US YMCA Launches New Brand Strategy

Our American YMCA colleagues made a big decision yesterday at their 2010 General Assembly in Utah.  After an intensive two-year process, they decided to pursue a new brand strategy.  It includes simplifying their story, calling themselves the “Y”, and changing their logo.  The strategy also has implications for how they are governed and structured.  The New York Times reported this news yesterday in an article called “The YMCA is downsizing to a single letter.”

Shaun Elliott

Shaun Elliott

The YMCA of Western Ontario’s Shaun Elliott, who chairs our National Resource Creation and Capacity Building Initiative’s sub-committee on brand, was at the Assembly as an observer.  Shaun and his committee have been monitoring the YMCA of the USA‘s brand work for some time now and analysing its relevance to our Canadian context.  They have noted that the US YMCA:

  • embarked on a new brand strategy for different reasons than we have and can therefore expect different results
  • is structured differently and must organize and govern themselves differently to have an impact in the US
  • continues to be significantly different from us in terms of organizational, geopolitical and cultural characteristics (e.g. bilingualism, federalism, ethnocultural diversity)

For these reasons, YMCA Canada is recommending that the National Council of YMCAs continue to develop a distinctly Canadian brand strategy.  It will include a visual and verbal identity for Canadian YMCAs that refreshes but does not change our current logo.  It will be carefully aligned with the US strategy on points of similarity and compatibility.

I’m asking Associations, therefore, to not adopt or adapt the new US brand strategy in general and the new logo in particular.  Replicating their approach locally would be counter-productive.  It could undermine our efforts to date to build the YMCA brand and to increase its value within Canada.  Discipline in developing and executing our brand strategy is needed now more than ever — if a stronger federation with the capacity to have a greater social impact is our goal.

Since our AGM in May 2010, the National Resource Creation and Capacity Building Initiative Reference Group has been working on answering the next set of strategic questions in preparation for our 2011 AGM.  You will recall that Bill Stewart (Vancouver) chairs this group.  It includes ten staff members and seven volunteer advisors.  The volunteers are:  Jocelyne Daw (Calgary), Josée Goulet (Montréal), John Hertel (Toronto), Marilyn Kapitany (Winnipeg), Evi Mustel (Vancouver), Phil Payne (Edmonton) and Craig Rowe (St. John’s).

The staff members are:  Steve Butz (Niagara), Jim Commerford (Hamilton/Burlington/Brantford), Tom Coon (Simcoe/Muskoka), Shaun Elliott (Western Ontario), Bob Gallagher (Belleville/Quinte West/Peterborough), Margaret Kay-Arora (Canada East MRC), Randy Klassen (Regina), Medhat Mahdy (Toronto), Kent Paterson (Winnipeg) and George Rodger (Consultant).  YMCA Canada’s SVP Federation Strategy Laura Palmer Korn is responsible for supporting the initiative.  We’ve just updated the YMCA Leaders Forum to enable YMCA Board Chairs and CEOs to keep track of post-AGM activities and to participate in shaping them.

Bill Stewart

Bill Stewart

If you have any questions or concerns about what the YMCA of the USA is doing and how it might affect our branding work here in Canada, please do not hesitate to post them below or contact me directly.  You can also talk to any member of the Reference Group for more background information. 

The YMCA of Greater Vancouver’s Bill Stewart will be my first ‘guest blogger’ this month.  He plans to give you his local and national perspective on what a brand strategy is — and isn’t.  He’s also going to share what he’s been learning about how these big ideas hit the ground within an Association.

After all, what we say or how we look makes headlines for a day.  What we do makes communities stronger for generations.


PS:  I’m heading to the 2010 World Council of YMCAs in Hong Kong this week where the YMCA brand is also on the agenda.  I’ll be blogging from there along with other delegates.  VP International Relations & Development Mary Anne Roche will post daily highlights as of July 19th on her Facebook page.

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  • Scott Haldane

    Thanks, Jane and Wanda. We are certainly taking the responsibility of developing a national brand strategy very seriously. We have a strong mandate from the National Council of YMCAs to act on this opportunity and we will be working in a very focused way to develop an effective and efficient strategy over the coming year. One of the questions we will need to answer will be the extent to which we build synergy with the brand strategy that has been developed by the YMCA of the USA as well as the work on branding that is underway throughout the YMCA world.


  • Jane Savidant

    While I do not think it is critical that we have logo/brand consistency in North America, I think it is important to understand why we would choose not be align with the US approach, which will likely be executed with considerable expense and impact. All brands need to be revisited and reinvigorated from time to time and, while there is no question that our work at the Y is ever more relevant in these times of increasing immigration and integration issues in Canada, we need to also ensure our brand remains relevant and effective. I encourage the brand committee to be critical and bold in their approach.

  • Wanda Wetterberg

    Hi Scott, I certainly agree with you and Shaun that we need to build our own brand strategy that recognizes the Canadian Y movement.

    Hope our Canadian Team shines in Hong Kong and that you have some time after to have some R and R.