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Omaha Magazine

Rebecca Deterding Makes History: First Woman CEO leads YMCA of Greater Omaha With a Focus on People

Nov 28, 2022 08:12AM ● By Jeff Lacey

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

The YMCA is sewn so tightly into the fabric of American culture that one would be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t recognize the name. Its impact is profound: it is the largest provider of youth sports programs in the U.S.; 80% of American households live within 10 miles of a Y; and Forbes magazine regularly lists the YMCA as one of the top 10 charities in the country, ranking it 8th in 2021. So, when Rebecca Deterding was chosen to be the CEO of the YMCA of Greater Omaha, she not only made history as the first woman to head the local nonprofit—she made history in one of the best-known organizations in America.

Deterding, named CEO in March 2022, is credited with playing a large part in steering the Y through the COVID crisis. Previously, she was the interim CEO in 2021, and before that she served as the organization’s CFO for seven years. While Deterding has an extensive background in finance and strategic planning (she has an MBA as well as experience in the private sector), her assets as a leader don’t stop at knowing the numbers. 

Trent Bottolfsen, vice president of finance for the Y, said Deterding leads by example and does a fantastic job creating strong camaraderie throughout the organization. “Rebecca leads her teams with a people-first mentality and she genuinely cares and respects her staff as human beings above all else,” Bottolfsen said. 

Deterding’s overarching strategy for her new charge could best be described as team-centered. “First and foremost, we need to ensure we have a really strong culture within the organization,” Deterding explained. “Our people need to feel good and well served.” Deterding has already set a foundation of caring when it comes to her team. In 2021, the Y raised the starting wage from $9 to $11 an hour. It also initiated end-of-year appreciation bonuses in December 2021.

The next step Deterding sees as crucial is reassessing the organization’s strategic plan now that COVID is largely in the rear-view mirror. “It’s time for us to step back, reassess what has shifted, and then begin putting a plan together to see how we can best impact the community. We’ve got consultants doing market studies until the end of the year (2022), and then we begin our strategic planning phase in quarters one and two.” 

While Deterding has taken the helm of this well-recognized community staple, some might wonder why she made the move to begin with. Why shift from the private sector (Deterding has extensive experience with software development companies) to a nonprofit? The answer lies in the organization’s mission. She liked the idea of an organization that could impact the community in not just one, but a variety of meaningful ways. “What initially drew me to the Y was the health and wellness aspect of it. It was more than a gym. When I first came to the Y, I learned about the impact that we make and the broad range of people we serve. We serve the community from birth. That’s probably one of the things I love about us most.” It is this multifaceted footprint that Deterding sees as one of the Y’s strengths. “This broad array of things is what makes us special,” she said. 

While Deterding’s personal achievements have involved hard work and talent, she also attributes her successes to the relationships she’s fostered along the way. “I try to surround myself with really great people,” she explained. “I’ve had really supportive mentors, the kind of people that push me to be a better version of myself and who accept me for myself and the values I bring.” One of the mentors Deterding gives credit to is Bruce Lowry, former president of Sega of America. She worked with him during her time at InfoUSA. “I started in accounting, and Bruce was so encouraging. He saw greatness in people and made you feel really good to put yourself out there and take risks. That was a good lesson. I try to do that now.”

Finally, any story about YMCA leadership would be remiss in not including The Question to someone of Deterding’s position: what does Rebecca Deterding (who, in her free time, enjoys being out in nature, taking walks, and reading mysteries) think of that song? 

You know, that song:  “Y.M.C.A.” The 1978 disco hit from the band The Village People, a song so embedded in the culture that, in 2020, the Library of Congress added it to the National Recording Registry of songs that have permanently influenced American culture.

She loves it. “I personally love that song, and what I love even more is that everyone knows it and knows the dance that goes with it.”

Then, in true CEO fashion, she added, “Talk about awesome brand awareness!”

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This article originally appeared in the December 2022/January 2023 issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

Photo by Bill Sitzmann


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