YGDA - YMCA Digital Accelerator - Top 20 CEO QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
On November 11th, we conducted a workshop
session in Melbourne with 50+ CEOs on the rollout
of the YMCA Global Digital Accelerator and its
primary planned venture for 2014 a “Global Youth
We had an open session asking all attending CEOs
their key questions as we move forward.
The information that follows provides our response
to the top 20 questions posed by members of our
We have also provided a precis upfront from our
YGDA pitch session summarizing what the project is
#1 Planning - Are we approaching this
top down or bottom up? Organic or
controlled? Which one and why?
We are doing a mix of both top down and bottom up. Here’s why and how.
From a top down perspective, we have established a leadership and guiding team of all the
participating YMCAS with World Alliance and World Urban network representation. We have met
for the last 8 months determining decisions in 10 key areas:
- strategy, vision, goal setting and planning
- conceptualization and benefits
- budgeting, financial planning and vendor identifcation
- creative and branding
- technical support and feasibility
- research and validation
- sponsorships and partnerships
- external and internal communication
- international and developing world insights and feasibility
- local YMCA activations
Even on the most “open digital” ventures, you will find that members (in this case youth) want to
participate/be empowered but can’t/don’t want to do all the heavy lifting of administering
#1 Planning (continued)- Are we
approaching this top down or bottom
up? Organic or controlled? Which one
On ensuring we are also tackling this bottom up, we have developed a team of 20+ digitally
engaged changemakers from around the world that were part of the group that had been in
Prague. We will also increasingly rely on frontline staff of participating YMCAs as we rollout
Bjorn Stockleben, our Youth Insights Leader based in Munich, is leading this group to research
and validate our efforts. Each month, we are hosting online meetings and surveys to ensure
their inputs are influencing our key decisions.
Over time this Digital Change Agent group will grow in numbers and expand their autonomy
and their roles as we near launch next June’14. We expect some of them to end up:
- as lead advocates/ambassadors helping recruit others
- full time/part time/volunteer staff as part of this project moving forward
- leaders of special projects and research to help us stay relevant
- content developers helping us populate our platform with youth-relevant media
- event hosts, speakers and guests as we convene real life events
#2 Accessibility – is the focus to include
all geographies - Language?
Technology? Restrictive participation?
We expect to make this platform in as many languages as possible and financially feasible.
Importantly, we are looking at translatability of our efforts upstream things such as naming,
user experience and localization of content.
We are ensuring that the platform we build is responsive and therefore universally
accessible and searchable no matter what type of hardware, programming language,
browser or search engine you use in the world.
We are looking at three things from a developing world technology standpoint : a) ensuring
there is mobile accessibility (which is dominant in many developing world areas), b) ensuring
we target developing world youth leaders who many, based on feedback, already have access
to sufficient technology currently and c) ensuring a key focus of our overall effort and work
with partners is to broaden the global footprint of digital literacy and skills development.
The restrictive participation question is an interesting one and as we onboard more
geographies where this is an issue, we would like to work with them and their governments
for “white listing” our sites.
#3 Branding – how will we develop
branding on this site? Which Y/YMCA
We recognize this is a sensitized issue given the recent investment and changes made to
brands in YMCA geographies around the world. Three responses:
1) As Johan mentioned in our session and supported by the best branding principles in
the world, a brand is not a logo but the DNA of what you stand for and the values
you embrace. On this project, we are dead smack on the central imperative of “youth
empowerment”, We want to execute this consistently with YMCA values. To use the
“brand logo/look” as handcuffs for not proceeding within a global collaboration is
poor business practice and not the intent of good branding efforts (see the flexible
practices or the most valuable brand in the world Google click here:
2) We envision the architecture of the site to have global AND locally relevant areas
where the local representations of the brand can be used.
3) We’d prefer naming and look and feel of the platform to be based on what an
international collective of youth tell us (see question #1).
#4 Brand Affiliation –How tied is the
YMCA brand to this venture in name and
We have had a robust discussion among our guiding team on this question and it is still very
much a live debate. The branding “Youth Social Hub” that was used in the pitch was chosen as
the least contentious of options we’ve created to-date but likely not the final name.
In any scenarios, we expect to make the YMCA affiliation to this venture very apparent. The
question is how embedded should this be (see next page for our 12 early rough etchings).
In support of YMCA branding in the name of our effort: we think it provides global credibility,
overt YMCA benefit for supporting the effort and an ability to integrate current YMCA efforts
into this hub seamlessly.
In support of YMCA branding playing a more minimalist role: we think it offers the best
chance of expanding beyond the circle of currently YMCA-affiliated youth, it provides flexibility
for naming purposes and it may promote youth relevance.
We expect to have a final recommendation in December that has 6 criteria in mind: emotional
resonance, language translatability, explaining the benefit, youth preference, YMCA
friendliness and web domain/trademark ownability.
