This week’s Accelerant BONUS episode will inspire hope for a brighter future. On February 16th, Daxko hosted its inaugural Accelerate Leadership Roundtable with leaders from the movement including Kurtis Dawson (President and CEO at the YMCA Southern Arizona), Todd Rockoff (President and CEO at the Tusconn JCC), and Theresa Johnson (Chief Development and Marketing Officer at the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region). In this episode, your host Saranda West talks with Daxko CEO, Ron Lamb, about key insights from the webinar including new community partnerships, how to get creative with virtual offerings, and how they changed each found a unique rallying cry to support staff and community morale. Listen to these three leaders discuss their response to the pandemic and hear Ron’s thoughts on the emotional qualities of industry recovery.  

Click this link to hear the entire webinar.

Podcast Transcription

Saranda West: Hey hey, Accelerant fans. Who doesn’t like a bonus anything? Well, you are getting a bonus episode today from the Accelerant. We had an Accelerate Roundtable in February that just knocked our socks off, so we wanted to give little bits to you in case you missed it in the roundtable. Kurtis Dawson from the YMCA of Southern Arizona, Todd Rockoff from the Tucson JCC and Theresa Johnson from the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region discussed a brighter future ahead.

If you want the full details after listening to this episode, you can get the full recording on our website. And how about you get to meet Ron Lamb for the first time on Accelerate? If I’m being honest, I did a terrible job of introducing him during the interview, but I think you will still enjoy it. Ron has a long career in technology, a beautiful heart for nonprofits and a persistence in his own health and that of others. I hope you leave with a little bit more hope from this bonus episode.  

Ron Lamb: If you wait until better arrives, you’ll miss the moment. What I mean by that is if you think about your marketing efforts, your outreach, whether it’s trying to win back your members who you’ve lost, whether it’s trying to get members to switch from on-hold to active, whether it’s what we’re doing from donations, all of those things.

If you wait to put in the proper practices, tools, and processes until things are better, you’ll miss the window of opportunity.

SW: Accelerant: A substance use to aid the spread of fire, accelerating or causing acceleration. Bonus episode.

Welcome to a special episode of the Accelerant. Today, I’m joined by Ron lamb, the CEO of Daxko, and we are going to be covering a great webcast that we had several weeks ago and wanted to share some of it with you. Ron, welcome to the show.

RL: Thank you. Saranda.

SW: So, this is time we have got to meet you at least via the Accelerant. Would you mind a little bit of a background and what is your Y or J story?

RL: Yeah. I grew up in the Flint, Michigan area. I learned how to swim and all those things at a YMCA. My family was a proud member. Then as my life unfolded and I got married and I had kids. My kids learned how to swim at the Y.

I volunteered at the Y. I was at fundraisers for the Y and coached teams for the Y and everything from when our kids were tiny tots. I can still remember in the gym with a soccer ball and they all chase it around like a magnet, and then they graduated to baseball and softball and outdoor soccer and all those things.

The Y has been a very important part of my life and I’m just really humbled to be able to give back and help in some way.

SW: That’s great. Even now, I know you actually serve on the board of a Y now, after growing up in the Y.

RL: Yeah, it’s kind of come full circle. I’m proud to say that I’m one of the board of directors at the Pike’s Peak YMCA.

So, I work with Boyd Williams and that great team, and now trying to help them navigate this whole COVID mess as well as serve as the CEO of Daxko and try to have us build better, faster solutions to help everybody improve their productivity and efficiency.

SW: Perfect, and that leads us to our topic for today.

A couple of weeks ago, you actually hosted a panel of YMCAs and JCCs talking through how they’ve navigated, to use your words, this “COVID mess” and how the organizations have evolved over the past year and how they see it moving forward. What I’d love for us to do is actually go through a couple of clips just to hear what some of these people have shared with us, and then talk through how that impacts…how we’ve seen it play out in the market, and then also with Daxko.

The Early Impact of COVID

Theresa Johnson: We lost around 40% of our membership, and so revenue got hit extremely hard. Programming – pretty much all programming stopped. The only programming that we were running was childcare, and that was hit and miss, depending on the school district.  

In Colorado Springs, we have multiple different school districts. So, we have 10 different school districts that have 10 different rules about how they’re going to either let kids go to school or not. So, for us, it was really adjusting and trying to be there for childcare as much as possible. The other thing too, we had to let go about 50% of our staff.

