Navigating campaigns, mergers, renovations and community needs at the YMCA of Bucks and Hunterdon Counties.
It’s not often someone gets the chance to run the old community center they used to play basketball in as a kid. But if that someone has a vision so compelling that it inspires people to see what could be, then it just might happen.
Zane Moore grew up across the street from what was then the Lower Bucks Family YMCA. During that time, he played basketball in the gyms and became a lifeguard. His dad even played basketball there. After college, his career took him down a path in fitness equipment manufacturing and opening his own health and fitness company.
He always had a goal of serving the community and got an even better chance to do so while working with a YMCA in New Jersey on an expansion. He found himself drawn to the Y’s mission and passion, and realized how much he knew about the organization having grown up in one himself. Ultimately, he left his business and became a COO with the New Jersey Y for five years until making his way closer to home as the president and CEO of what was then the Central Bucks Family YMCA in 2011.
Taking the Wheel
Prior to 2018, the Bucks County community was comprised of three separate YMCAs: Lower, Central and Upper Bucks. Moore described each area as being so different they could be separate states.
The initial turning point for the future association came with the merging of the Central Bucks and Lower Bucks YMCAs to become the YMCA of Bucks County, led by Moore. He said the Lower Bucks County Y had been failing financially but was needed in the community. Central Bucks managed the organization for four years to get it stable before merging in late 2018. Shortly after this announcement, in early 2019 the Upper Bucks YMCA also merged to create one YMCA organization across all of Bucks County.
While it was a turning point, the mergers were not smooth sailing at first. Moore recalled hearing from volunteers and board members on both sides who were against merging. “I heard things like ‘we’re not going to merge with that part of the county,’ and ‘our money is not going to this area,’ and ‘we’re not going to take money from that area,’” said Moore. “But we got them to realize they’re all volunteers for the Y because they truly believe in our mission. When they all met each other, I think they finally came to realize they are all just genuinely good people looking to serve their community, and a larger organization has the potential to provide greater impact.”
Furthering its dedication to the community, the YMCA of Bucks County mergers coincided with the “For a Better Us” campaign. The campaign was a comprehensive response to community requests for updated facilities, as well as expanded programming for individuals and families with barriers to wellness and program opportunities. The campaign had an initial goal of $15 million and ended up raising over $30 million. Moore attributed this success to not only an amazing team but also to a compelling vision inspired by community needs.
The former Lower Bucks facility – now the Fairless Hills branch – was one of two major capital projects supported by the campaign, the other being the Doylestown branch in Central Bucks. Moore shared an important piece to these projects was conducting community needs assessments.
“We conducted one-on-one interviews with community stakeholders to learn what the true needs of residents in Central and Lower Bucks County were,” said Moore. “We said forget about the Y for a second. What are these communities battling with? And then we did a real estate asset study. We looked at our facilities alongside the needs we learned and asked, ‘Do our facilities have the capacity to serve these needs? Do we need a renovation, should we move or consider shutting a location down?’ And that starts developing a vision.”
Moore elaborated this vision of doing X because it’s going to solve Y and Z is how Fairless Hills came to life. They learned the mission there was very strong and the Y was subsidizing many programs and memberships for children, seniors and families, but not a lot of paying members were coming in because the building was outdated. “We asked if we rebuild it, will you come? They said, ‘Yes,’” said Moore.
Similar to the struggles of the first merger, Moore shared raising the money for the Fairless Hills project in Lower Bucks was a challenge at first, but the power behind the needs assessments helped. “Fairless Hills was a multi-million-dollar project being done in a community where membership was largely being subsidized, ” said Moore. “We were told from the beginning we would never raise the money there, but we thought our vision was so cool.”
The solution was combining both projects — Fairless Hills and Doylestown — into one shared vision focused on the impact both facilities would have on providing for the needs of the Bucks County community. “I learned people were so inspired by the project that not only were people from Central Bucks giving their money to Lower Bucks, but people came out of the woodwork in Lower Bucks who grew up in that community like I did,” said Moore. “We received seven-figure gifts from people who were first-time donors because they were so inspired by what was happening there. I learned your vision has to be so compelling it inspires people to see what could be in their community.”
