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These days, companies of all types and sizes use different technologies to assist with all kinds of administrative tasks as well as customer and member engagement. And this is certainly true for those in all sectors of the recreation industry. Technology and online solutions can expand an organization or facility’s reach dramatically and free up staff to deal with other duties, a big plus—particularly during current staffing challenges that many in the industry are experiencing.

Datis Mohsenipour is vice president of global marketing for a firm offering software solutions, mobile apps and digital services that help organizations with a variety of tasks, including member management and communication. He explained that with the parks and recreation-specific platform, “agencies can streamline operations and effortlessly send out automated and ad-hoc messages to their community members.”

He said that staff can set up not only automated emails and text messages but also send native push notifications using their mobile app. “This approach broadens your communication reach and dramatically increases the likelihood of engagement.”

Kevin Matsumoto is marketing and brand strategy team lead for a Middletown, Conn.-based company that offers cloud-based recreation management software for different sectors of the industry. “In an attempt to meet challenges such as unexpected changes to events and classes due to weather-related or facility availability issues, our platform streamlines communication by enabling departments to efficiently send emails and texts, ensuring that community members are always up-to-date and engaged with relevant information, events or updates.”

These solutions also help with marketing efforts, and Matsumoto said that their software “assists organizations in not only

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offering recurring favorites but also adding new popular programming to their portal, social media platforms and email campaigns. This keeps things fresh and attracts pre-existing users as well as new members to our client’s offerings.”

Effective marketing hinges on understanding your target audience and utilizing the most engaging communication methods, according to Mohsenipour, who pointed out that even among demographics traditionally considered less tech-savvy, they’re seeing a significant shift toward mobile-centric content consumption and engagement. “So, leveraging automated emails and text messages tailored to your community members’ interests is a highly effective strategy for enhancing engagement.”

These solutions also allow for tailored marketing campaigns. “The more targeted your campaigns are to a specific audience, the better they will perform,” said Mohsenipour. “For example, if you’re introducing new programs for parents with young toddlers, you can easily create a custom audience of parents in your CRM (customer relationship management) who fit the exact criteria and schedule a campaign tailored to their needs.”

Another example he mentioned: If you have a facility ideal for hosting birthday parties, you can automate emails to parents weeks before their child’s birthday, informing them about facility rental options and linking to your self-serve facility booking portal.

Katy works for a company offering online, cloud-based registration management software for sports leagues, recreation departments, community centers, camps and memberships. She said their platform offers a range of tools to assist organizations with outreach and member engagement, offering “very flexible segmentation for targeted emailing, using registration status, transaction information, previous registration info, membership and more. With unlimited templates… customers can create a large bank of ready-to-send communications. For urgent communications… customers can leverage a feature that sends a blast to email and text message recipients.”

Since running an organization that relies on members and program registrations can be complex, she said it’s essential to make this process easier for clients and their customers. With the membership management software, customers can go online to become members or sign up for classes, events or activities from anywhere. Clients can “offer memberships based on age ranges, for different lengths of time and for different locations,” and “can restrict registration to only certain members too,” she added. The central database stores the information, making it accessible and manageable.

“After registration, customers receive automatic confirmation emails, giving them handy information for their membership or activity”, she continued. “This enhances their experience and reduces any uncertainty.” And the software sends automated reminders as renewal dates approach, encouraging members to renew and preventing lapses in membership. The software also manages waitlists for high-demand programs or activities. Additionally, “Members can access their household accounts, which allows them to update their information, view their registration history and cancel their memberships as desired,” said Katy.

Matsumoto said their community portal makes self-service convenient for community members, facilitating easy registration, signups for events or classes, reservation of facilities and fields, and allowing members to manage their own details and preferences. “This significantly reduces the need for manual employee intervention, enhancing the community member experience and operational efficiency.”

