Summer Camp Management Webinar
Whether you’re starting a summer camp for the first time or you’ve been managing onefor a while, making sure everything runs smoothly isn’t always easy.
Annabel: Hey everyone. Thank you so much for joining us today. This is Annabel from JotForm. And we are super excited to have you all here. We're even more excited to announce that we've partnered with Patti Samson from The Camp Nerd and she will be coming on during our live Q&A session to answer any camp related questions that you may have. So, make sure you stay tuned throughout the webinar and have your questions ready to go. Okay let's get started. So as many of you know JotForm is the summer camp digital solution of choice for summer camps throughout the world. With its ease of use, customization and affordability, camps, big and small, can easily handle all of their data collection needs such as Camp registration, payments, parent feedback and more. JotForm has redesigned our summer camp material. So, make sure to check out our premade templates, ways to use JotForm, testimonials and more at jotform.com/summer-camp.
Whether you're just starting a summer camp or have been running one for a while, making sure everything goes smoothly isn't easy. Even through research, sometimes it takes trial & error and oftentimes there are things you wish you knew. That's why today we want to go over tips & tricks for how to avoid five summer camp management mistakes.
Tips & Tricks
Mistake 1: Not paying your staff enough money.
Annabel: Okay, let's get started. Mistake number one: Not paying your staff enough money. Having good staff is of the utmost importance especially when handling children. You want to be able to trust anyone that's brought on board. To get the best talent, you have to be willing to pay a fair living wage.
How to make sure you’re paying enough $
- Carefully calculate wages in relation to your registration fees
- Charge parents who can afford it
- Have enough money in the bank
So, our first tip is to be sure to carefully calculate wages in relation to registration fees. Double check your charging market rate pricing for your camp. If you're concerned about making enough money to pay fair wages, a recent ACA blog said that camp profitability is on the rise and more than half the camps that participated in the survey reported a medium profit value of $900 and a 16.2% average profit margin. Not too bad.
Annabel: The second tip is to charge parents who can afford it. Of course, it's important to give as many scholarships to campers who can't afford camp. But the thing is, you have to make sure you charge parents the full amount who can afford it. Be sure you're charging market rate prices and that you're not undervaluing your camp. Because that's how you're going to be able to make more money to afford paying your staff a living wage and also creating more programs and activities for your campers.
Our third tip is to have enough money in the bank before camp begins. This is crucial. Be sure you have enough money in the bank to pay these wages before camp begins. Many camps that own space could rent out their facilities to others when your camp isn't in session. This is a great way to generate extra income in the off seasons and to ensure that you have enough cash on hand to pay employees what they deserve.
Mistake 2: Marketing to the wrong people in the wrong places.
Annabel: Our second mistake is marketing to the wrong people in the wrong places. Being a marketer myself this one really resonates with me. Following marketing trends can be deceiving.
For instance, how many marketing blogs talk about the importance of paid social ads? The paid social ads may make sense for some companies or organizations or camps but that's not always the case for most. Paid social ads can spread awareness but they rarely lead to conversions. If your camp on a tight budget, this may not be the best route. So, we have some things that you can focus on instead. Our first tip is to market to busy parents. Busy parents are the best audience because they're looking for summer time childcare solution while they're at work.
How to market to the right people in the right places
- Target busy parents
- Be an SEO pro
- Spread the word year round
- Create an email list
Annabel: A few ways to get their attention. You can send your material to companies in your area, do some research on the big companies located where your camp is located, and e-mail their H.R. department about your camp. Many larger companies have internal communication channels and are interested in sharing helpful news they come across. By spreading the word about your camp to busy parents or targeting them in a place you know they’ll be at – work. Our second tip is to become an SEO pro. If you didn't know already, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.
Another great way to get busy parents to notice your camp is to rank high on Google. If a parent is busy, time is of the essence and they're going to want to find the right summer camp as fast as possible. That's why it's important to rank as high as possible in terms of your search terms. SEO be a tricky game, if your keywords are generic, and there's a lot of competition for them. For instance, if you're competing for the terms ‘summer camp’, they're very general so you're going to have a lot more competition. Whereas if you're a ballet camp or soccer camp and you use those specific words, you're going to get a lot more people coming to your page.
The best thing to do is to identify keywords that aren't so common. So, you'll have a higher likelihood of ranking high on Google. With good SEO practices such as getting links back to your website from other sites, writing long, informative content, or doing guest blog swaps, you'll have a much better chance at getting visibility from Google. SEO can be tricky and confusing, so I definitely recommend doing research if you're just getting started or have hit a roadblock. Our third tip is to market year-round. Even if your summer camp isn't in session, it's good to market all year round.
