Getting Well By Doing Good

July 26, 2011

The Sabes Jewish Community Center in St. Louis Park is at the forefront of an interesting new concept in cause marketing. While the story of the Internet has been about the relentless expansion of far-flung social networks, Sabes JCC is using a new social network based on physical fitness to build a tighter bond with existing members.

The vehicle is the Plus 3 Network, a California-based startup formed to turn exercise into charitable donations. Plus 3 matches people and non-profits with corporate sponsors that make a small donation for every mile run, lap swum, basketball game played, yoga class attended — you name it.

The idea is to help people live more active, healthy lives by linking their activity to monetary support for a cause they care about.

About 400 Sabes JCC members have joined the Plus 3 Network since the program kicked off in late April, said Stuart Wachs, the JCC’s chief executive officer. The program promotes wellness, which is one of the JCC’s missions. But it goes beyond that, Wachs said, offering an additional avenue for the center to engage with its members and deepen their connection to the organization.

“We see this as having many benefits: engaging our current clientele, promoting retention, offering us an opportunity to engage in cross-selling,” Wachs said. “And, of course, using sweat equity to promote philanthropy.”

The JCC’s corporate partner in the Plus 3 Network is Erik’s Bike and Board, which donates to the center based on the members’ activity. So far, JCC members have biked, walked and swum their way to more than $2,500 in donations. The amount isn’t huge, but it adds up over time — and besides, money isn’t the main point, Wachs said.

“One of the great things about the network is that we have the exclusive opportunity to message to them on the site, and so does Erik’s,” Wachs said. “And there are no popups. Our personal trainers can give pointers, interact with the members in a new way.

“It leads to furthering that relationship: potentially selling personal training, coaching services. Erik’s also gets to engage our clientele and enjoy that corporate halo.”

Wachs and Rick Sutton, a Plus 3 Network founder, are already looking to expand the program. They’ve presented it to an umbrella group representing about 300 Jewish community centers in North America, and it looks like Plus 3 will be endorsed as a preferred program for the wider group, according to Wachs.

But the real benefit, he said, is building deeper relationships among a self-defined social network, rather than in the broader world of a Facebook.

“Not that we are giving up on Facebook,” Wachs said. “But we really value this model that gives us our own in-house social network. We see it as a bridge between the virtual world and real face-to-face relationships.”

This is John Reinan’s weekly marketing column for