I think, yes, it was hard losing the revenue. Yes, it was hard not running programs, but I think one of the most heartfelt things was having to cut staff and then to go through your staff list and go, who stays? Who do you need to let go? What else can this person take on? And so you literally were just going through that.  

I think that was probably, like I said, the hardest part for the leadership team to do, especially when no one knew what this was going to be like. We definitely started assessing, “Okay, what are our priorities? Who are priorities?” Obviously, our seniors flush to the top of the staff that we had left.

We quickly focused on three areas, was our seniors, our childcare, and our partnerships, because we knew that in Colorado Springs, we have a lot of nonprofits. There are a lot of partners out there that are doing really good work. We didn’t want our donors to forget about us, and we really wanted to make sure that we were communicating at this time.

The Y really needs donations more than anything, so we strategically started working with partners outside of our organization. Then we could, in marketing and PR communication, start putting those good stories out into the community, which then led to donations coming in and saying, you guys are doing so much work, you know, with other partners that we delivered food.  

A lot of what we did with the seniors is we made almost 8,000 phone calls. We did food deliveries. We had staff that we were still, they weren’t working. So, what we use them for was they started making the phone calls to the seniors. They started picking up prescriptions and taking them to the seniors, and they started delivering the meals.

It’s all of those little bitty pieces that allowed us to really keep telling our story in the community. Then, we really focused hard on the dues to donations. We had members that we have between, I want to say, middle of March through the end of December, $188,000 of dues that went to donations. It’s those kinds of little things that we try to focus on because, you know, it wasn’t a good story really for anybody, but we knew that by telling our story in a very creative way, as much as possible, it was going to make a difference and make an impact.

We still are receiving donations from members. We had about 30% of the dues donations that came in had never given to us before, and so that was significant.  

SW: That was one take from Theresa – how they were impacted. How else have you seen the market impacted?

Later Impacts of COVID

RL: Yeah. We look at, from a macro standpoint, I think the best way or the easiest way to sort through the data that we constantly are analyzing is based on a continuum of metro to rural.

Our Metro Ys and Js are typically down 50%, plus or minus 10. Why is that? People are not going to work in the metro area, so they’re not using the facilities. Many of those people put their memberships on hold or even canceled. In our rural Ys, we’ve seen that decrease. It’s only about 20%.

Again, plus, or minus probably 5%. And why is that? Let’s because that J or that Y, or in a community, and we are rural communities may not have been hit by COVID as much. So, there’s that dynamic?

The other dynamic that’s really important is state or regional impacts. We have seen different state governments, different regional governments.

In California, it was a total shelter at home for many months. In other states, maybe in Florida or something in the Midwest, where they remained open, or maybe they only went through one shut down, we’ve seen those Ys and Js bounce back faster, but now as we are going into the spring and summer months, we suspect everybody will be open. We’ll be bouncing back.

In aggregate across the entire health and wellness sphere, there’s about, we think about 6 million, maybe 7 million people who have canceled whatever membership or wherever they choose to get their physical fitness and mental wellbeing. Some of it has been economics. Some of it has been other reasons.

There are a lot of folks out there that if we can put an aggressive CRM and marketing after them, we can win them back. I think it would be a mistake to just assume if somebody was a member of your facility that they’re going to axiomatically just join you again. I think actually there’s going to be quite a bit of shopping and thinking and comparing.

It’s really important we get our message out there, that we talk about our mission, our purpose, why it’s important to be a part of a J or a Y. We just shouldn’t take anything for granted right now. We need a full court press.

SW: That’s definitely one thing that I learned last year is to not take… I think we can all get sucked into taking a lot of things for granted.

What are other things that you have learned personally from the pandemic, with respect to not taking anything for granted?

Learnings from the Pandemic

RL: I would say that probably the biggest thing I’ve learned in this marketplace is how awesome our customers are. I have spent a lot of time on the phone and on Zoom with many CEOs and other leaders within our communities.

It’s very inspirational how they have trudged on what they had done and how they persevered, and frankly, how they have changed their approach. Their rallying cries, what they’re doing to survive. That’s probably been the biggest thing is how awesome our customers are.

Rallying Cries

SW: Speaking of rallying cry, that was actually your next question to the panel. Did they have either personally or something for their staff have the rallying cry? Let’s take a listen to what was said.  

Todd Rockoff: To be sure, this has an impact on staff and, you know, from the outset, we knew that and I… A couple of things that I’ll share, we participated throughout the spring and into the summer in a pulse survey, offered by an organization called Leading Edge.  