This means keeping up with SEO, making sure your website is updated, engaging your target audience, passing out flyers, speaking at in-person events, frequently posting to social media even if it's pictures from last season… The trick to all of this is that you don't want people to forget about your camp, and it's in your power to make sure they don't. Honestly, you're the best brand ambassador, so make sure to always be ready to talk about your camp because you never know. Our last couple of tips for this action is to create an email list and to cultivate partnerships. You can gather parent emails through registration or feedback forms and then, you can send them your material year-round.
You can also leverage your email list by featuring partnerships such as food or camp care companies that work with your camp. Then ask them to promote you back in email marketing, which will give both parties exposure to a new audience.
Mistake 3: Too much friction in your program flow.
Annabel: Our third mistake is having too much friction in your program flow. Before camp begins, it's important to plan and to figure out what activities your camp is going to have as well as logistical information such as what time everyone will sit down and eat, how many people can be served at one time, how long it will take to get from one activity to the next...
How to decrease friction in your program flow
- Write out your flow
- Have a plan B and C in case things don’t go according to plan
Annabel: The list goes on. So, our tips for this is to first work out your camp’s program flow. Include as many details as possible such as trainings, camp activities, lunch schedules etc. and make sure to share it with others on your team to get feedback and to see if you missed anything. Every camp is different. Some camps are structured and timely with activities while others operate on more of a free form basis. Either way, scheduling the day puts campers at ease so that they know what's coming and have activities look forward to.
Even if everything is written down and ready to go, there's still a chance that there could be friction when it plays out in real life. Our second tip is to have a plan B and C in place and to be OK if things don't go according to plan. It's vital to have a plan B and C in your back pocket if things change. When running a summer camp, a million things can go wrong. For instance, there can be an abrupt change in the weather and some of your activities may need to be modified or even canceled completely.
If this happens, make sure you have a backup plan, so campers aren't sitting around bored out of their minds. The best way to go about this is to assume things will not go according to plan, so you're not shocked if something unexpected happens. If things do go right, then it's going to be a nice treat for you and your staff.
Mistake 4: Not clearly defining processes and procedures.
Annabel: Our fourth mistake is not clearly defining processes and procedures. Lack of clearly defined processes and procedures can be detrimental to camps and disrupt the flow. Campers can get in trouble, arguments can happen between staff, someone can get hurt.
How to clearly define your processes + procedures
- Write them out + distribute
- Follow through with discipline
- Communicate with parents
Annabel: With so many people, there are limitless things that can happen. So, it's key to have processes and procedures in place to handle everything. Our first tip for this is to have a written policy and to make sure everyone has a copy. Most camps have written policies somewhere but where they tend to go is not informing staff about what the policies are and how they can reference them if something happens. A way to bypass people ‘not knowing’ is to give them a hard copy, send it to their email and have them posted in admin offices. Over Communicating your policies will ensure that staff is on the same page and that they can act accordingly when something happens.
The second tip for this is to follow through with discipline. It's easy to make exceptions for parents or campers you like on a personal level, but you must treat everyone the same no matter what. Be disciplined with your policies and follow through with them even if you don't want to. Doing so will yield respect from staff, parents and campers. The third tip is to communicate with parents. Communicating with parents from the get-go and keeping them in the loop throughout camp so they know that their child is safe and happy makes them feel comfortable while they're away from each other.
Feel free to get creative with your communication. You can email photos of campers and introduce the counselors who will be overseeing them. You can also send handwritten thank you letters to add a personal touch. Make sure to include your contact information too, so parents can reach out if they have any questions.
Mistake 5: Ending communication when camp ends.
Annabel: Last but not least our fifth mistake is ending communication when camp ends. Whether your camp is seasonal or year-round, it's important to keep in constant communication with campers and parents. There are so many camps out there, which means there's a lot of competition.
When you stay in touch, your camp will stay top of mind and parents and campers will be more likely to come back season after season. We have a few ways for you to keep the relationship going. The first is to have a newsletter. We touched on this in a previous tip but it's just so important that we wanted to talk about it again. There are so many free or inexpensive newsletter tools out there. While you have parents’ attention, like when they're filling out your registration form or filling out a feedback form, you can ask them to opt into your newsletter.
When they’re part of the list, you can send them a letter every few months to keep them posted on plans and developments for the upcoming season. The second tip is social media. It's vital to keep your social platforms, even in the off seasons, regularly updated so that parents and campers can remember what your camp is all about. You can even post pictures from last season so that you're keeping the engagement going, and so that parents and campers stay in the loop, and to generate excitement for the next season. The third tip is to get feedback. Asking for regular feedback is the best way to know what's working and what's not. Setting up feedback forms throughout camp is good for knowing campers’ and parents’ immediate thoughts on how everything is going.
