The Key to One YMCA’s Pandemic Response? A Digital Transformation

By Guest Author | January 15, 2021 | , , , | Education, Nonprofit

By: Jamie Bruning-Miles, CEO, YMCA of San Francisco

On March 16, 2020, the shelter-in-place order was instituted in California. On March 17, 2020, we held our first Pop-Up Y Kids emergency childcare program at our YMCA location in San Francisco’s Mission District. 

That initial Pop-Up Y Kids on March 17 would be the first of many to come. In fact, the program has evolved into what we now call Community Hubs — comprehensive programs comprising childcare, academics, enrichment opportunities, and physical activity, of which we now have about 30 across the Bay Area. Pop-Up Y Kids would also serve as the catalyst for a number of YMCA initiatives aimed at supporting essential workers, families, and kids through the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. 

We’re proud that what we’re delivering to our YMCA San Francisco community hasn’t changed — we just began delivering it in a different way in 2020.

Kid and adult wearing masks while doing homework
The initial pop-up Y Kids program has evolved into a comprehensive long-term YMCA program called Community Hubs.

Pivoting During a Crisis

Many nonprofit organizations have been hit hard by the pandemic. And nonprofits that count on gym memberships for their main source of income? Doubly difficult to say the least. 

Thankfully, we’ve been creating a strong digital foundation since we made the move to Salesforce in 2013. These tools have proven to be essential in 2020. Even before the pandemic, we used tools like Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP), Traction Rec, and Pardot to manage gym memberships, handle class registration, streamline our fundraising data, and gain  a 360-degree understanding of the members at our Bay Area locations.

When the pandemic hit and we had to reimagine our programming and operations, the tech infrastructure that we’d been steadily building over the last seven years was essential. It allowed us to effectively pivot during the pandemic in critical ways, like offering re-designed virtual programs to our members, quickly setting up emergency services in our communities, and ramping up our fundraising efforts.

The resulting influx of donations — and our capacity to efficiently handle them — set us up to not only continue our same level of community support, but increase it. As an example, in the spring, we realized early on that we needed to raise a lot of money fast in order to keep our doors open. In about three months, we raised $3.7 million — well over our $2 million goal — to fund our COVID-19 relief programs. 

Having technology that supported the efficiency we needed, and having the capacity to take on the volume of donations that were coming in, was essential to us handling and allocating the influx of critical dollars. From the moment we onboarded, NPSP has transformed the way we are able to fundraise, and the downstream benefits of that became apparent this spring. 

Kids playing badminton while wearing masks
Our Community Hubs offer a safe space where kids can learn, play, and get a small sense of normalcy in the midst of all this uncertainty.

Ensuring Kids Don’t Fall Behind 

Our Community Hubs have evolved from a quick pop-up childcare solution into a full-fledged program that’s become a national model for keeping kids safe. Our hubs give them the educational support they need while schools are closed, while at the same time allowing their parents to go back to work so they can provide for their families.

“Since Michael started at the YMCA’s Community Hub, he has flourished as a student and person. Prior to joining the YMCA program, Michael’s behavior was unmanageable at home and in the virtual classroom. After just a few months, Michael has flourished into a “Super Student” and he is a more confident and happy child. 

“Thank you for all you’ve done to help Michael in school and life. Your team of male staff has made a huge impact on Michael — he finally has positive male role models in his life, which is something he has been craving. Words really can’t describe how grateful my son and I are — to see Michael thrive and come home happy each day is nothing short of a miracle and it’s all due to the Y and your staff.”

– Jamie, parent of Michael, age 12

Our Community Hubs offer a safe space where kids can learn, play, and get a small sense of normalcy in the midst of all this uncertainty. As the education gap widens during the pandemic, providing children with reliable WiFi to continue their distance learning curriculum while helping with homework is as essential as any of our services. 

So far, our emergency childcare sites have provided 563,200 hours of care for the children of essential workers. We’ve engaged more than 14,080 youth through our youth development and learning support programs, including Power Scholars Academy, enrichment opportunities, and summer camps. And to ensure we’re able to reach the families who need our support the most, our childcare and academic support sites have been strategically placed to make them accessible to the Bay Area’s most underserved families. 

Community-Wide Support Programs

This summer, we implemented Traction Gather, a Traction on Demand program which not only enabled us to put things like group exercise classes and mental health services online, it also provided robust data for COVID relief programs like our workforce development programs, food pantry services, and wellness windows. 

Our food pantry services and meal programs have been especially important this year. We’ve seen a 70% increase in need for food services across all of our locations, with lines often stretching around the block. To meet that increased need, we’ve provided more than 715,000 meals for children, families, and seniors. In addition to food, we’ve also supplied families in need with diapers, school supplies, personal hygiene products, face masks, and other desperately needed household items.  

Our programs don’t stop with kids and food pantry services. Using the insights we’ve gathered throughout the pandemic, we’ve continued to build an array of wide-ranging services that cover other critical areas throughout the community. 

The comprehensive workforce development programs we offer, which are especially crucial given the difficult job market, have now supported more than 1,000 people through career readiness and skill-building services. We’ve stayed true to our roots as a health and wellness center by providing over 1,600 virtual group exercise classes for kids, adults, families, and seniors. And we’ve conducted upwards of 12,800 wellness checks for seniors to provide food support, virtual social gatherings, and active living programs. 

When lockdowns were put in place, YMCA programs were able to continue delivering critical services to thousands of children, families, adults, and seniors in communities across the Bay Area every week. This was possible in part to the digital tools that enabled us to both understand the needs of the community, and effectively deliver programming to serve those needs when support was more essential than ever.

Having a system where we can easily access robust analytics allows us to make better, more efficient decisions that are grounded in data. And during a crisis, where data-driven decision making is essential, these digital tools have been invaluable in not only helping us to make informed decisions, but also in pivoting quickly, streamlining our fundraising efforts, and maximizing our impact. 

Learn more about how the Y uses technology to modernize, build, and support a community of members, donors, and others in this guide.


About the Author

Jamie Bruning-Miles, President and Chief Executive Officer for the YMCA of San Francisco
Jamie Bruning-Miles
was named President and Chief Executive Officer for the YMCA of San Francisco in June 2020. In his previous role as Chief Operating Officer, Mr.Bruning-Miles’ primary responsibility was to lead the organization in accomplishing its strategic 2020 Vision to have the “Healthiest Children In America Living In the Bay Area” and advance health equity strategies to ensure all members of our community have the opportunity to reach their full potential.