It really helped us measure exactly where people were, and they gave us some very clear anonymous information about mood, wants, needs, desires, and it really was helpful to us in being able to react.

Then on the proactive side, it was all about communication. While that may sound like a really weak understatement, but to be able to authentically talk to and listen to the staff in terms of how they’re doing, we were asking an incredibly difficult thing. I think everybody, Ron, I was asleep with you during the, “How Do You Handle a Pandemic” class.  

We were all building the bridges as we were going across it, and I think the sense of togetherness did help the sense of benchmarks and accomplishments of first draft of the plan to reopen, first outreach of getting someone to register back for programming, ongoing communication with our families, with our seniors, with our members, all gave people a sense of purpose, and then encouraging staff to take time off.  

Even after we brought people back, there may not have been any place to go. The need for respite was really important in acknowledging that and providing for that was really important. We actually offered our team because we, people still had 2019 vacation days left that by our policy, they would have lost during the closure, and we allowed people to carry those over till the end of 2020, or we allowed them to buy them out, or we bought them out.  

It was just a way to also provide some extra income for some of our staff, because if they weren’t going to be able to go away, they could buy out their 2019 days and still had their 2020 days that they could use for that much needed respite. The rallying cry was really, we can do anything together and we can do anything in partnership.

I’ll just preview. When we talk about collaboration and partnership. It’s so essential to use and work with other organizations to better yourself. We were very fortunate to get a grant from Pima Council on Aging. It kept our restaurant in business. We’re serving still a thousand meals a week to apartment buildings that are operated by Catholic Community Services. It’s a three-way partnership and everyone was able to benefit.  

When we think about working together, we’re not giving up power, we’re gaining strength. This idea of us gaining strength together was really the way in which we’ve tried to approach everything that we’ve done.

It’s not a moment in time. We need to continue to check in with our staff and community because there’s not a defined end in sight.

RL: Yeah, that that’s so, so strong. Todd, you said you do a thousand meals a week and distributing them to a…

TR: There are several different apartment complexes where we drop off lunch and dinner and they’re running to become like our own Door Dash.

RL: And they’re run by whom?

TR: They’re run by Catholic Community Services.

RL: In partnership with your JCC and Catholic Community Services. I’ve got to ask, where did that come from? That’s awesome.

TR: It came, it came through Pima Council on Aging, who had the contract to provide them meals and they needed a purveyor. We had a commercial kitchen that was able to accommodate, so it’s been a great three-way partnership, and we’re grateful that it’s continuing.

Most of all, at the end of the day, we’re grateful that that seniors that are living in these apartments are getting two meals a day, seven days a week.

SW: Ron, can you teach me that class now? How to, what was it, “How to Survive the Pandemic”?


RL: I don’t think I can because I never took it. Like I said, I must’ve been asleep or something. Yeah. Man, oh man. Someday we’ll need to write a book because the bottom kind of dropped out immediately and I led a company through the ’08/’09 financial crisis, and that one just slowly deteriorated over the course of six, nine months.

It took us about two years in the automotive sector. This one was days. It was just amazing how from the middle of March, right into April, as I think about the conversation there and the panel, what we’ve realized here at Daxko is we did need a rallying cry and in last month or two for 2021.

We’ve centered on what we call Thrive2. The concept is that we at Daxko cannot thrive until our customers and our customers’ members thrive. It’s easy, frankly, I think for all of us, if we’re really honest, it’s easy to look internally. “Oh, we had a lot of layoffs. We’ve had to take pay cuts. We’ve had to cut investments.”

When you focus on that stuff, it can be downright depressing. If you focus on the puzzle pieces that are no longer there, it’s easy to miss the puzzle pieces that are. So, what’s really neat is our entire organization has shifted their focus to our customers and to our customers’ members. We’ve seen a hyper vigilance around getting software to market that we know is going to help our customers win members back, that we know is going to help our customers increase fundraising and increase donations.

It’s been awesome to watch the teams rally around Thrive2  and become laser-focused on helping our customers thrive. As our customers thrive, we will thrive. Yeah. I think it’s a really exciting time.

SW: Jumping into the next question that you asked the panel: How are they dealing with balancing their online offerings? Moving that forward? Obviously with the shutdown that was just overnight and for some, they may not have had an online anything. And obviously it became super critical, so let’s hear in this case, I think from Kurtis.

Online Offerings

RL: Kurtis, how are you all attacking the online virtual piece?

