Most camps these days offer some sort of scholarship or financial aid for campers who can’t afford your full fee to attend. This is awesome! What isn’t awesome, is the process you as the camp has to go through to verify financial need for campers. You need to make sure you are being fair and giving those in truly in need, what they need.
Every camp does things a bit different and unfortunately there is no universal formula to calculate this, since every region has different cost of living and every camp might have a slightly different standard. This post will give you a few tips to consider as you decide how to go about verifying financial need at your camp.
Step 1: Decide on your process.
Most camps either ask for tax returns from parents to verify financial need or ask for proof that their children qualify for the free lunch program. The lunch program criteria doesn’t work in every county, so check what is normal where you are. The lunch program criteria is great since it takes the guess work out of finding a formula to calculate need, but is also just a general line.
If you want to offer a sliding scale based on income, this won’t work. In lieu of the lunch program, some camps use the SNAP Benefit Estimator to calculate need, which you can find here.
If you ask for tax returns either to do a yes or no on a set amount of financial need, great. If you want to create a sliding scale, you need to find a calculation that will make sense, so you can apply data from the tax return.
Here is a great example of a sliding scale that another camp uses. It’s a great start to creating your own based on your fees and the average number of families each year you are providing need for. Some camps forgo a complicated chart to determine awards and just create tiers that give 25%, 50%, 75% off tuition based on income. Ultimately this is up to you, what makes sense for your camp and the amount of applicants vs. amount of need you can give.
Step 2: Who is making the decision about awarding aid?
Next decide who will ultimately make decisions for awarding financial aid. The camp director? A committee? Some camps who have a fundraising team, also include these people in the decision making process. Understanding the needs of the whole camp community and the stories behind requests for financial assistance can help the fundraising staff speak personally to donors and increase their donations.
Also consider whether you want to stick to a strict review policy – numbers only, or if you want to consider any additional circumstances a family might share with you in person, over the phone, via email or submit on the application form. Some argue that it’s cleaner to look just at the numbers, but others feel like numbers don’t give a full picture and if a family reaches out with extenuating circumstances, exceptions or adjustments can be made.
Think about what makes the most sense for your camp before you start accepting applications, so you know what your process will roughly look like as you begin registration season.
Step 3: Finding the funds to pay for the financial aid you are giving.
Offering financial aid is great and you are doing a great service for families that are not that fortunate. But unless you are a VERY profitable camp it will mean that you might be creating a problem for your bottom line.
The solution is on the flip side of the families that need financial aid. You will most likely have fortunate families that can contribute to your scholarship funds. Most of them are happy to do so if you give them the option.
How do you allow families to participate in your scholarship program and allow you to offer financial aids to more families? It all starts with your registration software. In your online camp registration software you can most likely create services and products.
Just create a “donate” section and add donation amounts. This can vary from $50 to $500 or $1000. This gives families the ability to add a donation right when they are listing their kids to camp. They will feel great and you will be able to offer more financial aid.
Below is how it can look in the back end of your registration software:
Step 4: Uploading Documents
Most parents applying for financial aid will understand they need proof of income in order for you, the camp, to verify financial need for campers attending your camp. Having a general policy that you post on your website or with your registration materials is a great place to start.
If you are using a camp registration software, include forms for financial need as part of your conditional logic.
Include the question “Are you in need of financial aid” and display the forms asking for income and submission of a tax return, W2, etc only if the applicant answers “Yes”. Then, use your registration process to easily filter and find all aid applications, review them per your process, and then update each family with their status.
If you have multiple people making a decision on scholarships, you can give part time access to those people to review only the scholarship applications and add notes to help make the selection process easy.
Here is an example financial aid application form that can be added directly to your online camp application. Complete the first page and follow the process through the financial aid form. You can experience what the registration process will be like for every applicant!
A great place to send parents who might not have a W2 or don’t know where their tax returns are, is the IRS. They can request a transcript of their income information online, here!
Step 5: Payment Processing
If you process payments in the same space as your registration, you can even update the balance of each camper based on the aid they receive. You get paid exactly what you are meant to, and parents can easily see their new balance and the aid they received, so they can pay easily.
You can use your software to filter out those campers who received aid as well, so you can easily create a report of the number of campers who were approved for financial aid, and the amounts awarded.
Additionally, a software that allows you to offer payment plans and scheduled payments, along with automatic billing, is a great way to help to all families, those receiving aid and not, but especially for families where money is tight.
Breaking up payments into manageable payments over time will ensure families can pay what is due, and that you get paid on time without chasing down payments every time a payment is due.
Generally, scholarships are verified after a parent applies for their kid(s) to attend. With your software you can set a final due date for the entire balance to be paid, which can be after the scholarship approval process, so the parent doesn’t have to pay first and be refunded if they are awarded aid.
These small details help not only streamline the process, but make it easier and transparent for everyone.
If part of your process includes needing references for the camper or family, check if your software can automate this! Allow the applicant to enter the email address of their reference and have the system send an email requesting a response.
Verifying financial need for campers isn’t hard once you have a verification system in place.
That includes deciding what “proof” you will use and what measurements you will use for determination. The most common approach is looking at income and then applying it to a base percentage or sliding scale.
Using your registration software to streamline the financial aid application process is the easiest and most efficient way to gather the information you need, and communicate questions and decisions to parents.
Your software can make the admin side easier as well, using labels to organize those approved, denied or pending for scholarships. A software that includes payments will allow you to easily apply the aid awarded, and allow parents to pay easily before camp starts!