The Open Y is an open-source customer experience (CX) platform and Drupal 8 distribution specifically built for YMCAs to fuel the Y movement. It was founded by some of the largest YMCA associations in North America including YMCA of Greater Twin Cities, YMCA of Greater Seattle and YMCA of Greater Houston.

In the modern environment where customer experience often starts, and ends online, the YMCAs were constrained by aging proprietary content management systems (CMS). Their systems were difficult to use, cost prohibitive, and limited The Y’s ability to innovate digitally. The team team understood that they weren’t the only YMCA facing this situation, either, and decided to make their solution available to any other YMCA to use or improve upon by creating the digital initiative within the Y movement.

Open YMCA on a computer screen
Why Drupal was chosen: 

The decentralized structure of the YMCA means that every association has its own board of directors, its own leadership, and its own ways of representing themselves digitally. Rather than continuing in the vein of Every-Y-For-Itself, the founding YMCAs made the decision to share their code and platforms with other YMCAs.

For YMCAs with smaller digital budgets or teams, this allows any association to have a top-tier website for little investment, and for YMCAs with larger digital budgets, it becomes possible to innovate upon previously existing solutions and build a better platform for everyone.

Open Y is built on the open-source philosophy, so it’s only right for it to be powered by an open-source software. Before building Open Y, the YMCA of Greater Twin Cities performed a study into which CMS would be the ideal foundation for their platform. They found that Drupal 8 offered:

  • A new, progressive technology with plenty of space for growth
  • Low costs and barriers to entry
  • Many YMCAs were already using it
  • Used by large brands and innovative organizations around the world
  • An established, customizable system with healthy and active contribution ecosystem

Leveraging Drupal 8 and the Acquia Platform means that Open Y has the ability to quickly react to the market, innovate rapidly and continually improve the Y’s digital presence. This powerful customer experience platform allows YMCAs to better serve their communities, offer easier access to Y programs and services, and will be at the center of many future strategic digital initiatives.

Describe the project (goals, requirements and outcome): 

Open Y on a macbook

The YMCA needed an entire distribution of Drupal specific to its mission. Faced with increased competition from boutique health and fitness providers, the founding YMCAs set the goal of creating a digital platform that was cost effective, yet provided the best possible customer experience.

Goals for the new distribution included:

  • Enhanced ability to track digital goals and other key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • New SEO capabilities
  • A superior content management experience
  • The ability for each YMCA to customize their platform as needed.

But the requirements extended to more than just structure. Some YMCAs have little to no digital marketing resources, and in addition to providing a platform for content, the Open Y needed to also act as a repository for marketing resources and tools.

Lastly, the project had to be user-centered and mobile. Open Y is designed with members at the center of every interaction from any device, such as mobile, desktop, fitness screens, or otherwise.

Technical Requirements

Enhanced Tracking

FFW built the Open Y platform to come out of the box with enhanced tracking functionality. The data layer module is the foundation for a number of the site’s tracking capabilities, while Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager are included in the installation profile for any YMCA who wants it.

Since the Open Y project is a Drupal 8 distribution, some patching was necessary for the data layer module. Currently, the module is only a dev version, so the team included calculated and reference data from other sources to bring the module up to snuff.

With the enhanced tracking, the platform is ready out-of-box to track website search terms and file downloads, as well as perform content sharing on social media. Additionally, administrators are able to configure individual thank you pages for webforms in order to configure goal and eCommerce conversion tracking.

SEO Capabilities

The Open Y platform uses pathauto, RDF metadata, and datalayer modules to give YMCAs a full range of SEO capabilities. Upon installation, non-technical content editors are able to easily configure meta-tags on individual pages, create URL paths, create redirects, and setup sitemaps.

Content Editing and Management

Customized paragraphs make the Open Y distribution easy for content editors and teams to use. A variety of paragraph types allow users to build pages element-by-element in a drag-and-drop format. The team also built in block customizations that allow users to add, remove, and edit blocks on the page screen, rather than accessing the block UI on the back end.

Additionally, custom workflows allow any YMCA to easily schedule content changes (such as membership promotions) through the site as part of any online marketing effort. Editors have the ability to easily modify pages and can create forms using an enhanced version of Drupal’s native contact form functionality, while administrators can also easily add and schedule branch location or association-wide alerts for upcoming holidays, weather notifications, and so on with custom-built, automated display modes.

Media Management

Giving that media assets and their management are very important part of the Open Y user experience, customized media features were built on top of the well known Media module.

Open Y on a macbook

The custom Open Y Media features provide a great experience for content editors and site administrators. They can easily upload images (such as png, jpeg, svg, and so on), documents (including docx, ppt, pdf, and xlsx) and import videos from popular video hosting services like YouTube or Vimeo.

