Uploaded: Fri, Jul 18, 2014, 8:18 am
Editorial: Damage control at the Palo Alto YMCA
Y struggles with longtime members over Page Mill facility
Many organizations have an immensely difficult time conveying bad news to their customers. Out of a desire to not displease or upset people, they provide too little information or spin the information in a way that ultimately comes back to bite them.
Nonprofits are often particularly inept at communicating bad news because their leadership teams generally have no experience in crisis management and they are understandably anxious about generous supporters who could sour on the organization in the face of financial or other difficulties.
The result is often a poorly thought-out strategy of providing limited or no information and believing that the problem can be contained and kept from the media and the broader public.
It is surprising and disappointing that an organization as large and well-respected as the YMCA of Silicon Valley, with local boards filled with prominent local people, could have stumbled so badly in the last two weeks over the Page Mill branch's problems.
Stung by the intensity of reaction to its announcement that the Page Mill YMCA would close Oct. 1, ill-prepared YMCA officials are now scrambling to contain the upset of many long-time members.
The Page Mill fitness center, located in the basement of an office building in the Palo Alto Square complex and surrounded by venture capital and law firms, has always been somewhat of a stepchild facility among Ys because of its lack of a family focus or programs that reflect the mission of the YMCA.
But as the reaction to the closure announcement clearly shows, its members care deeply about the community that has formed at the facility and are not enthusiastic about moving to either the Ross Road or the East Palo Alto branches or to another gym.
In their attempt to respond to upset Page Mill members by holding a public meeting Wednesday night to explain its actions, YMCA executives managed to make matters worse by barring the media from the meeting.
Reporters spotted by YMCA officials were asked to leave the meeting in spite of it being open to anyone else, YMCA member or not, who walked into Unitarian Universalist Church. Attendees were not asked to show their YMCA cards or verify they were members.
The Weekly had sent staff to videotape the meeting so it could be posted on our website for those unable to attend the 5 p.m. meeting, a service the Y should have welcomed.
Explanations given for excluding reporters included concern over the seating capacity of the room and their possible effect on attendees expressing their opinions.
YMCA officials knew the press would be attending, so their attempt to prevent coverage of the meeting was deliberate and reflected the same poor judgment that has characterized the last two weeks.
The YMCA is a nonprofit organization that enjoys broad support, participation and funding from Palo Alto residents, and operates its Ross Road facility under a use permit with the city. To exclude anyone from a meeting designed to explain the Y's actions creates yet another controversy and only reinforces the suspicions that not all information is being shared.
Data distributed at the meeting to explain the decision to close the facility shows that the Page Mill center has seen a gradual decline in members and operates at a deficit. Some members challenge that data because users of one YMCA facility don't necessarily belong to that branch. Bay Area-wide members, while they might not designate Page Mill as their "home" branch, pay a slightly higher fee to have access to all 29 YMCAs in the Bay Area. Any member can also pay a small daily fee to use a Y that is not their home gym.
The YMCA obviously has the right, if not the duty, to manage its facilities to ensure they are both meeting the mission of the Y and not imposing an excessive financial burden on the organization.
The problem is that YMCA officials botched the process of evaluating the future of the Page Mill Y, and in doing so lost the confidence and support of many of its members and risks losing support of the general public.
The membership and users of the Page Mill facility should have been informed and involved long before any decisions were made about the center's future and provided with the same data that management and the board were evaluating.
Had that open communication strategy been followed, instead of a strategy of secrecy and limited explanation, the YMCA could have maintained a good relationship with its members and, perhaps, developed an alternative plan that would have preserved the facility.
Posted by BBBKKK
a resident of Portola Valley
on Jul 27, 2014 at 1:37 pm
BBBKKK is a registered user.
Why the SV YMCA Board decision is a disaster and why they should help us find a solution (cont.) -
5. I have a single membership. My dues were $65 per month for years, and then fell to $56 per month when I reached a certain 'pivotal birthday' in 2005. They have remained at $56 since. The Y may be a non-profit, but it's still running a business. It's egregious mismanagement not to raise dues to at least keep up with inflation. If that had been done, I suspect we would not have any "financial problems". I've heard lots of members say they would be willing to pay more. When that was suggested at the 7/16 meeting, Elizabeth Jordan, COO, said that if dues were raised, members would leave. The Page Mill Y has~ 3,000 members. How many members (and their donations) will leave the Y system with the closure of Page Mill???
6. The SV Board hired a consultant to see how best to make the Page Mill market-competitive. The Board now seems totally bought into the consultant's advice without getting input from any members or staff. I can see that an outside consultant might think we need major deferred maintenance and upgrades (depending on who he talked with) to be competitive with Equinox or the new JCC. But the Page Mill Y has many other positives that an outsider may not see or may discount. Not everything that is valuable is based on physical facilities. If we become "just like Equinox", where is the competitive advantage? We appeal to a totally different demographic and should be marketed as such, not s "like Equinox". Equinox is much more expensive than the Y, but if it were exactly the same price, I would choose the Y.
7. Many members who use the Page Mill Y have "Bay Area" memberships. Many started out at another Y and have migrated over the years to using the Page Mill Y. However, if they didn't change their "home Y" designation, then their membership and dues are credited to that Y, not to Page Mill. It's clear by the various posts that many members didn't understand that where they registered for their "home Y" makes an important difference in internal accounting. Now that they know the problem, members have tried to change their "home Y" to the Y they actually use most of the time, but the SV Board, now, won't allow that. They also won't allow new memberships. According to the information given to us on 7/16, Page Mill membership has declined ~ 10% (i.e., by ~ 150 "member units") over the past 5 years. (It has actually increased in the past year.) If people were allowed to change their "home Y" to the Y they use the most, I expect we would be at least half way there.
8. When members suggested a capital campaign for improvements, Elizabeth Jordan, SV YMCA's COO, basically responded (paraphrasing) that we're a non-profit - we don't do capital campaigns for facilities, we do them to help people that need help (financial assistance, summer camps, Alzheimer program, etc.). Sorry - but there was a huge capital campaign (strongly supported by the Page Mill Y) to build the EPA Y and there was another large capital campaign to expand the Ross Road Y from 19,000 to 25,000 sq. ft. We certainly could do one now to make whatever improvements are actually needed for the Page Mill Y.
9. The SV Board is suggesting that all Page Mill members transfer to the Ross Road, El Camino, EPA, or Sequoia YMCAs or "find another home closer to where they live". In many of the posts, Ross Road members are already complaining about lack of parking, lines for exercise machines and showers, no room in the pool, etc. How would Ross Road members feel if even half of us (~ 1,500 people) transferred there? Could Ross Road accommodate us without neighbor complaints, over-crowding, etc.? The Y was greatly expanded under a Conditional use permit (see prior excellent research by Karen White) and wouldn't seem to be able to accommodate many more members without violating its CUP. When asked, Elizabeth Jordan said the Y would absolutely not be i violation of any conditions. Two explanations: 1) it sounded as though she was unfamiliar with/ didn't know anything about the 1991 CUP, and/or 2) she doesn't care whether or not we transfer to another Y location or to a non-Y location.
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