LCO 101: The Best Ways for LCOs and Gyms to Work Together

Categories: LCO 101

If your local climbing organization (LCO) is anything like most of the ones we work with, it’s always on the hunt for untapped resources. Working with your LCO’s local gym to educate climbers about general and regional access issues is a great way to leverage a climbing gym’s membership base to reach more climbers.

Dana Caracciolo, LCO board member and gym manager in Pennsylvania, led the survey effort.

“Gyms can create climbers much faster than LCOs can create stewards,” says Dana Caracciolo, LCO board member and gym manager in Pennsylvania. “It’s imperative that LCOs have a presence in gyms since that is where the majority of new climbers are learning to climb. We need to plant the seed about outdoor ethics and conservation as early as possible.”

Gyms across the country are recognizing that they have a unique position from which to educate new climbers about low-impact best practices as they transition from the gym to the crag. Many are looking for ways to step up and educate their members; it’s a natural fit for LCOs and local gyms to work together.

Over the last few months, Caracciolo surveyed LCOs and gyms on how they currently work together and their ideal working relationship. Caracciolo’s expert opinion is founded in her service as a board member of Eastern Pennsylvania Alliance of Climbers (EPAC)—which is currently cultivating partnerships with over 15 of the gyms in its region—as well as her experience as the manager of two local gyms.

“We have a huge range of gyms and demographics in our region,” Caracciolo says. “Each offers a unique opportunity to connect with the climbing community. It really comes down to having individual conversations with each gym owner or manager about how we can work best together. We measure our success not by the resources they provide but their willingness to engage.”

"Gyms can create climbers much faster than LCOs can create stewards," says Carraciolo. "We need to plant the seed about outdoor ethics and conservation as early as possible."

LCOs and gyms from nearly every state took Caracciolo’s survey. Over 70% of the surveyed LCOs said they have at least one gym within 30 miles, so there’s a lot of opportunity for collaboration. Overall, it’s clear that gyms and LCOs are still exploring how they can partner together, but one thing is for certain: The climbing community is stronger when we all work together. Read on for Caracciolo’s key takeaways on cultivating, nurturing, and maintaining a working partnership between an LCO and a local gym, and keep going after that for a deep dive on the results.

Dana’s Top Five Takeaways for LCOs

Based on the survey results, these are the top ways that LCOs and gyms can work together to have the most impact on their climbing community.

1. Host Events Together
Host at least one gym event per year. Both LCOs and gym respondents noted that fundraisers and other similar events are one of the most common sense ways for the two to support each other. Fundraisers, community nights, dedicated stewardship days—anything that increases your LCO’s visibility to your partner gym’s membership base.

2. Don't Be Afraid to Talk Money
Nearly 50% of LCOs that answered the survey said their partner gyms provide some kind of financial support, so don’t be afraid to broach the subject of money. Gyms are businesses and review their finances constantly. Not every gym will have the same budget, but they do have other resources such as access to gear vendors and reps, relationships with local businesses, and other connections that can prove just as valuable.

3. Maintain a Constant Presence in the Gym
Ask for a dedicated space to post LCO information (not just the community bulletin board where everything gets lost among all the other flyers). You can also have LCO representatives climb regularly, provide LCO merchandise for the gym to sell on consignment, create social media content the gym can post on its channels—get creative to make sure that all of the gym’s foot traffic and followers are familiar with your name.

4. Set Up Regular Check-In Meetings
Communication goes a long way toward maintaining a partnership that mutually benefits both sides. Keep a recurring meeting on the books where you can both check in with each other to review how things are working and brainstorm new ideas.

5. Work Together on Climber Education
With their knowledge of access issues specific to local crags, LCOs are going to have a better idea of what climbers need to know. Gyms can provide the time and space for education to take place. Leverage each other’s knowledge and abilities to equip climbers with need-to-know information before they ever step foot outside at the crag.

Deeper Dive: Further Takeaways from the Survey

The survey started off with two general questions about the current relationship between the gyms and LCOs and the ways in which gyms support LCOs. Overall, most LCOs and gyms acknowledged they had some kind of working relationship with each other. While the answers ranged from casual to extremely strong, there were very few that reported having no relationship at all with their respective counterparts.

The survey then went deeper on the practical ways that gyms and LCOs have worked together thus far as well as gathering responses on ways they’d like to see the partnerships evolve in the future.

How does your LCO stay involved with its local gym?

  • Host a competition together to raise funds.

  • Invite the gym owners and staff to participate as board members.

  • Ask the gym for space to host board meetings.

  • See if the gym can offer pass discounts for current LCO members.

  • Ask the gym for membership passes you can give away at events.

  • Ask if gym staff can volunteer at trail days.

    What are the best ways a gym can support their LCOs?

    • Use their media channels to reach its members for LCOs.

    • Promote stewardship events or fundraising opportunities.

    • Host gym-to-crag trainings on how to climb outside.

    • During new client introductions, explain the LCO’s role.

    • Donations, recurring giving, combination memberships, event sponsorships.

      What are the best ways for LCOs to support their local gyms?

      • Provide resources about local climbing areas and any access issues.

      • Tabling in the gym to talk to members.

      • Participating in gym-to-crag trainings.

      • Partner with a gym to get a discount rate for LCO members to climb inside for a day.

        How is your gym working to better support outdoor climbing and climber education?

        • Having more trainings on the difference between climbing inside and outside.

        • Pushing climbing etiquette education.

        • Having staff take climbers out for their first time.

        • Asking staff to participate in stewardship days.

        • Making donations to local groups.

          What is one way you think LCOs can better support indoor climbing spaces?

          • Regularly meet with gyms to discuss how each can support each other.

          • Serve as role models when climbing in the gym.

          • Encourage mentorship.

          • Create ways for gym climbers to get involved with the LCO in a way that’s easy for gyms to promote (flyer for stewardship events, QR code to volunteer openings, etc).

          • Provide input or host gym-to-crag events.

          “There are many gyms out there doing incredible work with LCOs,” Caracciolo says. “One thing we hoped to do with this survey was to highlight some of those successes to inspire both gyms and LCOs to move forward. Even though not every gym can provide the same amount of support in terms of finances and resources, there are many creative examples out there of other ways to engage.”

          Hopefully, these ideas inspire your relationship with your local gym. Feel free to share this directly with your local gym manager if it would be helpful in pushing your partnership forward.

          Access Fund has a joint membership program with the Climbing Wall Association that is a great place for gyms to get resources on gym-to-crag education. If you want to see your local gym take their education programming to the next level, becoming a joint Access Fund/CWA member is a great place to start. Gym staff can email [email protected] for more info.