Carrie Wall makes tough decisions on behalf of YMCA

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Things have changed since Carrie Wall, 55, joined the YMCA of Dane County as president and CEO five years ago. “When I first arrived, I was surprised how many people in the community thought we were a gym and swim, or health club.”

In fact, she explained, the YMCA started 129 years ago to serve the needs of the local community, and just as Madison has changed demographically through the years, so has the YMCA.

“Our mission now focuses on kids and families, particularly working families, youth development, and healthy living,” Wall said. “We are a support system to the schools, and one of the largest providers of child care, whether preschool, 4-K, or after-school. We have 29 licensed child care sites throughout Dane County. People are always surprised to hear that.”

“We have a huge responsibility here, but collaboration is key. The YMCA can’t be worried about issues on its own. I strongly believe in collective impact.” — Carrie Wall

But the Y is just as critical for the growing senior population.

Wall, who oversees three area facilities (East, West, and Sun Prairie), about 750 workers, and more than 30,000 program and facility members, has spent most of her adult life rising through the ranks of the organization, first in Milwaukee and then in Chicago. Before that, she was a parent simply looking to engage her three daughters in activities beyond their school experience. That’s when she found the Y. “I fell in love with the Y’s values, which matched mine,” she said. In 1986, she was hired as a part-time fundraiser, and she never left.

The organization, she says, teaches children four core values — caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility — in everything it does, whether gym activities, sports, or camps. Kids can also learn to swim, learn basic levels of sportsmanship, and develop self-esteem.

Revenues are generated through programs, memberships, and contributions. Last year, the Y offered nearly $700,000 in financial assistance, on a sliding scale, to those who couldn’t otherwise afford its programs and membership services.

But things weren’t always so rosy. For many years, the YMCA was growing beyond its mission, trying to accommodate the community’s growing needs. “We had operated for nine years with expenses exceeding revenues,” Wall said. Things had to be reined in.



In 2013, she cut $1.2 million in expenses — including 13 administrative positions — from the Y’s 2014 budget, hoping to minimize cuts to the organization’s front lines. “[Losing staff] was the most difficult part,” Wall acknowledged.

Some in the community criticized the moves. “We’re a nonprofit business, and people think we shouldn’t talk about money. That’s hogwash,” Wall said. “If you aren’t watching out for the bottom line and that balance sheet, then you can’t do more.”

With the Y now back on solid footing, serious discussions about new collaborations and innovation are back on track.

Wall wants to partner with health care groups and municipalities that share some common goals. “Across the country, municipalities are building facilities, and YMCAs are operating them,” she said.

“It’s an interesting model. We have a huge responsibility here, but collaboration is key. The YMCA can’t be worried about issues on its own. I strongly believe in collective impact.”