him than just fundraising; he authentically cares about people and what they care about and strives to thoughtfully show them how he feels.
It’s all in an effort to improve the lives of all people in the community, Goorhouse said, and he is interested in being involved with any group whose focus is centered on that idea.
He said there is no silver bullet solution to the world’s issues, which is why it is so important to learn from a variety of perspectives.
There is so much hostility between different sides these days, though, Goorhouse noted, so he hopes to be someone who can bridge that divide to come up with the best solutions for our “fractured society.”
Goorhouse said the foundation continues to be involved in affordable housing, financial stability for families and education, particularly education equitability.
“There's so much negative in the world, and to be a part of positive change in the lives of people and in the health of our community — that is a privilege every day. I feel pretty good coming home from work every day.”