Once the files have been uploaded or imported, editors are able to easily embed media assets on any page. Various view modes for the embedded media allows editors to place rendered files within content and get the best reading experience. Images can be placed with different alignments, videos can be played directly from Open Y pages, and documents will be displayed in an iFrame so that a visitor can view, download, and print any document right from the page it’s embedded in.


Because it’s built on Drupal, the Open Y distribution allows any YMCA to create additional customizations and integrations. For example, Open Y comes out-of-the-box with the ability to connect to popular group exercise class lookup software called GroupEXPro, and has other custom code to enable any YMCA to use single sign on (SSO) between numerous CRM systems (Personify, Daxko, Active Networks, and others) and a YMCA website. Already, YMCAs around the country are building and sharing their own integrations, including a multilingual initiative built on Drupal 8’s native multilingual functionality.


The Open Y distribution was built iteratively over the course of several projects for YMCAs around the country, who decided to share their results with each other and create the Open Y platform.

Building a distribution is drastically different from building a single site solution, due to the fact that integrations were built in for use cases beyond the clients we were building for. In addition, Drupal 8 was still very new while the platform was in its initial phases of construction, which led to difficulty around the use of certain modules or features.


The Open Y initiative was launched in late March of 2016. Though it’s a new platform, it already has plenty of functionality built in, and its capabilities will only grow over time. Currently, Open Y offers a connected, customizable, and low-cost web platform that unites the YMCA’s and their visitors through:

  • Personal training options
  • Group fitness activity
  • Fitness equipment use
  • Digital strategy and execution
  • Marketing communication
  • Customer relationship management (CRM)

Within six months of launching, the Open Y project was embraced by multiple YMCA associations, and its popularity only continues to grow. Open Y is supported by a core group of YMCAs including: the YMCA of Greater Twin Cities, the Red Wing Family YMCA, the YMCA of Greater Seattle, and the YMCA of Greater Houston. At the time of writing, 19 other YMCAs have committed to using Open Y in the future, and many more are exploring the tool for use in their own digital projects.

Improving Communities

Though it’s still a young project, Open Y has already had a strong impact both on the way that YMCAs operate digitally, and on the communities that the YMCAs serve.

One of the founding YMCAs, the YMCA of Greater Twin Cities (YGTC) decided to use the Open Y project to empower youth and provide them with new skills and a pathway to college or a career. It contracted with a local charter school called the Rêve Academy, which serves students who struggled in a traditional educational system. One of the Rêve Academy’s programs revolves around marketing and technology, and six students from this program were brought on to help the YGTC team with content publishing through Open Y.

The students who participated in the program not only earned their very first paychecks through the program, but they also received academic credit and learned valuable skills to help with college and career readiness. The YGTC taught the students to use Drupal, and the work encouraged them to develop critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration skills.

The work the students did helped the YGTC, and the YGTC in turn was able to act on its mission of helping children in their community thrive. Through Open Y, initiatives like this are easily replicable in markets outside of Minneapolis, and are some of the many benefits that communities who use the Open Y can enjoy.

But beyond helping the YMCA with its social mission, the Open Y project helps YMCAs achieve metrics and numbers-based goals. It allows YMCAs to make data-driven improvements to customer experiences, provides a measurable cost reduction in digital development over time, ensures consistent branding and governance in YMCAs across the country, and provides branches with a scalable technology that promises an evolving flexibility.

Technical specifications

Why these modules/theme/distribution were chosen: 
  • Paragraphs - allows us to use component based workflow, where each component has independent data structure, styles and storage.
  • Media and Entity Embed - With Media and Entity Embed we leverage the powerful Drupal core Files feature. It allows the site to split out files to different bundles and use embeddable displays for Videos, Images and Documents.
  • Webform - Webform (previously known as YAML forms) builds forms that are available in the system as components.
  • Optimizely - provides base layer for A/B testing.
  • Features - the most important part of the code architecture.
  • DataLayer - allows us to expose website data for 3rd party services and tracking systems.

We also built several custom modules:

Organizations involved: 
Project team: 

YMCA of Greater Twin Cities; YMCA of Greater Houston; YMCA of Greater Seattle

Additional contributing partners:

Acquia, ImageX


podarok’s picture

Also, in addition to the list of technologies above I would like to mention, that overall quality of the code and functionality protected by usage of CIBox

Andrii Podanenko
web(uk, en)
personal blog(uk)

dnotes’s picture

How much development time did it take to create this distribution, and how much is budgeted for maintenance each month?

podarok’s picture

About 10000 hours for a bunch of projects that were sources for OpenY

Andrii Podanenko
web(uk, en)
personal blog(uk)

Haimike’s picture

i think drupal good choice

CB1_Dru1’s picture

I take it as a voluntary initiative? The project is awesome for large Y's like Greater Houston with budgets. But for every large Y - there are a hundreds of small Y's whose web-keepers are pushed to their technological limits with daily activity updates to their Wordpress driven site.