Community rec centers share best practices for marketing your mission to gain community support.
In celebration of 170 years of making an impression on the community, the YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit launched the Y 170 Challenge in 2022. This campaign encouraged members and non-members to move their bodies 170 minutes per week.
After nearly a thousand guest passes distributed and over a hundred new members, the Y 170 Challenge helped the organization grow and communicate its message to the area.
Latitia McCree-Thomas, the senior vice president of communications and marketing at the YMCA of Metro Detroit, said the competition aligned closely with the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendation to exercise 150 to 300 minutes a week.
“Those who achieved the 170 goal were awarded prizes monthly and entered into a monthly drawing to win a Visa gift card,” said McCree-Thomas. “The competition encouraged regular physical activity to support healthy living and chronic disease prevention and intervention. It also attracted and retained members, volunteers and donors.”
In addition, the YMCA hosted a Birthday Block Party. McCree-Thomas said they shutdown a city block for a day, and over a thousand attendees enjoyed carnival food, games and a host of fun Y activities. Lastly, the Y also held a Night of Respect concert featuring Aretha Franklin’s cousin Brenda Franklin Corbett and Freda Payne.
Regardless of what event a community rec center chooses to market its mission, it’s essential to consistently showcase how the organization can be a positive and healthy force.
At the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, the community rec center’s marketing strategy uses flyers, social platforms, digital screens throughout the building, a weekly email blast and advertisements with local papers and magazines to convey its mission to the public.
“The Katz JCC has a very specific brand guide we follow,” said Fabulous Flores, the JCC’s marketing coordinator. “You always know what department is putting on an event based on how we advertise, such as each department has a specific color branded with a ‘J’ which corresponds to that color. We love getting our staff involved in all our projects and events. This gives us a chance to build morale and teamwork within our organization. Often, our staff volunteers their time and helps promote an event on social media.”
The YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit’s 2023 marketing strategy is focusing on two central themes to encourage membership at the Y: The incredible value of being a member and the convenience of the YMCA.
“For less than three dollars a day, there is something for each member of the family,” said McCree-Thomas. “A one-month membership is less than a night out to the movies, sporting event, etc. Also, everything is under one roof. We have swimming, group exercise, personal training and more. There’s no need to have multiple memberships at different locations. It’s important to showcase those facts.”
McCree-Thomas said one of the best strategies for communicating these positives is using testimonials of real people sharing their stories. It’s more beneficial and authentic to have individuals optimistically talk about your center than it is to do it yourself.
“The most effective stories are those that come directly from the beneficiaries themselves,” said McCree-Thomas. “We share that impact with earned media by utilizing relationships to garner news stories on radio, TV, podcasts, etc. We also distribute press releases and follow up with phone calls.”
The Detriot Y uses Feathr, a digital marketing software platform that allows the user to create and manage digital marketing in-house. McCree-Thomas also said they utilize LittleGuide for social media/digital parent engagement calendars, Audacy for SEM and SEO management, and multiple media companies like iHeart Radio, Gannett, Graham Media, Crain Communications and Metro Parent Magazine to push the Y’s message.
However, social media may be the most important platform to master for marketing your mission.
“We encourage staff, participants and members to post, share, like and tag YMCA stories,” said McCree-Thomas. “It’s essential to spread member stories about your Y or rec center. Refrain from bad-talking other community rec centers. Focus on your strengths and not a potential competitor’s shortfalls. Social media is also not a place to settle challenges with members and participants. Don’t discuss resolutions in the public forum.”
When using social media to display your programs, it may also be helpful to spotlight inclusive programs, events and policies. Flores said the Katz JCC prides itself on inclusivity and strives to communicate that with the community.
“We look forward to the opportunity to impress upon people the Katz JCC is a safe space to practice Jewish Culture, or for people who don’t practice Judaism to come and enjoy what our facility has to offer,” said Flores. “We have something for everyone, including early childhood education and adult programming. There really is something for everyone here and we showcase it in our various programs and activities.”
Flores said the JCC also tries to incorporate compelling storytelling as a marketing strategy. She said they have a dedicated page in a publication called, “The Jewish Community Voice.” The space features stories and posts from the JCC like the reconstruction of its gym and track, or the promotion of the Stella Schaevitz Concert Series.
But when it comes to maintaining the support gained through marketing, Flores recommended having an open line of communication and an established connection with members.
“We often put on events they request or have an idea about,” said Flores. “For example, we had a member appreciation breakfast attended by staff from every department. Events like this provide them the opportunity to touch base with members and get to know them, their expectations and their needs on a personal level.”
Both marketing your mission and maintaining connections is imperative to the long-term success of any rec center. The YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit and the Katz JCC prove making a concentrated effort to engage with the community is a worthy undertaking.