It's also good to send out feedback forms in the off season and ask campers and parents what they want to see more of next season and if they have any ideas for you to improve. When you ask campers and parents their thoughts, it will make them feel like they've invested in camp, which will lead to return visits.
How to keep communication going
- Use a newsletter
- Post on social media
- Get feedback
Annabel: Well, there you have how to avoid five summer camp management mistakes. If you want more tips and information and all things on summer camps, make sure to check out our guide ‘How to Start and Run a Summer Camp’.
The link is going to be sent out in our follow-up email. It's full of topics including admin, marketing, risk management, youth development, managing staff, and more. We're now going to jump into a live Q&A with camp expert Patti Samson from The Camp Nerd. Thank you so much. We will be answering your questions now.
Annabel: All right everyone. Thank you so much for listening to our presentation. I want to jump right into the Q&A. Our first question is from Ruth and she is asking ‘Any tips on running a summer camp for adults instead of children?’
Patti this might be a good question for you to answer.
Patti: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks so much for having me, first of all, Annabel. So, Ruth, I think the first thing you would need to consider is what your policies are going to be. Obviously, it might be a little different when you have children at camp versus adults at camp. Are you going to allow there to be alcohol, what will your cabin makeup look like, will it be in terms of families or couples, or what will that makeup be? Other than that, I think that you can run many of the same activities. If your camp does goggle ball, adults love to do that; they love to go swimming and all of those things.
I think the biggest complaint that I hear from adult groups is that they hate icebreakers. It makes them really uncomfortable. So, put a lot of thought into how you're starting your session and how you're front loading all of that. Make them comfortable in a way that's not too silly or kid-ish. There are some icebreakers that you can do. One example is you get everyone to take out their keys, find a partner so that everyone can talk about what each key is for, and learn where they work and what kind of car they drive, a little bit about each other. That's not necessarily getting them too far out of the comfort zone. As the session continues, they'll feel a bit more comfortable being silly and having fun that way.
The other big thing I would take into consideration is that adults typically eat more than kids. So, you might want to up your food budget just a little bit. But beyond that, they're fairly similar.
Annabel: Thank you, Patti. That's really interesting that adults don't like icebreakers.
Patti: Why would [inaudible] that ice breakers. Yeah.
Annabel: Awesome thank you. And then we have another question from Urich: ‘What is the best way to promote camp and what's the best way to communicate with parents?’
Patti: Annabel did touch on this a bit during the presentation and there was some really great advice in there. So, beyond that, I would say, be involved in your community. Reach out to schools and community organizations, ask if you can go and lead some activities and do a presentation. If there's any community fairs, go there. Always have your business card or brochure ready to hand out if you're chatting with people, which again is something that Annabel referenced in the session. You can put brochures and flyers out like your local libraries or if there's a local pediatrician or other doctors that are for children like dentists, you can pop them in those places and that will help spread the word of mouth.
The best people that you're going to have to promote your camp are your families, and they're going to tell their friends. That's the best promotion you can get. So, if you can do a family event like doing an in-home presentation and ask for support from camp families to host a couple of their kids’ friends from school and their parents, that's going to get you a lot of really positive promotion.
Annabel: Awesome, thanks Patti.
We have another question from Marianne, and this is a JotForm-related question. So, we also have David from our support team online to help answer any of the technical questions. Marianne is asking ‘How long is the HIPAA-compliant data retained in your system?’
David: HIPAA-compliant data is retained until deleted; there is no expiration date on the data. So, if your organization has any sort of limits on how long the data can be stored, it can be deleted based on timeframes. You can periodically go in and remove any data that you no longer need or is past any sort of data retention deadlines.
Annabel: Awesome. Thank you, David.
Great. We have a question from Carla. Her question is ‘We have to incorporate a medical form that the doctor has to sign. We also need to get a white-water rafting approval; they need to go to their website to send a waiver. Can both of these be done on your system?’ Carla, the answer is yes. So, with JotForm, you can create as many forms as you like for collecting medical information, for collecting your white-water rafting approval, any sort of data collection that you need you can do through a JotForm and you can create, like I said, different types of forms depending on the plan that you have.
Just check out jotform.com. You could do a free account, play around it a little bit and then decide if you'd like to upgrade after that. OK. We have a question from Norbel, and the question is ‘What are some of the bad habits during summer camp management?’ Patti, this might be a good question for you to answer.