As far as facility management, Matsumoto said their integrated solution makes reserving or requesting the use of facilities a smooth experience. “Not only will they be able to book these venues, they’ll be able to complete any liability paperwork, upload relevant files, sign appropriate documents and pay in one easy workflow.”

Katy said their facility reservation system also streamlines the process for the public and administrators. “(It) displays

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calendars and lists views so that your customers can easily find the right location on the right date.” Users can choose the right timeslot or a range of times. Once the location and time are selected, users can reserve the location by filling out the reservation form, “which can be enhanced with questions to handle permitting questions, add extra fees and gather all the information you need to approve the reservation request.” The solution also makes use of Smart Questions, which “can make pricing based on number of attendees instead of hours, can add extra costs if needed and can collect nonprofit numbers or permitting numbers.

“When the reservation is complete, registrants receive a copy of their answers, as well as payment or deposit details,” she continued. “They can print out a facility contract that’s been customized to match your organization’s requirements.” Then, administrators can review bookings, approving them if necessary, follow up on deposits, review contracts, contact registrants, view dedicated facility usage reports and issue paperwork on upcoming bookings so that staffers can manage the buildings.

Purchases and payments are also major administrative tasks, and Matsumoto said their solutions ensure these tasks are seamless, secure and efficient, from point-of-sale features to online payments, billing and invoicing. “This enables quick and hassle-free financial transactions and accurate reporting for both the organization and its members.”

Katy said their point-of sale, passes, tickets and donation management take advantage of the newest checkout style, allowing customers to swiftly check out for online transactions with minimal details. “(Our software) allows customers to assign tickets and passes to family members—or buy them under one name—allowing family members to have their own unique passes and tickets.”

More than 70% of Americans shop online, according to Mohsenipour, and only 9% of Americans primarily use cash for purchases. “If you’re not offering embedded online payment solutions and flexible payment options in person, you’re limiting the community members you can serve.”

He said that by adapting to your community members’ payment preferences, you can broaden your reach and make it more convenient for members to engage with your services. And he explained that it’s important to consider how payment offerings integrate with your recreation management platform and accounting systems. “If your systems aren’t integrated, this can create loads of cumbersome manual work for your staff; time they could be spending delighting your community members.”

Local YMCAs are using a variety of engagement tools and tactics to keep current members engaged and informed, as well as entice new members, according to Valerie Barker Waller, senior vice president, chief marketing and communications officer at YMCA. “Community members continue to be engaged on social media, so of course Ys continue to meet them where they are. While Ys still use billboards, radio and print, digital content is key for conducting shorter campaigns and for quickly getting pertinent information to members. We’ve also seen great content come from Ys that have taken the plunge into TikTok.”

And the good old website? Waller called them the “front door” to each YMCA, and absolutely key to engagement. “A website allows each Y to broadly tell the story about the impact they have on their community.”

She said YMCA of the USA revamped their website in 2021, and have supported local Ys with redesigning theirs to make them more engaging. “We encourage Ys to design their websites to effectively tell the broader Y story in a way that drives people to take action by joining, participating in programs, volunteering or giving—the same things we focused on with our own website.”

Waller also explained that they were experimenting with virtual programming prior to COVID, knowing it was an opportunity to engage community members who can’t come to the physical building. During COVID lockdowns, they expanded their vision to virtual programming beyond fitness, including cooking classes, kids’ reading programs, chronic disease prevention programs and more. And while the demand isn’t as high as it was during the pandemic, it still exists. “Ys have found that by continuing to offer online programming, they’ve expanded their reach and are meeting the needs of the individuals they serve.”

Daniela Petrovska is senior director of digital strategy at YMCA, and she confirmed that many Ys are using technology for “customer engagement, activity tracking, benchmarking and retention.” She said one priority has been integrating software solutions with website operations to make the customer experience as seamless and frictionless as possible. “Y-USA is providing some of the solutions and guidance through this process to facilitate digital equity across the organization. One example is a social media CRM enterprise solution to help monitor reach and engagement, along with community management, optimizing internal operations and shared KPIs (key performance indicators).”

