YMCA director Lipp comfortable in FFPublished 11:03am Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Dennis Lipp, 51, has not even been in his position as Fergus Falls YMCA executive director for a week, but he already feels at home.
Lipp, who spent the previous 23 years as the executive director at the Camp Jorn YMCA in northern Wisconsin and has a total of 29 years of YMCA experience, is anxious to get to work on long-term fundraising and membership projects.
Besides the job, Lipp and his wife Terry should also find plenty of recreational activity in the city. The couple love the outdoors, and Lipp counts hiking and canoeing as a few of his favorite hobbies.
The Daily Journal sat down with Lipp to discuss what brought him to town, his goals as executive director and how long he sees himself staying.
(Note: Some of Lipp’s responses have been edited for length)
Daily Journal: What drew you to Fergus Falls?
Dennis Lipp: I actually really wanted to end up in a small town. I wanted to work in a community Y. I favored a small town because big towns make me skittish. I don’t enjoy lots of traffic, I don’t enjoy lots of commotion. The small town was attractive and a small Y is attractive.
They are very important to the community, whereas in a large community the YMCA kind of loses its uniqueness. Small-town Y’s are pretty central to the lives of a lot of people.
DJ: What do you think or what did you hear from the board that made you an appealing candidate and ultimately an appealing hire to them?
Lipp: I think I got the nod because I’ve been in the system a long time. I think they valued my YMCA history. I’m very committed to the ideals of the YMCA and I am very committed to the charitable activity.
Because it’s an aging facility with financial needs, they were attracted to my fundraising record. In the course of time, I have had the chance to do a lot of fundraising.
DJ: How have your first few days gone?
Lipp: They have been absolutely terrific. Exhilarating is the word I’ve been using. I didn’t have any expectations really, but it has been warmer, friendlier, more welcoming and positive. A lot of members have been very receptive. It’s been very nice.
DJ: How important is the staff going to be as you get acclimated to the job and the city?
Lipp: The executive position is the critical leadership link, but it is not where YMCA work gets done. YMCA work gets done in the pool, in the fitness room, in the gymnasium and at the front desk.
We have a nice group of staff, from the professionals all the way down to the part-time lifeguards. I have not met anybody yet that I have not liked or does not seem to be here for the right reasons. The staff is going to be what drives our success with members.
DJ: What are a few of your highest priorities as you start on the job?
Lipp: I see three things the Y needs to focus on and which will be my focal items.
The membership can grow. We have room to grow and we have a need to grow. We need more people to come in and enjoy the facilities and be a part of who we are.
There are a lot of opportunities to grow our programs, especially in the family arena. We are ready for more numbers and we are ready for more kids and families. There is lots of room.
We need to raise more money. We need to make sure people know we are a charity. We need to make sure we are completely accessible to anybody and everybody who wants to join the YMCA.
We give a lot away and we are not always so good at raising the money to support that. We have to or the business of the YMCA suffers.
The financial health of the organization is probably my highest priority.
DJ: Are there any specific ways you plan on going after fundraising early?
Lipp: The fundraising piece is really done hand-in-hand with the board members. This is not a Dennis project. It’s a Board of Directors and a staff initiative to go out and tell the story of the Y and ask for help. I think those two things will result in a successful meeting of our needs.
Generally, people give to good causes and the YMCA is a good cause.
DJ: What do you feel is the most important role of a YMCA in a community?
Lipp: The Y can be a really big player in developing kids. Our kids need safe places to go and the YMCA should be a safe, productive and positive environment for kids.
The healthy lifestyle piece is just as exciting in today’s world. Obesity and diabetes are running rampant and people are sitting more and acting less. The Y has a part in educating and correcting that and providing options for people to be busy and be active.
We need to get people out of the armchair and back walking on the track.
We are one more resource in a community that can help make sure people are well taken care of.
DJ: The director before you, Tim Olson, left after 18 months. How do you assure people who may be a little worried that you are in it for the long haul in Fergus?
Lipp: I am 51 years old and I do not plan on retiring until I am darn near 65 and that gives me a lot of years to stay here.
So far, it feels like exactly the right fit, so I do not see any reason to leave. I am too young to retire and there is too much work to be done.
There would be no reason for me to go. I am exactly where I should be and I have got plenty of time to be here.