YMCA of the USA

Leveraging the Power and Impact of National Networks

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National nonprofit networks, such as the YMCA, offer a powerful but underused distribution network for scaling up interventions in public and social services.

The Y's DPP program participants - image of 3 older adultsNational nonprofit networks, such as the YMCA (the Y), offer a powerful but underused distribution network for scaling up interventions in public health, education, and potentially other social services. With a high-profile presence in more than 10,000 communities across the nation, more than 60 percent of Americans live within three miles of a Y. In the US alone, the Y serves roughly nine million youth and 13 million adults. The staff and volunteers have deep knowledge and expertise about the individual communities they serve. While many nonprofits attempt to increase the number of people they serve, what sets the scaling efforts of the Y apart is their ability to use a massive pre-existing distribution infrastructure for a new social purpose.

"What the Y offers are features that are both hard to replicate and uniquely suited to the task of changing thinking and behavior on a national scale: a presence in communities across the nation; large numbers of people already coming through their doors; and staff and volunteers with deep knowledge and expertise about the communities they serve."
Taz Hussein, Partner, The Bridgespan Group

Thanks to the vision of former YMCA of the USA President Neil Nicoll, the Y decided to leverage its network in service of some of society's biggest problems. One example of this was a focus on preventing type 2 diabetes by adapting a basic lifestyle intervention originally developed by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was shown to reduce weight and delay or prevent the onset of the disease.

In 2002, a large national clinical trial showed that among adults at risk for type 2 diabetes, this "lifestyle modification program" and resulting weight loss reduced the incidence of the disease by 58 percent in 1,000 subjects participating in the program, compared with those who did not—and by an even more substantial 71 percent in those over age 60.

When Bridgespan began working with the Y on its plan to reach more people with this intervention, the Y was already offering the YMCA's Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) through more than 50 Y associations and had built out a small team at its national office to provide technical assistance to local Ys offering the program.

Bridgespan worked with the Y to develop a five-year plan to dramatically scale up delivery of the YMCA's DPP across the Y network. Through the process, Y leadership defined specific growth goals, assessed what was working at Ys implementing the program, and developed a strategy that would allow the Y to reach its aggressive growth goals in a structured and sustainable way. Over the next five years, the Y will offer the YMCA's DPP at 300 Y associations that will collectively reach more than 56,000 individuals each year. A couple of years into this five-year plan, the Y is on track to reach its ambitious goals. Support for the growth planning process and significant funding to support growth over the next five years was generously provided by the The JPB Foundation.

In a similar effort, the Y identified education initiatives aimed at closing the achievement gap between disadvantaged youth and their more privileged peers. So the Y, with Bridgespan's help, went through a rigorous process to find programs externally and internally with the best educational outcomes that might be scaled through its network. One such program was BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life), and in 2012 the Y launched the first pilot program. From that start, the Y and BELL have served 2,000 students in 2015 and plan to grow to 5,000 in 2016.

Kevin Washington, President and CEO, YMCA of the USABridgespan worked closely with the Y to identify effective programs with the potential for broad delivery through the Y network; helped to develop and launch the initial pilots; and, designed a longer term plan for growth. Additionally, Bridgespan's team helped design a shared multiyear measurement system and evaluation plan for each program that enables local Ys to monitor progress, improve quality, and share best practices.

Bold and innovative leaders like those at the Y and BELL are charting new pathways to widespread impact. Networks such as the Y represent an extraordinary opportunity to scale what works rapidly in the US and around the world.

"Innovation and impact are in the Y's DNA. For more than 160 years, the Y has delivered lasting personal and social change by listening to communities and providing innovative, effective solutions to community needs. Scaling evidence-based programs through our network is one more example of that pioneering spirit."
Kevin Washington, President and CEO, YMCA of the USA

Photos and videos courtesy of the YMCA