Patti: Yeah, sure thing.
So, I think that the two biggest things I would identify would be on either end of the spectrum. The first one would be micromanaging. Not letting your people do the job they've been hired to do and meddling in what they're doing because you're so nervous. That goes back to the question “Did you train them well enough if you're so concerned that they aren't doing it well?” Maybe, there's some coaching involved but try not to micromanage. That's a big bad habit. That’s some newer directors get into. The other end of the spectrum would be burying your head in the sand, not dealing with things as they come up, and not enough being aware of things.
So, the best way to manage your camp is to be on the ground and be out of your office as much as you can. I know that's not always possible. We have parents we need to talk to, we have paperwork we need to do. But whenever you can, get out there and walk around the camp. Engage with the campers, get to know them. Then, you'll be able to see the things that are happening and address any issues without feeling like you have to do your team's jobs for them.
And if any issues do arise, address it right away. If you see something that a staff member is doing, have that conversation. Don't let it fester; don't bury your head in the sand. Because again, that's something that a lot of newer camp directors went into as it's uncomfortable having some of those conversations. But if you can avoid those things, then you'll avoid some of the bad habits that a lot of us have had to work through over the years.
Annabel: Yeah, for sure. That's really helpful advice. Thanks.
Okay, great. So next question is from Christine. David, this one is for you. She's asking, “How do people store records and what's the best way to handle registration payments for multiple weeks?”
David: All data is stored on our servers and is available from the form submission page. So, it's easily accessible. You can also send form data via email to one or many different addresses depending on who needs direct access to the data but not necessarily the JotForm account. As far as payments for multiple weeks, several of our payment processors offer ongoing subscription payments. So, say if you wanted to allow them to pay week 1 separately from week 2, but not necessarily have to submit the form twice. You could set up a subscription that has two payments, and the duration between the payments is one week.
So, essentially you would charge them twice, but they would only have to submit the form once.
Annabel: Awesome! Thank you, David.
We have a question from Anders, and Patti this one is for you. I know that you run your own camp and that you use JotForm for some of the administration. Anders is wondering “When some kids don't show up for camp that week but were signed up, what's the best way to update the lists quickly for the next day of camp?”
Patti: Yeah, I saw that. That's a great question. I think honestly for me the easiest thing that I would do is, whether you have a tablet and you transfer all your data to an excel sheet or whether you print it off, I would just kind of black out their name for that week. If it's a paper form, and if it's a day camp and you're having people sign in and out every single day, I would just put a line through it so that you know that they should have been there and they're not.
But if you're a little bit more tech savvy, and you've taken your JotForm information and put it on an Excel spreadsheet, then just color it in. Just put a black color over the cells. That way, when you're going back later, they're not completely wiped out, from that week.
You can later move them to another list. But if you're just trying to get it done quickly, I would just say that's the simplest thing that I would do although I'm not the most tech savvy person.
Annabel: Thank you, Patti. We have a question from Rebecca, that's asking “Do you have suggestions for getting parents to actually fill out forms in a timely manner? Last year, we had people missing the deadlines and not turning in information until days before camp began.” I guess, from the marketing side of things, I would recommend sending out emails and to remind them to fill out the forms.
But Patti, do you have any examples from real life or how you've gotten parents to fill out forms in a timely manner.
Patti: I'll be honest. This is a constant struggle for I think every camp director out there. My recommendation would be to limit the number of deadlines. I know some camps will have a different deadline per session. Just have one. So, if it's May 1st, it's May 1st. Everybody has to have everything in by May 1st. That'll make your life easier, that'll make their life easier because they only have that one day to remember. And you have to be firm.
Annabel referenced this in the session as well. But you really do have to, for lack of a better term, lay down the law and say, “Look, if you don't get this stuff in, there are other campers who want to come to camp. We're going to give the spot away. And for the first year or two, you might have to actually follow through with that and be really firm about it and say, “Look, if you don't get the stuff in on time, then we have to fill the spot with someone else and front load all of that.”
In the kindest way, send them a lot of information before any of that happens. Before you start making threats and taking their spot away, front load that with explaining why it's so important that you have that information. As of May, whatever, 15th, I'm going to be heading to camp. I won't have as much access. I need the information so that I can make sure that your camper spot is ready and all of that stuff that's super important to us.
Explain it to the parents and really let them know why it's so important. For example, you do have the medical forms, your nurse needs to see it.
And why you do have their intake forms? Because you need to order the t-shirts and the treats whatever. Help them understand. If it comes down to it, be firm. I have such a hard time with that, so I get it. But once you say, “Look, if you don't get it in the next three days, that spot is going to be gone.” I assure you, they'll start taking it more seriously and getting it in on time.
