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How to Make Summer Camps That $izzle

Posted on Thu, January 1,2015 @ 9:38 AM

A beautiful, sunny June day like today means millions across the country are likely enjoying some sort of summer camp, be it on privately owned, camp-specific property in the mountains or on a lake, or maybe at church- or school-sponsored facilities.


Camps in the U.S. are big business (say BusinessWeek and others), a way to monetize family-owned land or squeeze more use out of facilities that lend themselves to a variety of activities. Such camps provide a living for many, part-time employment for others, and educational and/or physical activity for participants.

If you are thinking about starting a camp, or looking for ways to improve your existing camp, the Internet offers plenty of useful resources.

An Instructables.com blog runs through 15 steps for starting your own camp, covering logistical issues –such as location, pricing, staffing, licensing and getting insurance – and operational tips for projects and activities, setting rules and dealing with “troubles.” Below are a couple of excerpts.

On pricing:
The trickiest fact you'll need before working on getting the word out is figuring out how much camp will cost. I found two things helpful in setting a price – looking at other camps in the area and seeing what prices were viable, and establishing a policy where we took anyone interested, regardless of income. The second policy is both personally important to me and also helped me feel better about setting a price ($250/week) that is out of reach for a lot of families.

On staffing:
For staffing in your first year, I advocate working with people you can communicate well with – namely, your friends. So much will be changing on the fly in your first summer (especially during your first week!) that you'll want to work with people that you feel comfortable spending a ton of time with and problem-solving with during and after camp.

The website of the American Camp Association (ACA), which accredits over 2,400 camps, features how to start a camp instructions as well as a  knowledge center that offers content, links, articles, books and other resources in each of 14 components essential to operating camps (e.g., business, marketing, food services, sites & facilities, transportation, program design & activities, etc.). The “How to Start a Camp” article suggests making these essential decisions before doing anything else:

  • Determine your mission statement or the purpose of your camp.
  • Who are the clientele you plan to serve? Are they a new market niche or an existing group that you serve or that need service?
  • What kind of an environment will enhance your ability to accomplish your mission and serve your clientele?
  • Do you want to start a day camp, resident camp or travel camp?
  • How many weeks do you plan to operate? Summer only or year-round?
  • Do you plan to incorporate? Will you operate as a for-profit or non-profit organization?

If you are looking for tips for running a better summer camp, the ACA publishes them frequently in its Camping Magazine. Here’s an article offering general camp business pointers, and another that gets slightly more specific with sales and marketing advice. The former dives into revenues, operating expenses, facility management, capital expenditures and more. The latter discusses topics such as exceeding expectations, knowing your competition, camp tours, parent visitation, cultivating alumni and using your website to market your camp.

Yes, people sometimes looking for ways to get their kids away from the Internet for a week will use it – more specifically, Google it – to find the right camp. Successful camps not only have an Internet presence that competes for search results, but they use the web to market their programs, register attendees, receive payment and build a database of contacts to use for future marketing. Shameless plug: several organizations use ABC Signup for their summer programs to create website “event pages,” manage online registrations and payment, and build a registrant database for reports, marketing and more.

If you would like to know more about how ABC Signup works with camps, or just want to know more about registration software, please e-mail or call us (866.791.8268x0). If you have tips for starting or improving summer camps, please post them below in the Comments section.

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