Software solutions also offer the ability to view reports, charts and graphs, providing tailored data and insights, which Mohsenipour said can be powerful for an agency. A lot of effort—planning, coordinating, staffing and marketing—goes into programming, but not all activities prove successful. “(Our) insights let you easily report on the demand of your programs—which ones are filling up, which aren’t. You can use this data to better inform programming decisions and marketing efforts.”

He said clients can even use the marketing communications functionality to reach out to members and inquire about why the program wasn’t of interest, or if the times were inconvenient or the cost too high. “This is just one of the many ways you can use data and insights to improve how your community engages with your parks and rec offerings.”

Matsumoto said that comprehensive reporting tools can provide organizations with a deep understanding of their operations, member engagement, financials and more.

“Our software offers insights into membership trends, registration numbers and revenue through reporting and analytics,” said Katy. “This data empowers you to make informed decisions for the future.” She explained that administrators can instantly see results of their registration season with the click of a mouse. “From spotting the programs with the biggest waitlists to the ones that made the most income, charts and graphs are friendly ways to visually analyze the information. Reports are sortable ways of viewing all of the info, and (ours) are fully sortable to view data from various angles, from daily reconciliation to who registered for a program last year but hasn’t yet registered again.”

Sameera Luthman is director of marketing and communications for the Naperville Park District, serving the nearly 150,000 residents of Naperville, Ill. She said that through their insights and reporting feature in their management software, they “download and review usage reports for programming and membership to view membership trends, totals, follow-ups and overall trend data. Usage reports have been helpful with hours of operation, especially for holidays.”

The software is also used for monetary tasks, according to Luthman, including point-of sale, embedded and online payments, invoicing and billing. Software solutions also facilitate their facility rentals, reservations and scheduling, while a different software tool is used to collect that information. And more than 90% of their reservations—as well as cancellations—happen online through software features, which also handle class waitlists.

Luthman said the park district uses a separate email program, though the recreation staff will also use the email function included in their primary management software to communicate with program participants and to promote upcoming programs. “They also pull lists and email from Outlook.”

Another software solution is used for cancellation information, and “participants can elect to receive emails and text messages specific to cancelled programs or closed facilities. We use several digital marketing avenues, including email, social media, digital signage and digital advertising with other community publications and resources.”

There are other specialty tasks that recreation management software can assist with. Matsumoto mentioned their custom forms engine, and said the ability to create and customize forms to fit the specific needs of an organization is critical. “With our fully integrated online form builder, organizations can design forms that cater to their unique requirements, be it for registration, feedback or any other purpose. The flexibility ensures that the data collected is relevant and actionable.”

Katy described their integrated volunteer management features, which allows volunteers to sign up, manage their hours and more. And she said customers can add anything to their registration, “even other registrations, like for aftercare or for a coach role. (Our) registration process includes options to make donations, buy uniforms, T-shirts, water bottles and anything else you can imagine. It’s great to have it all in one simple process.”

All the management software solutions can be utilized by different organizations and types of facilities, and Katy said they’re “very strong at customizing for various customer verticals. For example, our camp management site’s back offices may look very different from ones that include facility reservations. Every installation has the same framework, but the features that different clients select make each installation special to the organization using it.”

Added Matsumoto, “We recognize that different organizations have distinct needs. Whether you’re a park, pool, sports complex, school or any other community entity, our software can be tweaked to offer features that cater specifically to your requirements, ensuring that you always have the tools you need to serve your community effectively.”

Mohsenipour said the technology is constantly innovating, built on the foundation of enabling clients to effortlessly manage their needs whenever and wherever, on their preferred devices. “Allowing community members to self-serve their needs benefits staff greatly, but more importantly, it caters to the needs and expectations of your community members. In an era shaped by tech giants like Amazon and Shopify, offering intuitive, modern and easy-to-use options for engaging with your parks and recreation offerings is essential.”     RM