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What’s top of mind for leaders when thinking about the future of the YMCA.

I don’t have a crystal ball or the ability to predict the future. But one thing is for sure – YMCA leaders are thinking about the future now more than ever. After speaking to hundreds of leaders and partners over the past year, I want to share some of my thoughts and learnings.

Technology will play a significant role.

The pandemic has advanced technology at least 10 years in less than a three-year time span. Zoom is now an active part of our daily work schedules. We’re packing in more meetings than ever.

Technology should start with the customer in mind and a vision for the right CRM system. Leaders want a 360-view of the customer with the click of a button producing real time data instead of historical. For many years, the Y ran on too many platforms, none of which integrated with one another. Soon, technology will drive business in all areas, including sports, health and wellness, membership, and the overall member experience.

Data and analytics will be leveraged more for strategic decisions.

It’s well past time leaders make more data-driven decisions instead of going with gut instincts. Technology enhancements, data and analytics will improve and increase the demand for data analysts that support leadership teams replacing the dependency on administrative staff who pull reports and fill out forms.

The Y movement is also starting to shift marketing strategies and investment dollars to evergreen digital tactics instead of traditional marketing methods. These digital strategies are extremely sophisticated and built off data and analytics. Artificial intelligence is being leveraged by marketers as well. These trends will continue and leaders will know more about members, resulting in a better member experience and more custom, innovative programming.

Fitness trends are changing rapidly.

The fitness industry is experiencing a major shift in trends coming out of the pandemic. The early signs of the change were symptomatic prior to COVID-19 with the pandemic speeding up new expectations from fitness enthusiasts and health seekers. The impact of Peloton and virtual fitness offerings changed the game and will continue to have an impact on the industry.

Hybrid work schedules have disrupted usage patterns in fitness facilities. Facilities are experiencing a major reduction in the utilization of the rows of cardio equipment on floors prior to the pandemic. The demand for functional training and HIIT programming has increased. It’s forced YMCAs to shake up wellness center designs and related programming. Members are now expecting new experiences alongside the continued desire for a sense of community and belonging the Y has consistently delivered.

There will be more competition than ever before.

The Y was losing market share before the pandemic due to competition. This included big box gyms, boutiques and value gyms. Now, the Y is faced with virtual fitness, local workout groups and new in-home solutions. The Y will need to think differently in the future. CEOs are thinking about how the movement can transform lives and measure it. I’m not sure there are clear answers for this vision, but it’s worth pursuing.

The Y must remain so much more.

To remain relevant and a leading nonprofit, the Y will continue to evolve and change in the coming years. This is one of those moments in history that force a reset and create exponential change. No one has all the answers, but there are leaders talking about the future of the YMCA now more than ever before.

To move forward, leaders will need to continue to ask thought provoking questions and be open to trying new things, including technology. The Y must sustain being the foundation of the community and continue to bring people together. The Y movement has always led with a purpose and the focus must stay there. So, the question is how do we truly transform lives and how do we measure it?

Jake Steger

Jake Steger has over 22 years of experience leading Community Recreation Organizations. Most recently, he served as the COO for the YMCA of South Florida, one of the fastest growing YMCA Associations in North America with an annual operating budget of $60 million. Jake is known nationally in the Y movement as a “Membership Guru,” a title which he lived up to with his successful efforts to rebuild membership in South Florida. Jake provided steadfast leadership to the Y of South Florida, resurfacing the organization from the effects of the global pandemic at a record pace. As a result of Jake’s leadership, the YMCA of South Florida rebuilt 85% (same branch sales) of its pre-COVID membership base by August of 2021. Jake led this effort by implementing a new strategic staffing model along with an improved business process that leveraged technology. He strongly believes technology is an “accelerator for growth” and when coupled with the right people and business processes, it can create transformational growth for an organization. With his passion for leading change and leveraging technology, Jake founded REC Business Solutions, Inc. to support the reestablishment of stronger, healthier, and more connected Community Rec Organizations for today’s growing digital economy. Follow Jake: LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

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