Kurtis Dawson: I have a different perspective on technology with my team. I try to remind them that technology doesn’t put people in community, right? And anytime we’re using technology, it should only enhance our secret sauce, which is relationship. Essentially, the J the Y, you boil it down, we are about relationships.

If we are expecting it to take the place of relationship, it’s not going to work because that’s what people are really wanting. That’s what makes people keep coming back. That’s what helps them achieve their goals is because of those relationships. They’ve made that a key thing for us is we wanted to have their instructor on there and not just their instructor for the class time, but their instructor after the class as well.

They would spend 10, 15, 20, 30 minutes after the class, just talking with their class, and at a time when, you know, some of our members, some of the seniors, they were alone, they were living alone and they looked forward two days a week, seeing that familiar face and hear his corny jokes and all of that stuff, because it just….

It gave people that a moment of hope of “We got this. We’re going to make it through. We’re here for each other.” We really tried to focus on how can we use this technology to enhance the relationship building.

SW: I love Kurtis’s take on that because when you first asked the question to the panel, I was like, “Okay, here we go. Let’s figure out how we can sign people up for a membership,” and that’s not at all his response.

RL: No, it wasn’t. And being relationship first or mission first or purpose first, I think is really important part of the equation. I do appreciate and agree with his perspective that the technology and the software are a means to an end, and we need to stay very true and focused on what that end is.

One of the things I’m very proud of our team the last couple of years is investing a significant amount of time, money, and energy and resources to make the digital connection easier. We’re standing up a number of tools to help people manage the prospect funnel, to use artificial intelligence to connect with people.

We will soon be launching a new platform in the whole digital world with the Houston YMCA, which I think is very exciting and next generation in order to really enable the connection with community. But at the end of the day, the technology is the means by which you’re trying to achieve your purpose, your mission, the relationship. I think Kurtis is dead on there.

I would say if we look at our Ys and Js the last 10 years, we’ve probably under invested in these new tools and technologies, and I think we’ve been more comfortable kind of doing things the way we’ve always done them. When the reality is, if you leverage some advanced technology, you can have people be many times more productive.

I just, I think about even just the basic wind back piece. I think about Theresa said donations: Number one, we’ve got to get money in the door. One of the things I know the team has worked really hard is standing up a fundraising artificial intelligence assistant. You’ve got to take advantage of these technologies because you don’t have enough, we don’t have enough people to make all the phone calls and send out the emails.

You just don’t, so you’ve got to leverage these tools and advanced technologies to build the bridge, to be the means to the end of the relationship or the mission and the purpose.

SW: Let’s jump into the last question you asked the panel: Will the future be worse, the same or better, and why?

The Future

TR: I am blessed with being an eternal optimist, and I believe that that the future is actually going to be better. I think it’s going to be better because I think we realize how important community is to us.

I think we realize how we can be dependent upon each other. I think we’ve all discovered something about ourselves that we didn’t know that will help us advance our work and deepen our purpose. I think that the future is going to be better because of all the things that we’ve been able to do, where the truth is during this last 11 months, we could have all just mailed it in, and we didn’t.

Across the Y movement, across the J movement, everyone leaned in hard and said, “We’ve really got a mission and a purpose to serve, and we’re going to do what we can to serve that in any way that we can, until we can be back together the way that we want to.”

And that may be a blend of online and in-person, but we’re going to do it. I think that as we look at what’s happening now, we’re starting to see a community respond, and with more and more depth, I think we’re feeling a sense of optimism, in terms of what we’re seeing in terms of day camp registration. People are ready. They’re looking beyond the spring semester into the summer.

I think we’re going to be better because the situation will get better. As a people, we recognize the interdependence that we can have on each other.  

RL: Yeah, totally agree. Teresa, Worse? Same?  

TJ: Better, better, better for sure. I’m with Todd. I don’t know. Sometimes every now and then maybe you do need to reset to really evaluate and check your priorities.

I think this is what this has done. I think now we value some rural family members better because we’ve had to spend so much time with them or we value some of our long-distance friendships. For instance, you lost in the past, or you know, that you’ve lost contact with in the past that you’ve reconnected with during this time.

We value each other in the workplace, because through this, you really see the staff that rise, right? The staff that has the positive attitude. “Put me wherever you need me. Yeah, I’ll clean toilets. I don’t care.” You see all of that in the people, and I think it’s just inspiring.  

