South Hampton Roads, Virginia

Harnessing the Power of Y

The YMCA South Hampton Roads consists of 23 centers in the Tidewater and Norfolk areas of Virginia. The South Hampton Roads centers are younger than most YMCA centers in the nation and are clean, well-equipped and professionally operated. Membership is highly satisfied and growing annually and the staff are some of the most energetic and positive people you will meet. All that is great for a gym or a pool, but the Y is a charity, and a vital member of its communities.

The Y South Hampton Roads provides its communities financial relief for families in need, single parents, veterans, safety training to children, adult wellness programs, disease intervention programs and offers custom facilities for the differently abled all as a part of their mission. The membership dues can’t pay for these things, they have to raise philanthropic money. Their annual fundraising plan lacked energy and ideas and was underperforming. Most members see the gleaming equipment and the happy helpful staff and perceived the Y as just a nice gym and pool. The staff would rather give themselves, than ask members for money. An internal survey of members showed that more than 60% were unaware that the Y was a charity.

The Y Advantage
Most non-profits don’t have their prospective donors visiting in person on a weekly and daily basis. The goal was to provide staff the tools and coherent messaging they need to comfortably engage their members in philanthropic discussions.

We developed a brand manifesto for staff to license them to give and provide language to use:

We All Fit

We’re not the same.
We don’t all live the same. Or want the same things. Or think the same, do the same. And that’s fine. Our families, friends, our stories, all different. We have different wants, hobbies, goals. Some plain, some obscure, some eccentric. But they’re ours.
We’re not all as fit as we’d like to be.
But we all fit here. At the Y.
The Y’s always been there for that.
Because it’s ours, everyone’s.

We all find what we need here. Look up and you’ll see others – some like you, some not – looking to feel happier. Safer. Stronger. Better physically, and better about themselves. Looking to feel part of something.

Because we all belong here. A simple idea, and one that’s sustained us for generations: live and let live, and lend a hand occasionally.

Which is what we’re asking you to do. To give a little more of yourself so we can give more people the chance to find themselves here.

It’s what makes this place pretty special.
Much like the place we all live in.

The Y

We all fit.

All Star Staff
We developed a fun and relevant theme for the staff at the centers to embrace as part of an annual fundraising initiative that we introduced to the Y. Tidewater, or South Hampton Roads is one of the largest and most populated regions in the country that does not have a top flight professional sports team, an irksome reality to many locals. As two major pillars for their plan we introduced the YMCA All Stars theme, to ramp up at the start of the Major-League Baseball season and at the start of the NFL season. The Y claimed itself to be the Major League All Stars for South Hampton Roads. The staff were issued jerseys with their name and a number on their back and “Roster” posters were erected that listed the name, number and position of staff. In each position listing it identified the part of their work that was funded by philanthropy:

Y All Star Roster
Melissa Schmidt
Youth Water Safety, Adult Swim Coach, Day Care

Posters were erected asking to support the Y All Stars as they support the community. Each Y populated their websites with images of the staff. And the staff were actively soliciting for gifts. The results were stunning. One member said, “I never even look up in the Y, I just do my thing and go to work after. But the new energy and new visuals made me “look out of the cockpit” and realize for the first time all the work that the Y does, it was easy to give once I was able to re-calibrate my perception.”

One of the new tools the staff had was a re-imagined major donor society. Staff were trained on the new society, based on a history that few knew. We created a new young persona for the YMCA founder using an actor, and used his image in social media and in solicitations and at the centers. The Y was founded by a 23-year-old Brit named George Williams in England. He wanted a safe place to go and be healthy while traveling. The imagery for George Williams that was being presented to members as a society was the aging Sir George Williams in old black and white photography, and even members of the Society couldn’t answer who George Williams was. We encourage the Y to harken back to his original dream of a “safe and healthy place for everyone” as rationale for giving. The growth of the society was phenomenal.

The first gift is always the hardest, and this is especially true for the Y because one unique obstacle to overcome is the pervasive member perception that the Y is not a charity. Once a Y member has recognized the community value provided by the Y beyond their membership, and committed to be a donor, they can be expected to renew their contribution as long as they continue to hear about the good works of the Y.

Keeping a fundraising focus on the daily to do list is key. New energy and ideas are vital to steady growth. Routine communication plus a sophisticated and structured approach to fundraising, equal to that embraced in membership marketing and operations, will guarantee sustained record giving in the years ahead.

There is more to do, but the Y is seeing the fruits of the process in the first 6 months of the 2020 campaign. The growth is substantial – up 21% over last year in total giving and up 29% in George Williams Society members, a priority we established from the outset. The one-third growth in the newly re-energized Society, recognizing annual gifts of $1000 or greater, is remarkable. These Society members represent a growing base from which to identify new major capital donors to the Y.

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