By Debra Posner


JCC Marketing - Food For Thought

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Debra Posner
Chief Marketing & Membership Officer
Mandel JCC of Cleveland

Quote: There are no parades for mediocrity.

When I was asked to do these blog posts, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t entirely thrilled at the prospect.  The blogs I personally am most drawn to are nearly all about food, cooking, photos of food, vegetarian recipes, healthy eating, and, did I mention, food?   

On occasion—in between searching for recipes, thinking about cooking something and actually cooking something—I’ll read a business blog.  The ones that try and tell me how to do my job better nearly always fail me.  They are written by people that seem to be out of touch with my reality.  I envision these bloggers sitting somewhere on Herman Miller Aeron chairs in offices with high ceilings and windows surrounded by Apple computers and large staffs fueled by equally large budgets.

Those well-intentioned bloggers just don’t seem to understand what it’s like to work in the small roll-up-your sleeves nonprofit space.  And those that write about nonprofits don’t seem to understand what it’s like to work for a nonprofit that needs to compete head-on with a slew of national and local competitors and battle day in and day out for market share.

Bloggers just don’t seem to get what it’s like to be in my shoes.  So before going on any further and telling you what we’ve been doing that seems to be working,  I thought I would tell you a little about my shoes and, if you can relate to my struggles and stresses and occasional successes, perhaps you’ll be inclined to put down your pen—or, as in my case, your fork—and read.

I work for the Mandel JCC located in a suburb of Cleveland (Go Cavs!). We have about 250 full and part time employees but in the summer, when camps are in session and our outdoor pool is open, that number mushrooms.   In 2009, we embarked on a major $18 million renovation and in addition to enhancing nearly every square foot of our 132,000 sq. ft. facility, during the renovation we changed our membership model and fee structure and increased our hours of operations.   Over the last four years,  we’ve been able to grow membership by 34%. 

Our mission, briefly, is to help build and strengthen our community and we do that in all kinds of ways.  Here’s just a partial list of the programs and services we offer:

  • Fitness and Aquatics
  • Five Day Camps
  • Camp Wise Overnight Camp
  • Early Childhood programs including child care and preschool
  • After school care
  • Adult programs
  • Jewish arts and culture programs
  • Congregate meal program for the elderly
  • Cleveland Jewish FilmFest
  • Playmakers Youth Theatre
  • Cleveland Jewish Book Festival
  • Indoor Triathlon
  • J-Ride Bike event

All of these programs and services need marketing support, and most need lots. And even that’s an understatement, since most need a full-court press of marketing support.   In total, four of us do the heavy lifting and staff our small, but mighty—and very busy—marketing department. We’re comprised of a marketing manager, marketing associate, graphic designer, and me.  We are charged with all of the marketing and communications for the organization.   This includes, brochures, flyers, signs, website, email blasts, paid search, SEO, Facebook, Twitter, media relations, press releases, direct mail pieces, yada, yada, yada.  On those rare occasions, when we’re not consumed with our work, you guessed it, we’re talking about food, recipes, diet, yada, yada, yada.

People in our community have many good choices for the services we offer and the competition from local nonprofits and companies and national chains for nearly everything we offer is stiff. In spite of this—or maybe it’s because of this—as I mentioned, we’ve grown our membership over the last four years by 34%. 

Unfortunately, past performance is not an indicator of future growth, so we aren’t resting on our laurels.  Rather, we’re constantly tweaking, piloting, trying and testing our marketing strategies and tactics.  I’ll be happy to share in this series how we’ve been able to generate leads, build our email database and capitalize on our website, email blasts and paid search.  I’ll let you know what seems to be working and what’s definitely not working, so I hope you’ll stay tuned.

But first, here’s my favorite mock tuna recipe:

  • One can chickpeas drained and chopped (I use low salt or unsalted)
  • Chopped celery - 2-3 stalks
  • Chopped onion - one medium
  • Chopped pickles - 2-3 pickles
  • Dijon mustard - one or two squirts
  • Mayonnaise or Veganaisse to taste 

Mix everything and enjoy!    


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