You appreciate your community. You appreciate the mom-and-pop stores that have been struggling that are still hanging on. I think it’s just the way that you would just approach it, right? It has to get better.  

I believe in the human spirit. I do. I believe that we are coming out of this and we want to be together. I will share this. It’s interesting. I’ve been working out of my garage. I’m still working out of my garage, and I do Les Mills, so I’m part of the Les Mills community. Somebody posts a question: when the gym’s reopen – you gotta understand that this is like people from all over the world on this group chat — will you be going back?

So many people said, “Absolutely love working out at home, love having this, but I will do both. I have to get back at my gym.” The number of people that kept saying they’re going back to their facility, they’re going back to the workout, they miss their friends, they have to have that human contact, it made me feel really good. I believe you’ve got to have that contact with each other.

RL: Yeah, I completely agree. I think there is a yearning. I’m not sure who shared this earlier. There’s part of the human experience that we are drawn to be connected to each other. I’ve got a few people in my family, maybe they were meant to live alone. No, I’m just kidding. A little joke there.

They could be watching. It’s a joke, but no, I mean, for the vast majority, that’s part of the human experience is sharing, learning, growing from each other. I think that you look at some of the conventional metrics, work at home kind of things have exploded.

People bought gear, all that kind of stuff, but you can only do so many pushups and burpees in your garage and you want to go and have that. I’m totally there with you. I think it’s going to snap back really, really fast, really, really hard. If we’ve done all the things that the three of you have done about building those relationships and showing who we are and showing up in this time of need where people are like, “Yeah, that’s pretty cool. I want to be a part of that.”

Kurtis, worse, the same or better? And are there one or two things you could share with our audience about why you believe that they might be able to implement in their place?

KD: Yeah, I believe better. And I think it’s better because this last year has taught us what we’re really about.

Right. And we’re really about relationship. That’s, that’s our secret sauce. Everything else is just the carrot to get people in community. And if we stay focused on that, realizing that just because we arrived now, doesn’t mean we’re going to stay there, but we focus on. Building trust, building community, staying in relationship and being on mission.

Yeah, I’m, I’m very excited about the future. I believe we have a new foundation laid.

SW: All right, Ron. Your turn. Will the future be worse, the same, or better?

RL: The future is definitely going to be better. I believe in these relational organizations that we serve, and I believe that people feel really good about being a part of them and it’s fulfilling a core human need.

I think people are going to come back quicker than what we suspected. One of my mentors years ago said the good habits that we have are formed in bad times. We’ve all had to get leaner and meaner and smarter and faster, and so as things return back to normal, we should actually be providing a better experience for our members.

I know our technology, the services and solutions that we’re offering, you just go back a year or even two years when we launched the Mission Acceleration Suite, we’ve added up tough stuff. We have a fundamentally better solution set, having integrated all of the digital websites, the marketing, the CRM, the prospect funnel, all of these things working together is going to give organizations a competitive advantage and they’re going to be fundamentally better than they were before.

Yeah, I think it’s going to be better, and I’m really excited about the future.

SW: Do you have any final words for those listening, as they’ve still trying to navigate into thrive right into the thrive phase?

Final Words

RL: If you wait until better arrives, you’ll miss the moment. And what I mean by that is if you think about your marketing efforts, your outreach, whether it’s trying to win back your members who you’ve lost, whether it’s trying to get members to switch from on-hold to active, whether it’s what we’re doing from donations, all of those things.

If you wait to put in the proper practices, tools and processes and tell things are better, you’ll miss the window of opportunity. It’s really critical that as we are moving to better and we’re seeing things return. We’re seeing revenues increase. We gotta be thinking about, “Okay, how do we maximize and increase that?” Because these recoveries tend to happen exponentially, not linearly.

Those who are waiting, a lot of stuff has passed them by. My encouragement to people is don’t go rebuild what you had before. Create something better.

SW: Thank you so much for your leadership, leading into thrive.

RL: My pleasure, and looking forward to a brighter tomorrow.

SW: Thanks for listening to this Accelerant bonus episode. Tune in next week for regularly scheduled interviews with leaders across the country.

The Accelerant podcast is a product of Daxko, serving the health and wellness community for over 20 years with comprehensive technology solutions to over 17 million members worldwide. Learn more at That’s d-a-x-k-o-dot-com.

The Accelerant is produced by Christy Brown, Sean Ellis Hussey, and me, Saranda West. Sound and editing by Sean Ellis Hussey. Visual design by Jenny Miller.

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