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Membership strategies from the YMCA Membership Innovation Summit.

The YMCA Membership Innovation Summit took place October 12-14, 2021, on the Innovation Campus of Wichita State University. Organized by Ronn McMahon, the president and CEO of the Greater Wichita YMCA, and Brian Kridler, a strategy and innovation consultant at Triangle2 Solutions, the summit brought together more than 100 leaders of YMCAs and provided 10 big ideas in the form of 10-minute talks by both peers and partners. 

Following the talks, participants were sorted into small, diverse groups of four to six in an assigned breakout space along with a facilitator. These groups spent three hours workshopping the Y’s membership model and each developing a “way forward” for membership. Among their findings, the team at Triangle2 compiled the themes and commonalities to create a findings document. 

“One of our goals with this summit was to put a findings document together so we could share more broadly than with the 120 people who were in the room or the 150 who were livestreaming,” said Kridler. “Overall, we attempted to do three things nobody had ever done before: get a whole lot of content out in a really short amount of time, livestream to broaden its impact and then publish the results.”  

“Some of these summits are more like conferences of one-hour long presentations after another, and we didn’t want to do that,” explained Kridler. “We really wanted to push 10 leaders to give us a really tight idea that could positively impact Ys in a difficult time. And we asked each of those presenters to be a little more vulnerable. To say, what’s your big idea? Don’t worry if it’s not fully baked yet and don’t present it as fully baked. And please tell us what you don’t know yet. Folks responded really well to that.” 

Below, Kridler and McMahon share more about the summit findings and the themes from the 10 big ideas presented. 

“Best practices are still best practices, but we wanted to push the boundaries of membership,” said Kridler when describing the summit findings document. “Out of the 10 big ideas, we found 19 evolutions toward something new and different. Then from that, we looked at nine themes that were clear in the room that day.” 

The overarching themes from the summit included: 

  • Start-up Culture: Leaders must learn to practice the art of adaptive leadership.  
  • The Purpose of Membership: To positively impact people and communities through membership, it must change to become more inclusive and less tethered to recreational and workout facility access. 
  • Partner-up: Work with other community organizations to advance outcomes associated with membership and participation at the Y. 
  • The Y as a Social Enterprise: What if the Y told its membership story more like TOMS Shoes and less like Planet Fitness? 
  • The Y as a One-Stop-Shop: A case for facilities with fewer multi-purpose spaces and more spaces designed with a use in mind. 
  • Focus and Quality: Don’t try to be all things to all people. Do the things you do really well. 
  • Localization and Y-to-Y Collaboration: Each local YMCA needs to be organized to meet community needs. Additionally, Ys need to collaborate with one another at scale to foster big change.
  • Digital Strategy: Digital transformation of the YMCA, the rise of YMCA360 and what it means to have a connected strategy. 
  • My Y Membership: The idea of customizing one’s own YMCA experience. 

Sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, digital transformation altered almost every aspect of our lives as we learned just how important being connected really is. In his “Big Idea” talk, McMahon defined connected strategy as transforming traditional, episodic interactions with customers into connected customer relationships that are characterized by continuous, low-friction and personalized interactions. 

“Pre-pandemic, we had this idea of trying to reach out into our community to folks who maybe aren’t interacting with our current way of doing business,” said McMahon. “Those folks who were a little intimidated to come to the Y because it’s inconvenient, they travel a lot or any number of reasons — we felt like it was important to reach out to them and engage with them, before they came to the Y and create a new entrance, a new passage and a front door to the Y.” 

This is where the idea for YMCA360 emerged — a way to create a connected community. “We’re not trying to do anything other than enhance the value of our membership by creating more opportunities for people to engage with our people, places and programs,” elaborated McMahon. “That’s the big idea. We want to connect all our different offerings so they’re not independent. Instead, they become a connected experience that’s frictionless.” 

Learn More: Creating the Ultimate Connected Community with YMCA360

Kridler shared the big ideas presented at the summit are a great starting place and something they want to build on in the future. “There’s no quick fixes to the challenges we face,” he said. “There’s bigger, longer term fixes beyond the things everybody already knows — which is smile, be nice, be friendly, have clean bathrooms, be open, etc. The presenters did a great job and we want to build on that in the future whether through events, webinars, podcasts, however we can share our most provocative thinking with our peers in a way that it doesn’t have to be fully formed or proven yet because it’s not expected to be. I’m a big believer that that’s how good things happen.” 

While this article is just a glimpse of what was learned at the summit, access to the findings document can be obtained by contacting brian@triangle2.com. 

Brittany Howard

Brittany is the editor of Community Rec Magazine. Reach her at brittany@peakemedia.com.

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