A lot goes into running a camp. It’s a juggling act, and dropping the ball can mean an injured camper or a furious parent.
Whether it’s communicating effectively with parents, monitoring and coaching staff, or hitting long-term enrollment goals, the tasks involved are rarely straightforward or easy to pull off.
Today we’ll share eight camp management hacks that should lighten the load and save you some time, all the while improving the experience for your campers.
Choose the Right Camp Management Software
Camp management software can help you streamline camp registrations, manage your camp, and automate tedious busywork like sending payment reminder emails.
That said, it’s important that you find the right software for your specific camp.
So start by taking inventory of all the time-sinks and camp management challenges you’re experiencing.
Then, create a short list of the features you need in camp management software to overcome those challenges.
The most impactful features for camp directors, in general, are the following four: camper registration, payment processing, communication tools, and attendance tracking (described more in-depth below).
A camp registration software like Regpack helps you handle the key aspects of managing a summer camp, from registering campers on your website to communicating with parents.
Once you’ve selected a camp management software to check out, attend a live demo with a sales rep if possible. Like test-driving a car, this will show you what it’s like to use the tool.
Come prepared with a list of questions so that you can see if it will help you solve your specific problems.
Break Down Long-Term Plans Into Short-Term Goals
When a professional writer sets out to write a book, they don’t just say, “I’m going to finish a book in 1 year,” and then start typing the first draft.
Instead, they break the project into much smaller short-term goals—for example, weeks 1-2 is research, week 3 is outlining the book, week 4 is writing the introduction, etc.
When you break a long-term down into short-term goals, the ultimate goal feels a lot more attainable.
But it doesn’t just feel that way. It actually becomes more attainable because you know what needs to be done on a day-to-day basis to reach it.
You’re more focused and motivated. And there’s less doubt holding you back from taking the necessary actions.
As a leader of a camp, you might have any number of long-term goals in mind at any given time—streamline camp communications, invest in camp management software, or improve enrollment by 50%, for example.
Since we just talked about it in the last section, let’s use the goal of buying camp management software as our example.
Here’s that long-term goal broken down into four short-term goals:
|Week 1||Identify the problems you want to solve and the features you need to do so.|
|Week 2||Research the market and find three tools that offer those features.|
|Week 3||Attend a demo for each tool and then decide on your top choice.|
|Week 4||Implement the software and facilitate initial training.|
Having a roadmap like this also reduces the amount of stress you and your team members have to deal with.
The project itself doesn’t seem as heavy, because at any given time you’re only thinking about executing one small and manageable step.
Set Clear Expectations for Your Staff and Campers
Staff and campers will rise to meet your expectations, as long as they’re reasonable, and as long as they’re clearly explained early in the relationship.
Early communication about expectations is important. It keeps people from making false assumptions about what working at or attending your camp is going to be like, false assumptions that only lead to disappointment.
For example, during the hiring process, you might make it clear to your candidates that you expect them to arrive ten minutes before their shift to prepare for the day.
If a candidate has a problem with this, they can drop out of the running. But mostly what will happen is that your new hires will make an effort to meet this demand.
They know it’s what you expect of them, and they’ll feel it’s fair since they had the option during the interview process to opt out but instead chose to stay.
You can follow this 4-step framework for ensuring your staff follows the expectations throughout the session:
Also, be sure to set clear expectations for the campers. You want your marketing material to paint a true picture of life at your camp.
If you only have swimming sessions one day per week, don’t advertise your camp as a place for people who love to swim.
You’ll end up with a bunch of complaining campers begging you to take them to the pool, and a bunch of parents asking for their money back.
In sum, when you are direct with your campers and staff about what they should expect, you’ll be able to create strong relationships built on respect and trust.
Train Your Staff to Represent Your Camp Values
Campers tend to imitate their favorite counselors. As a result, if your staff embodies the values of your camp, your campers will too.
If your staff is honest, kind, inviting, and careful, your campers will have those traits as well, and this will make the camp easier to manage.
If, on the other hand, your counselors are deceitful, rude, exclusionary, and reckless, you’re going to create a camp culture that resembles the social environment depicted in Lord of the Flies.
A good way to ensure that your counselors represent your camp values is to use culture-fit questions in the interview.
For example, you might ask them to describe a few experiences where they’ve lived out some of your camp’s core values.
If honesty is a core value, you might ask: “Can you tell me about a time when you told the truth even though it stopped you from reaching your goals?”
After you’ve hired staff members who seem like a good culture fit, you should then train them up on your values.
During onboarding, come back again and again to your camp’s tenets. Give staff members challenging scenarios they’ll likely face at camp, ones in which the right choice isn’t obvious.
