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Four ways you can leverage group exercise to drive philanthropy.

With NAYDO 2022 in our rearview and an ocean of philanthropic opportunities ahead, it’s time to start strategizing grass roots tactics that will not only boost your annual campaign but will help deepen relationships with both your staff and members.

We know fundraising is about relationships – the donor’s relationship with the organization or the donor’s relationship with the person asking. Instructors are the face of the organization, and they are the people that build the largest followings with the most loyal of members. On average, about 40% of your membership base is driven by group exercise and group exercise participants.

These members average two visits to class each week and stay on average one year longer than members who only use the wellness floor. With that in mind, it only makes sense to utilize these instructors in furthering the mission of the organization. It’s important that they’re coached on how to tell the story of the mission, but the difficult part of building the relationship is already in place.

Let’s dive into four ways you can leverage group exercise to drive philanthropy:

1. Utilize Your Top Instructors

Ever hear the analogy “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” That is exactly how we harness the power of your team. When thinking about engaging your instructor team in your cause you might think a massive training is an easy answer. The reality is that by casting such a large net, you will struggle to create buy-in. One way to kick off your intentional group exercise and philanthropy initiatives is to identify a key cohort of top instructors. This should be a diverse group of individuals who are both charismatic and know how to pack a room. These instructors have harnessed their potential already by building relationships and creating value within your organization that keeps members coming back again and again.

Once you have a cohort, you have two action steps to complete:

  • Set goals. It seems obvious, but chasing an ambiguous target is the quickest way to guaranteeing failure. If we want our instructors to be successful fundraisers, we need to define what success looks like.
  • Give them the tools and resources needed to be successful. This could be boiler plate statements, trainings, donation cards, social media copy and more. Just like we want giving to be easy for donors, we also need to make the ask easy.

2. Fuse Philanthropy and Group Exercise Through Events

Every form of fundraising has a place. It’s no secret peer-to-peer is the most effective and requires the least amount of resources with the biggest outcome, but there are donors that want the fundraising event. A Zumba-thon, dinner/auction, Cycle-a-thon or fun run serve the purpose of bringing in new donors in an energizing and engaging way. The key to events is understanding that, while this is a single day, the goal is to engage non-giving community members with your mission. Don’t miss the opportunity to tell your story during the event to allow new donors to see you in a different light.

The most important piece of the fundraising event puzzle is the follow-up post-event. Try handwritten thank you notes, follow up calls from VIP’s, or setting a meeting with staff to dive into their desire to be further engaged. Without the follow-up, you’re getting a one-time gift and facing the same amount of work next year to engage them again. As much as we love to throw a stellar event, remember we’re in the fundraising business, not the party-planning business. We want to engage our members and donors for years to come.

3. Make Giving Easy

While this is not group exercise specific, it is a game changer for assisting your instructors in the actual execution of making a successful “ask.” Why make it difficult for donors to give to your mission? Easy to navigate giving pages, mobile friendly pages, IRA QCD giving info, among other forms of giving, should be readily available to donors. If your organization accepts gifts from donor-advised funds, make sure it’s easy to find that information on your webpage. If someone wants to give $100 monthly to your organization, is that easy to set up online, or do they have to wait until business hours to speak with a human? Now, when the stock market is hot, is your stock transfer info somewhat easy to find, after entering a user name and password?

Different generations of donors want to give in different ways – baby boomers might want to receive direct mail and send their check while millennials are wealthier at a younger age and want to transfer stock in their down-time and outside of business hours. If they can’t find the info they need, what are the chances they’ll email or call someone the next day to get it figured out? The chances aren’t great.  Imagine how many members would give if your instructor can say “Here’s link or QR code to all of the info you need.”

4. Class Announcements

Finally, class announcements are a great way to reach a captive audience. Make sure there is a call to action and be specific in an ask. For example, “Did you know if everyone in this room gave $20, we could pay for one session of XYZ?” Be repetitious but understand if the person making the ask is lackadaisical, the response will match. The instructor buy-in is imperative.

There is no secret sauce. Only intention, bandwidth and execution. Don’t let this incredible tool pass you by. Let us know what tactics you put into practice by commenting below.

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Shelby Saylor

Shelby Saylor is an experienced YMCA leader and wellness advocate with over 11 years of experience in the health and fitness industry. With a Master’s Degree in Exercise Physiology and years of experience as a group exercise instructor, personal trainer, business development consultant, nonprofit and for-profit manager, she is dedicated to developing those in her network to help move the fitness industry forward. After transitioning from her role as the executive director of Healthy Living for The YMCA of Greater Houston, she joined the Les Mills US team as the YMCA national customer experience manager where she gets to work with improving retention, member engagement and so much more with over 900 YMCAs in the US. Want to connect? Follow Shelby on LinkedIn!

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