Annabel: That's a great tip. In general, to try to get people to fill out forms is always hard. So, setting a firm deadline sounds like a really good idea.
We also have a question from Jessica asking “How to address different parents dropping off and picking up kids? For instance, like showing ID. Should they list in the form who's allowed to pick them up, etc.?” Do you have any tips on that, Patti?
Patti: This is such an important thing so I'm so glad this question was asked. I would recommend having a list of parents. When you're asking on a JotForm who can pick up the camper, give them a couple of spaces so that they can put maybe both parents or both guardians, an aunt, uncle, whatever the case, maybe a neighbor. They can list that name and then you tell them that when they're doing drop off, the people that I have on this list verify it and say these are the only people that can pick this camper up from camp.
If anyone else shows up, we're not letting them leave. And let them know that they need to have ID when they get there. With a day camp where you're seeing them every day, you're going to get familiar with the faces when they're signing. Always have them sign in a note which will require usually a paper and a clipboard, or you can do it digitally if you have that available at your campsite. But always have them sign a note. Then, if someone else does show up to pick them up, do not let the camper leave with them. You have to make the phone call to say, “Can this camper leave?”
Don't let them make the phone call and say “Here, I have them on the phone.” Because it won't cover you. You have to be cautious of liability and if there's custody issues. The other thing to consider when you're planning for this stuff is if there was ever an emergency and you had to evacuate your campsite and everybody headed to the local fire station or the gym or something like that, how would you have campers be picked up? And so, whatever that situation would be, they show ID. You have their name listed etc.
That's what you want to be doing at camp all the time.
Annabel: That's a really good tip too. There's another question from John, Patti. He's asking, “What are the best ways to recruit, communicate, and gather information from staff?”
Patti: There's a bit of a turning point happening the last number of years. Because for a while, the simple solution was to make a Facebook group. But we all know that the young people are really on Facebook, so it's sort of become an issue. Once you get their initial information and do the application, they've been hired, etc., where do you go to communicate with them? I mean if they're willing to do Facebook, that's an easy solution. Just make a group and chat there.
But again, front loaded as part of the application process that like “I need to be able to reach you, what's the best way? Is that email? Or can we make a Slack group?”, “What kind of tools are you willing to use?” Let them know that it's part of their job to be responding to those emails if that's what you all decide. A lot of camps have moved over to Slack. I haven't personally yet, but people find it useful. I don't have the best answer for that, but my recommendation would be to let them know we have to figure out, as a group, how we're going to communicate, and it's your job to respond to my emails and read my emails, etc.
Annabel: Definitely. Actually, Slack is an interesting thought too. Because we use it in JotForm internally. I think it's such a great way to communicate, and it's fast and instant. That can be a really good way for camps to communicate as well.
Patti: Yeah, people who use it are big fans. I use it for other groups, but I've not used it for my camp groups yet.
Annabel: Yeah, that's awesome.
I think we have time for one last question today. Patti, this question’s from Aaron and he's asking, “How do you recommend keeping the staff avoiding getting in a rut when doing the same activities every day?”
Patti: Honestly, my first response would be “Don't do the same activities every day.”
I know that's not ideal but get input from your staff and ask them what they would like to be doing. Get input from your campers and ask them what they'd like to be doing. Do try to change it up. Because I was a counselor many months ago and even as a director, you do get bored and into a rut. So, really, try to switch it up. Even if it's one week and the schedule in the next week is the alternative schedule and you keep going back and forth between those two, it's better than doing the same things every single day.
Beyond that, I would say do themes. If you're doing the same activity, maybe you play goggle ball or dodgeball or go swimming and go to a local park, that's kind of your regular routine. If you put a theme on that like superheroes, that changes everything. Because then, you can be creative with how you're doing the things and why you're doing the things. You can do the exact same activities next week but if it's around the world it might have a totally different slant on it.
Annabel: Right. That's really good advice too. I mean even in day-to-day life, doing the same thing every day gets boring. So just embedding the variety into the camp when you are opening a process and planning together can be a great way to overcome that.
Patti: Absolutely. Yeah.
Annabel: OK. Awesome. Patti, I just want to say thank you again for coming on and helping us out with this live Q&A. Also, big thank you to David from JotForm support. Everyone, we will be sending out a follow-up email with a link to The Camp Nerd, which is Patti's website and also to some more material on summer camp management and JotForm’s new guide. So, make sure to stay tuned for that and we hope you enjoyed.
Patti: Thanks so much.
Annabel: Okay, thank you. Bye.