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Custodians of a 169 year old ideal

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cus·to·di·an   [kuh-stoh-dee-uhn]  (noun)  a person who has custody; keeper; guardian.

As we celebrate the 169th anniversary of the founding of the YMCA it is a good time to reflect on our personal roles within this world wide Movement.

If I look at my own experience within the Y, I’ve been fortunate enough to have held a leadership position for close to 13 years. This represents 7.69% of the current life of the YMCA since it was founded by George Williams in 1844! A speck of time and somehow, for me, it puts in place my role within the YMCA Movement.

The YMCA Movement’s history has been a long one that millions of volunteers and staff have contributed and committed to, including those of us currently engaged with the Y in Australia and around the world.

So with that perspective, I see my role, like that of all of us within the YMCA, as one of a custodian. Custodians of something tangible and intangible, never set in stone, always moving, always impacting, always compassionate and above all, always serving.

For me, my role as a custodian, in terms of our time and place within the Movement, means I have a responsibility to do my part to maintain the integrity of what is the YMCA. That means more than simply protecting the brand or good name of the Y. It means to do my best to ensure the Y remains relevant to community needs, that it maintains and doesn’t weaken its values base, that it understands and draws on its spiritual base, particularly its Christian roots and that it remains focused on its mission to provide opportunities for all people to grow in body, mind and spirit.

I’ve used the word “I” a lot in describing my role and I’ve done so intentionally because of what I see as my personal responsibility within my role as National CEO. But we are a movement of people, of ideals, of passion, with different and often competing views and aspirations for ourselves and for the Movement. That diversity makes the Y what it is!

So as custodians we cannot work alone.

It calls on us to work together, not as owners of a ‘brand’, but as custodians of an ideal, born 169 years ago, to help and provide opportunity, for all people.

Here’s to the next 170 years!


Should we be bolder with our brand?

The experts say that the first rule for new bloggers is to “just do it”. So here goes and welcome to my blog.  Shortly after taking up my role as National CEO of YMCA Australia it soon became apparent that a key part of the national office role is in communicating with the YMCA Movement and our stakeholders. I felt we were quietly going about effecting change, especially at the national office, yet no one could see it or hear it! So we’ve boosted our communications resources by engaging Di McDonald as an executive manager – communications. You would have noticed the difference in the YMCA Australia Update for starters and we’ve also increased our social media activity as well.

However I’ve felt that I still didn’t have a forum for having an ongoing conversation with others interested in connecting and collaborating to further enhance social impact on local communities.  I know we inundated many of you with discussion papers before our National Convention last November (sorry!). I’d like to do things a little differently now.  I’m hoping this blog will provide an opportunity for discussion in a more ‘relaxed’ fashion and that from time to time something might peak your interest and even solicit a comment from you. The more the better!

You might even like to suggest topics for conversation.

Recently Peter Burns shared a link to a great TED talk and again I was directed to this presentation at Swinburne University where I’ve restarted my Post Graduate Certificate in Social Impact. Check it out. It is thought provoking. The presenter, Dan Pallotta talks about not for profits and the role of charities such as the YMCA in social innovation (in a US context).

He asks to what extent the not for profit sector has in fact changed  society and quotes  statistics which shows that the number of people living below the poverty line in the US has remained at 12% of the population for the past forty years.

Pallotta suggests one reason for the sector not being as effective as it could be is because of the different rules for For Profits (FPs) and Not for Profits (NFPs) and the perceptions community has of NFPs. He identifies five areas of difference in the way organisations within these sectors are expected to operate:

  • There is a large disparity between the compensation (salary) paid to staff in the two sectors.
  • NFPs are discouraged from advertising and marketing yet it is essential to a FPs survival. There is some great anecdotal evidence to suggest that an investment in Marketing and Brand will increase profile and fundraising results for NFPs.
  • Taking on risk in the pursuit of meeting objectives (or fundraising) is not encouraged in NFPs.  Pallotta’s view is if you prohibit failure, you prohibit innovation.
  • NFPs are expected to achieve outcomes in short term periods whereas FPs have much longer time frames. Long term and sustainable results can’t be expected under the time frames the NFP sector is measured on.
  • Profit. NFPs are not expected to re-invest profits into their organisations.

He also discusses the relationship between charities and philanthropists and givers, such as government. He says that we need to move past the regime of scrutinising overheads (as part of a grant) to the extent that it can make or break a grant. NFPs have overheads as well!

While I agreed with Pallotta’s views,  I felt he missed one big point. As a NFP we also have a responsibility, just as much as the rest of the community, to get our story out there and if we have an issue with public perceptions, we should be addressing this just as much as we would address an obvious social issue.  It’s a great reminder of how important our YMCA brand is and the importance of continuing to strategically raise our profile.

What’s your view? Should we be bolder with our brand?