Anybody who has been a camp director for more than 10 minutes knows this: camp is changing quickly. Looking at the pace of change since I started directing summer camp in 1994, I think we are in store for more change at an even faster rate. We are at a critical point for the summer camp industry.
For camps to be equipped to deal with change, directors must force themselves to think beyond the daily struggles of their jobs and consider what is going on in the rest of the business world. Consider this: for those camp staff entering college in the fall of 2015, many of their job titles do not yet exist. In this changing environment, we must be willing to transform ourselves and our camps.
As we navigate our changing world, I hope you’ll consider the following five concepts that I believe are essential to running a successful summer camp over the next five years.
Creating an emotional story about your camp must involve visuals. Think back to how, just this morning, you quickly scrolled through your Newsfeed on Facebook. Think about the stories and posts that captured your attention. I guarantee you that a vast majority of them involved some sort of video or an engaging photo.
Summer camp is such an emotion-driven consumer purchase because it involves children and parents. We need to become great at telling emotional stories through photos and videos.
My challenge to you: every time you sit down to type out a communication or message, try to figure out how you can use photos, images, or video to replace your text.
This skill will become essential to telling the story of the transformations that happened because of summer camp.
Technology is intimidating for everyone. Even those of us who are comfortable being surrounded by and experimenting with new technologies can be quickly overwhelmed. That’s why I think we must, as responsible business managers, figure out a way to keep on top of technology. Even an exercise as simple as the Hour of Code™ can help us keep learning.
While I strongly believe that summer camp itself provides an important opportunity for kids to get away from the stresses of technology, I also know that the willingness to use new tech is essential for camp professionals.
Make It About Them
We have fallen into a trap.
When we talk about our camps, on the web or in person, we tend to talk about ourselves. We try to recruit families — many who don’t understand summer camp at all — by telling them about our camper-to-staff ratio or how we are a “traditional” camp. This style of discussion assumes that parents have a baseline knowledge of how camp works. Many of them don’t.
If we are to reach more families without prior camp experience, then we must talk about camp in completely different ways. One important method to grab their attention is to stop talking about ourselves. Instead, parents need to see themselves in the stories we tell. Can you imagine how much camp would stand out from all of the other summer activities if your website focused, in part, on what life is like for today’s families? For example, imagine supplementing that photo of three campers hugging each other with an image of a stressed-out mom attempting to talk to her kids while their faces are buried in their phones.
By including this type of imagery on your website, it demonstrates to today’s families that you understand their lives. This will allow you to craft the story of the transformation that will happen to their family because of summer camp.
Because we spend our days creating safe and welcoming environments for other people’s kids, we tend to describe our amazing product in very boring terms.
I love the quote by Simon Sinek who says that “people do not buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. What Sinek is saying is that people need to understand the very foundational ideas upon which your camp is based. They need to understand your why.
I believe that your why needs to be bold so that it stands out among the many competing summertime options for families.
Our goal with the CampHacker network is to create an industry-wide message so strong that parents will feel they are failing their children if they don’t send them to camp. That is our bold statement.
I know that the words “failing their children” will be alienating to some camp leaders. By design, bold statements are unapologetic, direct, and evoke strong emotion. It is safe to say that those camp professionals who do not connect with the CampHacker message may not want to work with us. Those who do are willing to wear their passions on their sleeves.
Implementing these concepts can be strenuous and tiring, and that’s why my fifth concept is about balance. To maintain the energy required to run successful camps and transform lives, we need to take the time to consciously relax. It’s essential to our ability to do this job.
I think that each person must find his or her own way to relax. For me, it is early morning trail walks with the dog or taking 100 meditative breaths per day. We need to put as much intentionality into finding balance as we do improving the lives of our campers and staff.
There are many important changes coming to the camp industry over the next five years, and I intend to be along for the ride. I hope we’re in it together.