keeping community clubs competitive

The battle for members has never been fiercer, but by tapping into their unique values, not-for-profit clubs can remain competitive.

Mill Park Leisure in Whittlesea, VIC is a community, not-for-profit recreation centre managed by the YMCA. Despite having more local competitors than ever, the club is thriving, in part through its strong community focus.

The facility, which recently refurbished and replaced all its equipment, has a very diverse member base, with a variety of cultural backgrounds and a large age range. It has broad appeal, with a focus on providing a family friendly environment offering something for everyone. The club is very active in the local community through programs such as Open Doors, which offers discounted or free club access to disadvantaged community members. It also runs outreach classes for schools, older people and cultural groups who are unable to easily visit the facility.

The management team at Mill Park Leisure offer the following tips for other community clubs to retain their share of the market.

  • Be inclusive. YMCA’s are about creating healthier, happier, connected communities and we include the whole community through programs and services for older adults, teens and disability access.
  • Talk to your members. This may sound obvious, but as a community club you are there for your local residents so speak to them one on one and conduct surveys so you can continually meet their needs and adjust your programs where necessary.
  • Celebrate your points of difference as a NFP. Often we offer a full service model for our members and try and add value where we can.
  • Shout about your reinvestment. As a NFP, all surpluses from the business go back into local community programming – it’s essential to tell this story and tell it well.
  • Choose your suppliers carefully. It’s important to choose ones who will partner with you and really understand your needs, not just sell you what they think you need.
  • Value your values! Many NFPs are values driven: if you communicate this with your members, the atmosphere and staff culture in your club will thrive.
  • Build trust around pricing. NFP’s are in a good position to build trust with their members around pricing. As a YMCA we are able to accommodate members’ individual circumstances, i.e. those experiencing financial hardship.
  • Work with other community groups. This helps you ensure that your products and programs are relevant locally.
  • Build your staff culture. It is essential to create a culture where the staff understand why you do what you do, in other words your ‘core purpose’.