Today, the Fairless Hills branch is close to 180% of membership retention as compared to pre-COVID-19 and is a thriving community center in Lower Bucks County. “Having grew up in this Y, cutting the ribbon was a very proud moment for me,” shared Moore. “The community came out in droves to support our venture.”
Additional information collected from the community needs assessments were amenities people wanted to see in both projects. In Fairless Hills, features included a community gathering space, a big lobby and places for seniors to recreate. Additional amenities included a larger fitness center and renovated pool. In the Doylestown facility, the feedback emphasized more group exercise. One amenity huge to both projects was universal locker rooms.
“The universal locker rooms were huge in both of those renovations because we serve a very large special needs population,” said Moore. “We serve people in our free Pathway programs, including cancer wellness, mental health and substance abuse recovery, diabetes prevention, Parkinson’s disease, teen health, senior health, veterans and Safety Around Water. We have people wearing wigs or who have body alterations from their disease. The amount of people we learned were uncomfortable in the regular locker rooms was staggering. And it just hit us. We’re doing all these great programs and we’re serving the community so well. However, when people are uncomfortable to change or to shower, then we’re really not that great. It was a huge motivator, and it just goes back to listening.”
And that’s exactly what Moore continued to do throughout the next milestones for the association.
The Left Lane
Beyond the two mergers, the YMCA of Bucks County continued to grow. April 2021 brought the expansion of the Doylestown branch to life. A year later in April 2022, the Fairless Hills branch celebrated its fully renovated reopening. But that’s not all that happened in 2022.
The Hunterdon County YMCA in New Jersey and YMCA of Bucks County in Pennsylvania came together to create one YMCA across the two counties, operating as YMCA of Bucks and Hunterdon Counties, led by Moore as president and CEO. This new association is comprised of six membership branches, six youth education centers and two outdoor camp facilities serving over 50,000 community members each year and providing more than $5 million annually in charitable community benefit.
As a seemingly master of mergers, Moore elaborated he never set out to find these opportunities. Rather, he’s stayed open to conversations and upheld his responsibility of due diligence. “We’re part of a larger global and national movement here,” he said. “We hold a piece of the responsibility to preserve and uphold the Y brand. That means yes, we should consider mergers 100%. That doesn’t mean we’re going to go in blind or make decisions that are going to hurt our Y. We’re going to conduct significant due diligence.”
Additionally, Moore stated if a merger can help then the organization should do it. “If it creates more job opportunities and more career paths, then that helps preserve the product we’re offering,” he said. “I think our product is awesome. But that’s only because I have great people. The only way to keep great people is to create more career opportunities, better salaries, better benefits and a better work environment. One way to do that is to continue to grow.”
Having led a successful $30 million campaign and navigated multiple mergers and renovations, Moore’s best advice for other leaders is to surround yourself with an awesome team of staff and volunteers. “You have to be involved and you have to be engaged in the community to make it truly become part of your culture,” he said. “Being surrounded by such a high performing team allowed me the opportunity to focus my efforts with our donors.”
That’s exactly what Moore plans to do. Over the next five years, he shared the Y is working on some very big ideas including capital development and renovation of the Upper Bucks facility, a whole new vision for the Hunterdon County region, and looking at underserved regions across the Y’s service area — and outside of the area — to see if there’s any other partnerships they can fulfill.
Other priorities will include affordable childcare and being considered the most trusted childcare, camp and teen service provider in the area, chronic disease prevention and mental health, safety around water, and hunger prevention and food distribution.
“I really don’t see us slowing down any time soon,” said Moore. “Our board and staff are inspired by our vision and mission, and our organization continues to be called to action, so we will continue to evaluate every opportunity that comes our way.”
Photos by Steve Finkernagel.