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Everything You Need To Know About Camper Retention You Learned In Kindergarten


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Mar 13, 2009, 5:16 PM

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If these financial times are making you take an extra look at your expenses, don't forget to also focus on aspects about your camp that are not easily measured by bookkeeping but still play an important role in your success.

In Robert Fulghum's book, "All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten," he discusses the things he learned in Kindergarten and how those simple lessons are all we really need to know about how to live and what to do. Those same lessons fittingly apply to what you can inexpensively do within your camp environment to help retention and be a positive factor when you are recruiting campers (and staff) to your program.

  • Share everything: a twist on the open door policy. Make sure that you have open communication between all levels of staff if you can. It makes a difference when your counselors feel comfortable approaching you or their supervisors when they have an issue or a concern. You may or may not be able to accommodate for all the issues, but your staff will get a sense of empowerment if they feel they are being heard. Moreover, if you need to make some cutbacks, get your staff involved with the problem solving. The different perspectives can give you some great ideas in cutting costs. Your staff will also feel more involved and part of the team if they are part of the decision making process.

  • Clean up your own mess and put things back where you found them: Some of the negative feedback that unsatisfied parents consistently give about the camp experience is with regards to the cleanliness of the camp and the condition of the facilities. As with any high use traffic area or an extremely activity packed day, normal wear and tear and a slack in organization is inevitable, but make a big effort in keeping your camp in presentable shape. Your facilities is one of the aspects parents will initially notice when they visit your camp. You want to make sure you give them a good first and lasting impression. Parents will feel better leaving their children with you. You might have a great program, but if parents see you not taking care of your facilities, what makes them think you will be able to take care of their children and provide them a safe and healthy environment? It is important to be diligent about keeping areas clean and repairing facilities when they are small fixes before they eventually become a large expense if left untouched. It will save you time and money, not to mention campers!

  • Flush. Think of this as your risk management. Cut out what's toxic in your camp that is an unnecessarily large drain on your time, money, energy and resources. This can include a vendor that does not deliver what they promise that you are constantly calling to get issues resolved, avoidable problems between staff that can be fixed with adequate training, or a camp activity that seems to cause the most injuries (do you need protective equipment? Not use the area for a while? Etc). Don't let those items sit and fester. It's easier and more cost effective to prevent what you can than fix it later.

  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. It's something you enjoyed and made you feel good as a kid; something you can still appreciate with a nostalgic comfort as an adult; something you were excited to tell your friends about and have them try because it was just that good. It's the same thing with the camp experience. Campers and parents who have a good experience know the benefits and will continue to invest in camp even during tough times. They'll even tell their friends! These are your advertisers that require minimal investment in money and time. Capitalize on that word-of-mouth referral and personal endorsement. Maintain excellent service, touch base with your current customers to maintain a good relationship, foster a sense of community, and encourage current members to bring a long someone to check out your camp!

  • Live a balanced life- learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. What is it that you provide your campers? Know what your camp goals are. Make sure everyone knows what they are too. When people budget, they will cut materialistic needs first, but will give a second thought to cutting a service that benefits their (or their children's lives). Emphasize your marketing message of what is best about your camp and what you offer. Is your message clear? Does it come across in your marketing/website? Provide meaningful photos and tell the value of the experience you will provide. When that's all said and done, make sure to deliver. You might be successful in getting someone to come in and see your camp, but you won't have a commitment if what they actually see isn't what you promised.

  • When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together. If you notice that a regular camper isn't returning or your general return numbers are lower than before, take the time to reach out to those members. Is their current situation (whether financial or personal) something you can work with? Provide them with other options if you can. It will show that you care, keep the experience personalized, continue to build the relationship and keep them engaged with your camp. If they still can't afford going this year after you've talked, you will still leave a good impression, so when they are able to look at camp options again, you will be at the top of their list.

  • Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. Get feedback after every season. What worked? What didn't work? Take what parents and campers had the most negative feedback about. Since they are the ones actually going through the experience, they might be able to provide some insight that you don't catch as director/owner/leader. Listen to their concerns and see what you can do to fix those issues. It shows that you care. It also shows responsiveness.

  • Say please and thank you. Even if you can't afford to pay your counselors as much, positive reinforcement and praise will go a long way to show your appreciation to your counselors- especially your returning ones! Not only will your counselors most likely return for another season, they will be happy to work at your camp which will trickle down to their interaction with your campers. As mentioned in last month's newsletter, happy staff means happy campers which leads to a great camping experience!

    In comparing competitors who are identical in most respects against each other, customers will often return and stay loyal to the place that they feel gave them the best service. Even during tough times, customers will pick the more expensive option if they feel the investment is worth it for the way they are treated. You can provide the same perks as the camp next door, but your edge in retaining and recruitment will be in providing a service campers/parents cannot get any where else by establishing trust and loyalty through relationship building.

    Original Kindergarten lesson list from: Fulghum, Robert. All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten. Ballantine Books, 2004. Visit his website here.
    Charisse Formanes
    Content Manager -

    (This post was edited by CharisseMSC on Mar 23, 2009, 10:55 AM)


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