by CRAIG COLEY
Michael Shermis is a connector. As a consultant, he facilitates retreats that help nonprofits connect with their missions. As special projects coordinator for the City of Bloomington, he serves as staff liaison to a number of groups that serve marginalized populations, including the Monroe County Domestic Violence Coalition, the Monroe County Coalition for Access and Mobility, the Nonprofit Alliance of Monroe County, and the City’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration Commission.
“It’s all about people,” Shermis says. “I love helping people who want to make the causes that they care about run better and help society.”
Shermis, 60, grew up in Lafayette, Indiana, the son of a Purdue University professor of education who encouraged learning. He remembers getting passionate about ethical questions at age 17. After earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Purdue in 1984, he came to Indiana University for a master’s degree in religious studies, where he focused on Jewish-Christian relations—a topic on which he has published two books.
In the early 1990s, while producing a magazine for the IU Office of Research, Shermis got wind of “this thing called the internet.” Shortly thereafter, he gave the office its first web presence. Later, after being asked to serve as IU’s representative to the United Way of Monroe County, Shermis recognized that nonprofits were being left behind on the web, and he helped usher many Bloomington organizations into the digital age.
From 1999 to 2009, Shermis worked for a company called WisdomTools that created web-based, interactive stories to teach skills or business ethics; he later started a similar company of his own called Story Insights. Over the years, he shed the computer-based side of his consulting and today he focuses on facilitating retreats and training boards of directors. “I’d much rather be out connecting with people,” Shermis says.
In his work for the Nonprofit Alliance, he helps nonprofits hone their messages and connects them with media outlets, donors, and people looking to serve on boards of directors. With the Rotary Club of Bloomington, where he has been a member for eight years, he schedules weekly speakers.
Shermis, whose partner, Melinda Hamilton, is a librarian at Binford Elementary School, says his days begin at 4 a.m. with a long walk. “Five or six hours is enough sleep for me,” he says. “I have a lot of energy.”