And in your demonstration of how to make a decision in that situation, speak to the helpfulness of using the core values as fundamental principles for making the best choice.
This way, before camp even starts, the values that’ll make your camp successful are internalized in your staff.
As a result, your counselors and other staff members will always assess situations through the lenses of your camp’s core values. And your camp will benefit because of it.
Let Your Staff Choose the Activities They Want to Lead
Campers can sense when a counselor is bored with an activity.
When this happens, they mimic the counselor and stop caring about the activity themselves, even if it’s one they were originally excited to attend.
Therefore, you don’t want the counselor who hosts the water leading the canoe wars, or the jock who rolls their eyes at creative work running the arts and crafts.
You want the opposite. You want counselors leading the activities that they feel passionate about. They’ll be enthusiastic.
And this enthusiasm will be contagious, infecting your campers and resulting in rapt attention, laughter, and joy.
Source: Quote Fancy
The best way to effectively match your counselors with the right activity is simple. Just ask them which activities they want to run!
Consider having them rank order their top activities. Then, try your best to match them with their top choices.
Thanks to the diversity of interests inherent in groups of people, you’ll likely find that all your activities make it to at least one person’s list.
If an activity is so despised that no staff members want to lead it, maybe it’s time to rethink that activity’s place in your camp.
If it’s necessary, like teaching math, offer the counselor a reward for doing it.
Track Your Staff’s Performance During the Season
Throughout the season, keep a close eye on each of your staff members to evaluate their performance.
You can ask yourself questions like the ones below to judge their performance:
|How well are they representing our camp’s values?|
|Are they implementing the changes we discussed in our last one-on-one meeting?|
|How engaging are they with the campers?|
|Which parts of the job do they seem to struggle with?|
To provide consistent feedback based on your observations, hold weekly meetings with each team member.
In those one-on-ones, discuss their strengths (this is encouraging), as well as the areas in which you think they can improve (this gives them something to focus on).
If you run a larger camp, you should hold these meetings with each member of the leadership team, and mandate that they do the same with their direct reports.
As long as your recommendations for how to improve are accurate and reasonable, and preceded by some praise, your staff will accept and apply them with a positive attitude.
After all, most of us want to get better at what we do, and quality feedback is one of the best sources of that upward growth.
Ensure Campers Have Water and Snacks for Field Trips
When you’re on a field trip, it’s likely that some of your campers will start to feel hungry, cranky, or fatigued.
In most cases, the quickest solution to all these feelings of discomfort is a snack—a granola bar, an apple, or a juice box.
So make sure your campers pack snacks for field trips, as well as a water bottle they can easily fill up throughout the day. This will prevent dehydration.
The latter is especially important if your field trip involves activities that require physical exertion, such as hiking or canoeing. For these, you should hold regular water breaks.
To ensure that your campers bring snacks and water bottles, remind both them and their parents about this before the field trip occurs.
And as a precautionary measure, keep some snacks and water at camp.
That way, if any kids forget to bring food and water, or just didn’t bring enough, you’ll have some to give them.
If you have campers who are allergic to nuts, be sure to keep snacks on hand that are nut-free.
This can also come in handy if you go to a field trip location that has treats for the visitors—Hershey Park would likely offer chocolate, for example.
With your treats, the kids who are allergic to nuts won’t feel left out.
Have Walkie-Talkies for On-The-Go Communication
Whether you’re taking your campers on a field trip to an amusement park, or hiking through the woods where there’s no service, giving your campers walkie-talkies is an effective and fun way for you to stay in touch with them.
Some camps, especially sleepaway ones, collect their campers’ cell phones at the beginning of camp.
So these provide a way to communicate with their fellow campers and counselors without them.
Even if you don’t take away their phones, walkie-talkies provide a way to communicate that doesn’t involve cell phones, which can easily ensnare a camper’s attention and cause them to miss out on the experience.
One can easily imagine a camper trying to alert the other group that they’ve reached the peak, only to end up investigating all those Instagram and text notifications, thus removing themselves from nature.
Having walkie-talkies also allows you to split your camp into several smaller groups during your field trips while remaining in communication.
For example, if you were taking your campers on a hike, you could split them into groups by hiking experience, so that campers can walk at their preferred pace.
There are plenty of camp management hacks that can help you run your camp more efficiently.
They range from using registration software and walkie-talkies to letting staff choose the activities they lead.
As for the next steps, try to experiment with one of the tactics you learned in this article.
And consider reading our article on camp management best practices to gain some advice that’s a bit wider in scope.