#4 Brand Affiliation –How tied is the
YMCA brand to this venture in name and
#4 Target Group – are we targeting
YMCA members/youth only? or youth
To be successful, this venture needs to expand outside of currently affiliated YMCA youth.
We hope that this will be a 2-10 million member venture and that demands opening up a
bigger Y tent. This is about empowering and connecting youth leaders wherever they exist.
In asking our YMCA youth, 90% of their digital social circles don’t currently have an
affiliation with youth. We see this project as a key forum for getting their network of
friends more aware and involved with the YMCA.
The reality is that the most passionate and dedicated in this network are people who
already have a relationship and currently enjoy the YMCA as evidenced by this graphic.
YMCA Newly Discovered Leaders
YMCA Youth Friends
YMCA Youth Leaders
#5 Customer Need - What do we want to
do with youth and are they asking for it?
As evidenced by our youth yesterday, they identified two gaps currently: 1) the need for
the YMCA to be bigger than we currently are, among the likes of digital powerhouses
Oxfam and Unicef and 2) the need for better YMCA social connectivity.
As mentioned in yesterday’s pitch, youth have the potential to gain 5 benefits out of a
Global Youth Leader Network that they currently don’t get out of a social network like
Elevating the Conversation w/ other cause-seeking leaders
Staying Inspired and Positive
Improving and Upskilling Themselves
Changing and Impacting the World
Getting Recognized with a tangible return on participation
#6 Digital Location - why this standlaone
platform? Why not housed on existing
social nets like Facebook/Twitter?
Although most YMCAs around the world have reasonable Facebook, Twitter and to a lesser extent
YouTube presences, these are not panaceas for global impact for 3 reasons:
1) Depth of Engagement - as mentioned yesterday by our youth, Facebook and Instagram can play a
role as reminders to go to other content but they are not very good engagement mediums –
Evidence? 70% of people who fan a Facebook Page never return and the average lifespan of a
Tweet is only 12 minutes – we need to house our content on a central hub where we can control
and magnify the experience.
2) Integrated, not outsourced – in registering, posting and curating content on our proposed
platform , we see deep links back and forth between the top social networks but not outsourcing
our presence, which will require substantial time and money to establish presences on the already
mature social networks. We also want to create a culture of a values-based space that is
significantly different than Facebook.
3) Monetization – 50-75% of our expected funding is expected to come from external sources, if you
look at the top 100 digital not-for-profits we looked at, the ability to attract outside funding
requires a centralized ownable presence
#7 Logistics – as we scale to 3+ million
voices? How do we support it and
We agree that there is a lot of sweat equity involved in scaling digital ventures.
Part of our investment requires hiring 5 full and/or part-time types of the following resources:
Community managers – the frontlines of shepherding conversation, recruitment and activity
Content developers – ensuring great multimedia content
Digital strategists – providing insight, foresight and direction on where to go next
Account Managers – servicing the needs of our partners/sponsors
Program Collaboration Managers – ensuring projects liftoff with excellence and that
participating YMCAs are fully involved and informed of the efforts
We also see our planning horizon having a minimum 2-3 year focus requiring firm estimates on
revenues, project and ongoing administration costs and level of participation and sponsorship .
We expect local YMCAs to provide support throughout our effort here too (see question #15).
#8 Safety – how do we ensure safe
participation of our youth? and privacy
The platform, as it has been envisioned, would involve
membership of 14-29 year olds, with safety protocols consistent
with other key social networks and platforms. We will also
conform to local legislative requirements.
As part of a Stage 2 focus, we might consider a curated
environment for youth younger than 14 with additional resources.
Our expectation is that content moderation to look for anything
that may be construed as offensive has a higher expectation bar
with a YMCA-affiliated platform. We expect to invest in
moderation tools and outsourced content moderation agents.
#9 Relevance – How do we ensure
relevance with youth when it launches
and in a fast-moving world?
Beyond doing an exhaustive search of what’s out there
and succeeding currently, we expect that our Youth
Change Agents will be our eyes and ears to the world.
We also recognize post-launch that we need to have:
- Dynamic daily, weekly and monthly activity
- Quarterly formal audits and course corrections on
what we are doing
- Annual deployments of new modules of activity
- Exhaustive overhaul of the software and community
every two years
#10 Focus – How do we ensure we build
out the right elements in a world of
limited resources and attention?
We have looked at hundreds of ideas and functionalities, and in order of priority, we
have determined that beyond social interaction, these are the highest potential areas for
impact (as indicated below and in the following screen shots).
There is a strong pedigree of in-market success by other websites with similar
functionalities but different audiences (Wonderopolis, TED Talks, One Million Acts of
Green/Free Rice, Kiva/Victors and Spoils, Change.Org, Reddit/Newsana)
#11 Research – How are we validating
what we are doing along the way?
