Three years ago, Nick Johnson opened a gym in his garage. He started training a group of male Syrian refugees each day before work. At the time, little did he know this would eventually lead to him successfully running a non-profit gym.
Johnson’s hometown of Clarkston, Georgia, takes in approximately 1,000 refugees from various parts of the world each year. Oftentimes, fitness options are inaccessible to them.
So Johnson designed his gym to provide opportunities for people who might otherwise never get the chance to try CrossFit. He realized he was on to something.
Today, Johnson is running a non-profit gym called CrossFit Liminal in Clarkston, GA. His non-profit affiliate funds multiple programs for the various groups of refugees that have resettled there.
Running A Non-Profit Gym With Group Classes And Specialty Programs.
Currently, Johnson’s gym has about 100 members. Approximately 75 percent pay market price for their membership. The other 25 percent are largely refugees that are part of subsidized or scholarship programs. These programs are funded by donations and other fundraising efforts.
While some of his adult refugee clients are regular members of the community, Johnson created a separate course for Afghan women refugees.
“They wanted to workout, but they needed an all women’s environment,” he said. “And there wasn’t anything like that in the city.”
Currently, about 20 to 25 women attend this class three days a week.
Johnson continued, “For a lot of them, there are language barriers. Some don’t even know how to write in their own language. So this has been a really cool opportunity to create something that is not just financially, but also culturally accessible to them.”
CrossFit Liminal also offers a refugee youth program for elementary and middle school children. In addition, there’s an after-school program twice a week for teen boys, mostly refugees from Afghanistan, Myanmar and Tanzania.
The CrossFit Liminal Community.
Through running a non-profit gym, Johnson gets to witness several benefits for his members. There are natural improvements that happen when people start CrossFit. These are things like fitness performance data and nutrition. But just as important, he says, are the community connections they’re making.
He has watched people who are new to the United States integrate and make valuable friendships in his community. These are two keys to success for the refugee community, he explained.
“Can you imagine going to a completely new country with just the clothes on your back?” Johnson said. “You’re not coming with many resources, and you don’t know the language.”
So being part of a community is vital. It’s the easiest way to make connections, and develop relationships and friendships.
“Someone who can find you a job or give you a ride to a job interview,” Johnson said. “We can’t underestimate the importance of having a social network. It allows real relationships to form and leads to the thriving of refugees.”
Three Tips For Running A Non-Profit Gym:
For gym owners looking to offer CrossFit to people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to it, Johnson recommends the non-profit route. Here are his three tips:
1. Get To Know Your Community First.
Prior to opening his gym, Johnson had already lived in Clarkston for 10 years. He had worked in fundraising and had developed relationships in the community. Most importantly, he understood his gym community.
All of this helped him know exactly who to target. He understood who would be the best fit for his services: Refugees who are new to the country. He knew that they would be in need of not only fitness, but of community and friendships.
2. Get To Know Other Non-Profits.
Similarly, when running a non-profit gym, Johnson recommends seeking other non-profits and charities in your area. Whether fitness-related or not, they will have knowledge, wisdom and even more connections to help you.
Further, others in the space are the perfect people to brainstorm with. This way, you can further your own understanding of how to best roll out your programs and services.
3. Call On The Fitness Community.
“Other gyms aren’t adversaries,” Johnson explained. They are teammates that are key to your success.
Johnson said that developing relationships with other local gym owners - and their members - has been beneficial to him. Especially in his fundraising efforts, as many participate and donate.
In light of this, Johnson recommends actively building relationships with any fitness-related businesses in your area.
He also warns gym owners not to rush the process. It takes time to build connections in your community. But the time spent is well worth the effort as you put your plan for running a non-profit gym into action.
How PushPress Has Helped.
Until last year, Johnson was still training clients in his garage and had only 25 members. So when he moved into his commercial space in 2022, he knew growth would be important.
Johnson said this was made easy thanks to PushPress Grow. He explained that the gym CRM helped him easily jump from 25 to 100 members in a few short months. And this didn’t include his kids’ programs.
“PushPress was like hiring an assistant to help with managing payments and communication,” he said. “I was hesitant at first, but using Grow has been like adding a client success manager.”
Next up for Johnson is to start creating messaging and automations in different languages. So he can communicate with his prospective and current members in their native language.
To accomplish this, all he has to do is hire a translator. Then PushPress software will make the rest of the process easy, he explained.
Pro Tip: Want to learn more about how PushPress Grow can help your gym with lead generation and member experience? Book a demo with our team today!
In Summary: Making A Difference Over A Profit.
Whether running a non-profit gym or otherwise, most gym owners open their doors to change people’s lives. Johnson believes that for some, the non-profit route is a great opportunity to make a difference.
“There’s lots of potential for the non-profit model for gyms, I think,” he said. “It’s a real unique opportunity to make CrossFit accessible to people. If you have the desire to see people have more access to fitness, I would encourage you to think about it.”