Back to Basics: Redefining Your Camp Program to Survive in a Down Economy

July 19, 2011

Christina Reddick
Aquatics Coordinator
Florida International University

We are all feeling the crunch of the economy. Families are still in need of child care and youth oriented activities during the summer months but are now much more selective about the program they choose. More than ever in the past two decades, price determines where they enroll their children. With this as the new reality, how can we have camp and turn a profit?

In the past five years, numerous camps have responded to a growing economy by offering to teach every talent or hobby under the sun. Many have added activities and hired instructors in any specialty thought to add value, or rather increase revenue and turn a profit. Some facilities basically outsource their instruction – offering a combination of instruction and traditional day camp activities in unusual places. Examples include the karate camp that offers dance and drama, and the recreation camp that now specializes in robotics and math improvement through ‘hands-on fun’.

Now is the time to re-evaluate what we provide and realize that a high-quality program is more than what looks good on a brochure. A good camp program starts and ends with a safe environment and opportunities for building long-lasting friendships and mentorship.

Here are a few basics to follow when planning this summer’s program:

Do — Find out what your local families value. For example, a large population in our local community is Jewish. Although we are not able to offer the facilities that allow for a traditional Orthodox program, many families are looking for a camp that respects the Jewish heritage and demands of a Jewish family. Therefore, kosher snack options are a must, in addition to making sure overnight field trips are not offered on their Sabbath or any conflicting holidays.

Do not — Promise what you cannot deliver. If you don’t have a dance studio, it will be very difficult to offer high quality dance instruction; without a classroom set-up, it will be hard to conduct traditional tutoring. Only program for the facility you have! This will save you money and show that your program is well planned.

Do — Practice integrity and responsibility. These are the building blocks of the genuinely trusting relationship necessary to attract returning families to your camp.

Do – Be accessible to your parents, staff and especially your campers. Daily face time with parents at drop-off and pick-up is ideal.

Remember, summer camp programs are about building relationships, having fun and creating memories that last a lifetime. Our decisions as camp directors will affect a young person’s life forever, so make sure you are making decisions you and your staff can feel good about.

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