We expect to validate through 4 different levels of input:
- Our panel of Youth Digital Change Agents
- Our Guiding Team Membership and the YMCAs they
- A yet-to-be built Digital/Not for Profit Panel of well
recognized local industry experts
- Industry partners and prospective sponsors
#12 Culture - How do we not become
paternalistic about how this venture
should work? How is this co-owned by
our staff too?
Although we are launching in Colorado in June of next year, we expect a lot of local
training and immersion events in advance of this formal launch that dig deeply into the
participating local YMCA frontlines.
We need to now establish a forum where we can internally promote and keep people
informed of our efforts (see question #13).
We have unanimously adopted a set of principles as the YGDA group that we would like
to adhere to moving forward:
User centricity – powered by our users
Youth empowerment – built with youth for youth
Fairness - Influence proportional to investment, adoption stage and ability to contribute
Balance - Global movement platform, local impact
Global YMCA Values-driven – caring, honesty, respect and responsibility
Value-added Collaboration- initiatives conducted better together – complementing not duplicating local
Sustainability – creating lasting impact for our youth, our members, our YMCAs and our world
Nimbleness – doing more with less and being agile
#13 Staying Connected – how do we
stay in touch with this project’s
WUN/World Alliance members - Monthly email enewsletter
Global WUN – Blog Posts
Quick Updates – WUN Facebook updates
Prospective, Interested Staff – LinkedIn forum
Project Team – BaseCamp (one representative per participating
Interested New members - Direct Contact (see next page)
#14 Local YMCA Benefits –
acknowledging the global benefit, how
will this benefit my local YMCA?
We believe the five top LOCAL benefits attributable to this project are
• Global communications amplifier for important local projects and campaigns
• Forum for young leaders and staff connecting and gaining a broadening
experience and skills within the global movement
• Activation of global sponsor funding from sponsors at a grassroots level
• Efficiencies of resources and talent in building a social hub
• Method to elevate your local perception as empowering young people as a cause
vs. merely being known as a service provider
#15 Local YMCA Resources – beyond
financial investment, what else do you
require from local YMCAs?
This request for resources may/may not include:
- Promotion and recruitment of members
- Content Development and Curation
- Translation Services
- Sponsor/Partner Identification and Interaction
- Event Hosting
#16 Governance – how do we want to
govern key decisions on this work?
We still need to resolve our future governance. We have housed this
project inside Greater Vancouver in the interim for the benefit of
nimbleness. Key decisions we need to make for January’14 are:
• In what entity, both financial and governance, does this belong?
• How do we determine a share in this venture, does that provide
equal voting and financial rights?
• How will we structure a future board?
• What type of financial entity do we set up given the needs of
commercialization, internationalization and tax treatment?
#17 Futures – What’s next for the YGDA
once this is done?
We need to take a measured approach to ensuring this
first venture works. However our future goal is to position
the YGDA as having four imperatives:
Developing collaborative projects similar to our Youth Social
Network e.g. mobile and video projects
Centre of Excellence – digital training and mobilizing local
YMCAs around youth engagement
Building a venture startup fund for youth social innovation
Brokering Global Digital Sponsorships
#18 Financials – How Much Do We
Need? When do we need it? What does
my investment give me?
We have estimated that this project will cost $500k-$1MM in Year 1 with a good
proportion coming externally through partners, sponsors and fundraising.
We will have four expected classes of groupings for expected investment:
- Large YMCAs (more than $50MM revenue) - $40k Year 1 Investment
- Mid-sized YMCAs – (between $10MM-50MM) - $20k Year 1 Investment
- Small-sized YMCAs (less than $10MM) - $10k Year 1 Investment
We also want to set up a system that allows developed world YMCAs to partner with
developing YMCAs at a discount e.g. a Large Sized YMCA pays $45k to tuck in their own
and a developing world partner YMCA involvement
25% of all dividends to this project will go back to developing world YMCAs to drive digital
We will be offering shares post-conference with a simple premise for what it is worth and
what do you get for that.
#19 ROI Expectations - What is the
return on investment? When will this pay
Our expectation is that this is an ongoing enterprise that will produce a return,
whether as a social venture or profit seeking entity.
Beyond the immediate marketing, PR and perception-building benefits, there is
a high likelhood this venture will deliver a return in time.
Conservatively, we don’t believe that contributors to this project will receive a
financial dividend over the first two years of this project, as investment and
reinvestment will be highest in these years.
As a principle, we would like to have a healthy proportion of our profits spent
back to build expanded capacity back into this project and subsequently then
be redistributed to YMCA geographies.
#20 What can YMCA WUN CEOs do to
We would love five things to happen via your executive involvement :
• Contact us to establish your financial and ongoing interest in this project
over November/December with a deadline of January 15th, 2014
• Commit a staff person to represent your YMCA and commit to their hours
involved in this project
• Provide an update to your board, key stakeholders and staff on your
participation in our effort and see where it leads.
• Inform and encourage other YMCA CEOs in your region on the merits of our
• Commit to a local digital innovation/social forum in advance of our launch of
this venture formally in Colorado next June.