Marketing Mojo: Insights from YMCA Boston VP of Marketing Irene Collins

By Matter

Erin Brooks, marketing and communications specialist at Matter recently spoke with YMCA of Greater Boston VP of Marketing Irene Collins to discuss nonprofit marketing, storytelling, measurement and more. Check out the video from the interview and read below for the full conversation.


Erin Brooks (EB): Tell us a little about yourself and the YMCA of Greater Boston.

Irene Collins (IC): My name is Irene Collins and I’m the Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the YMCA of Greater Boston. I’ve worked for this organization for over six years and I’ve been in this role for almost two. The YMCA of Greater Boston, America’s first Y, is located in Boston’s Back Bay where we were founded in 1865. The YMCA of Greater Boston is a nonprofit organization dedicated to healthy living, youth development, and social responsibility. We have 13 branches located throughout Greater Boston, and four signature programs.

EB: What marketing initiatives at the YMCA will you invest more heavily in over the next year? What will become less of a priority and why?

IC: We always invest in our membership as it is the foundation that allows us to do our work in the community. We also plan to invest in telling our story about being a nonprofit. We see the fitness industry becoming very saturated at this point, and the YMCA of Greater Boston has much more to offer than other gyms. We’re focused heavily on our social services programs, including our diabetes prevention and chronic disease programs. We intend to focus less on aggressively selling memberships because we want people to understand that when they join The Y, they are joining more than a gym. They are joining a cause, and we think that our members and our constituents are here for that reason.

EB: Matter CEO Scott Signore thinks emotional brand marketing will have a heightened importance in the next 5 years. How is the YMCA connecting with people?

IC: One of the key components of any of our marketing strategies is good storytelling. We truly get to know our members and understand why they’re connected to The Y. We then take those stories and use them in our marketing strategies. Anyone that belongs to a Y is here for a reason and has a story to tell. Whether they attended a camp or did an after-school program, we want to uncover those stories to better connect to our members.

EB: How do you leverage and localize the national YMCA brand for Boston?

IC: We’re very lucky to be part of a national and international organization that has such a strong brand. We have the same logo and brand standards, and thankfully, we can take advantage of The Y’s national broadcasting advertising. On a local level, we develop our own marketing strategies because every Y is unique and serves a different community. We utilize the overarching strategy from the YMCA of the U.S.A. and personalize it to the Greater Boston community.

EB: How do you keep a legacy brand fresh and relevant for today’s communities?

IC: The YMCA of Greater Boston has been around for a long time and we certainly can’t market the way we used to 50 years ago. About five years ago, we went through rebrand where we went from calling ourselves The YMCA to now, The Y. We want to be welcoming and ensure our brand resonates with everyone, especially in a diverse community like Boston. We are constantly testing the marketplace and evolving the services we offer to keep things fresh.

EB: How does content play into your marketing strategy?

IC: Over the last two years we’ve moved into the digital space with our content. We take the stories from our membership and utilize them in our marketing campaigns. Because we service a vast range of ages from infants to senior citizens, we segment our content to address each age group. Today’s digital and social capabilities allow us to test, analyze and refine our messages to each audience.

EB: How do you think that will change over the next 5 years?

IC: I hope we can more efficiently use data and analytics to reach and understand our audiences. We have an opportunity to learn about who we’re servicing and how to help them feel more connected to The Y.

EB: What KPIs are most critical to your executive team and board? How are you being asked to measure the effectiveness of your marketing and PR programs?

IC: Although we are a nonprofit organization, we still have monthly goals we need to hit. As a marketing team, we analyze the data to ensure we’re targeting the right people and reaching potential new members. We track engagements, impressions, click through rates and conversions.  As far as KPIs for the board of directors, they are mainly focused on enrollment, both in our monthly memberships as well as our programs such as swim lessons, camps and youth sports.

Our marketing efforts are focused on fundraising and sharing the valuable stories of the people of The Y. Our goal is to encourage others to be a part of our cause, volunteer and donate, so that we can make an impact on our community.