The most successful strategies for maintaining rec center members and membership retention.
There’s perhaps no greater determiner of the long-term health and viability of community rec centers than member retention. Not only are members the beating heart of facilities, but they’re most often the biggest source of revenue.
That’s why the New Orleans JCC strives to ensure year-round programming is provided for all stages of life and activity levels. For example, Alison Marts, the membership director at the JCC, said over 90 weekly group exercise classes are available for members to help sustain engagement.
“The classes range from very high to very low impact and utilize a variety of fitness techniques,” said Marts. “The schedule is adjusted monthly based on interest and attendance to make sure we offer something for everyone. Furthermore, we started a monthly ‘Women on Weights’ clinic to better acclimate women to weight room equipment so they can more fully take advantage of what we have to offer.”
When it comes to age-specific programming, Marts said the summer season tends to be the JCC’s peak membership time at its aquatics complex. To encourage younger pool lovers to stay throughout the year, children’s enrichment programs and other events like Kids’ Night Out, dance parties and mini camps are always offered.
“For older members, active adult programming such as our monthly cultural arts lectures, lunch and learn sessions, book clubs, museum visits, Mah Jongg classes, and Mind Matters provide ongoing cultural and social opportunities for our senior members to stay engaged with the community,” said Marts. “By creating space and opportunity for all ages and interests to engage with others and find their niche, we’ve been able to develop a strong membership foundation of people equally invested in the success and growth of the JCC.”
While the generational approach works for the New Orleans JCC, Laura Vaughn, the associate director of membership at the YMCA of Frederick County, said her rec center focuses heavily on customer service to enhance the customer experience and retain members.
Specifically, Vaughn said it’s one of the Y’s missions to provide excellent service throughout every department, program and interaction. “From membership staff at the front desk to group exercise instructors and volunteer coaches in youth sports programs, we demonstrate our values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility,” said Vaughn. “We hope to prove the YMCA is more than just a gym but a movement that strengthens our community through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.”
If adequate customer service isn’t given in the eyes of the member, Vaughn said it’s even more imperative to listen and answer all feedback through avenues like Google Business, social media, the Y’s app and website, and surveys.
“Make sure your members are heard,” said Vaughn. “We let them know they’re heard and what we can do to improve. Listen, then say what you’re going to do and do what you said you would. Live out your mission, whatever that may be, to be successful. In doing so, you’re sticking to your highest standards and living up to the expectation set by your organization — the framework your organization was built upon. It’s simple: If someone has a positive interaction they will want to keep coming back. If we offer that each time a member visits, they won’t have a reason to leave and go elsewhere.”
Other than positive experiences, Vaughn said members value the community and connection they develop with staff. Through an optimistic and beneficial rec center environment, patrons build a community of friends and support an association that gives back to the community.
“This is why so many people ultimately become lifetime YMCA members,” said Vaughn. “They’ve been members since childhood and keep coming back as they start their own families and into retirement.”
To better establish these connections, the YMCA of Frederick County uses Daxko to communicate with constituents, track retention and more. They employ Daxko Engage for their Net Promoter Score emails which allows them to receive feedback. That information helps track how well they’re doing on a branch level and compared to other YMCAs.
At the New Orleans JCC, communication is also a key factor in retention. Marts said her JCC uses CSI Spectrum from Club Automation as its club management software and Constant Contact, an online marketing company, for contacting purposes.
“We regularly solicit feedback from our members,” said Marts. “What’s important to one person isn’t necessarily the case for others, but the flow of communication allows us to regularly take the temperature of our members. Listen to what they have to say. They’re the reason we’re here and the reason we work as hard as we do. The more you get to know your members of all types, the better you can adjust and accommodate as needed.”
Regular communication, strong customer service and a variety of activities are also key retention strategies at the Prosserman JCC in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Andrew Wolfish, the vice president of membership at the JCC, said they also use Club Automation along with GymSales and Medallia as the center’s main software solutions.
However, Wolfish noted offering value-added benefits is one of the Prosserman JCC’s key approaches in enticing patrons to keep returning to the rec center.
“This can include discounts on classes, priority booking, or access to member-only events and facilities,” said Wolfish. “Sometimes, people need tangible reminders or to receive access to certain things to make sure there’s value for the hard-earned money they spend here. It can’t just be all talk. You must prove your services and real benefits. Then, it’s more likely members renew and their length of stay ends up being longer.”
Creating and running successful community-based events is another way Wolfish said to improve retention at rec centers. For the Prosserman JCC, he explained events are based on Jewish values while also attempting to deeply engage with the broader community as well.
But events that can sometimes bring thousands of attendees cannot be accomplished without having an adequate team in place.
“Hire and train quality staff — people that have a deep passion for helping the community,” advised Wolfish. “You can have all the facilities, amenities and services in the world, but you have to have amazing people to help execute the plan.”
Wolfish also warned of a number of negative practices that will ultimately lead to a loss of membership of revenue. Namely, he said trying to provide discounts or free time to prevent someone from leaving will most likely be futile.
“I’ve even seen and heard of organizations simply not processing cancellations in a timely fashion, so people get billed when they shouldn’t have,” said Wolfish. “Have integrity and listen, always. Also, don’t be reactive and wait for people to have an issue or come into the office to cancel. Now, it’s all about staying ahead of what our members want. Get ahead of the game. If we can fix people’s challenges, we win. And they will greatly appreciate it and become a loyal part of our family.”
As evidenced by the New Orleans JCC, the Prosserman JCC and the YMCA of Frederick County, there isn’t one perfect solution to mastering member retention. But by showcasing genuine care and effort toward the people in the community, rec centers can be best positioned for success and stability for years to come.
Photo courtesy of the Prosserman JCC.