Reevaluating the Camp, Part 1

So the interviews are done, the proposal has been accepted and the start date has been set! You arrive on your first day and introduce yourself to the staff that you have not met through the interview process. They show you to your office and you read the welcome cards from other members of the organization (if you're lucky to get some). Now what?

Related Article: Reevaluating the Camp, Part 2

Taking over a new operation or reevaluating your current one is always a daunting task. There are an overwhelming number of places to start.

On my first day at YMCA Camp Kern I was aware of some of the possible problems I would be facing -- personnel, budget, annual campaign, board development, program failure, retention, facility enhancement, marketing and customer service. Which one to start with?

Each one is vital to a camp's success. In my case, the path chosen had a very happy ending by the end of the first year. The order approached was as follows: Personnel and budget, board/committee development, program restructuring (training and operation), customer service, marketing and retention.


On arrival a new director would love to re-write the budget, but nine times out of ten the new director inherits the previous director's budget.

Sometimes this is great, if the camp has been doing well. Or, it can be awful if the camp has not been meeting its financial needs for success.

It is essential that a new director find out how the budget was being managed. Does each department head run their departmental budgets or does the director attempt to control all financial matters directly?

In the case of our example the budget had been written and the staff did not have individual department budget control... Priority one was to dissect the budget and understand it while comparing it to previous years.

Become a budget detective by viewing the budget in its most easily grasped form -- department revenue and expense. Compare last year's actual to the previous years, and farther back if the data is available.

This internal, individual audit gives you a financial view of when programming was changed and departments were switched around. You can see the highs as lows and compare them to where things changed. Also, this allows you to understand the reasons for the current budget. Now you come to a conclusion based on your research.

In this case it was found that there was $150,000 unplanned in revenue.

In our example, department heads were immediately trained in budget management. Each director was given an Excel spreadsheet outlining their current budget. Columns were added for them to place in actuals and to do future projections.

Both revenue and expense lines were recorded and given to the department heads. Procedures were created for writing variance reports, making monthly review of yearly projections and the recording of monthly actuals as they were established.

The mere returning of ownership to the directors changed the attitude and approach to camp budgeting.

Next, create an atmosphere of total honesty with your supervisors. I informed my supervisor of how we could work within the budget mainframe but needed a little leeway in monthly spreads.

When a director shows their conclusions and their plan for managing the finances it makes it easier for a new supervisor to work with you. We received total support in our new financial management approach.

Training! Training! Training! Teaching the department directors how to manage their budgets and giving them control changes attitudes immediately. The beginning of approaching the personnel issues is the changing of the supervisor's attitudes!


It comes from the top down! And by leadership! The first best piece of advice that this director ever received is to meet with everyone on the payroll. That means everyone!

Why? They get a feel for you and you get a chance to see what hand you have been dealt. Nine times out of ten just being heard relieves the problems and stress that staff is under.

I met with some staff who had never spoken with the camp director in their time at the camp. It cannot be stressed enough the importance of listening and learning from your staff.

Whether you're new to the position or have been at camp for awhile, it's important to talk to everyone, especially if you're in a reevaluation phase.

In the individual meetings you want to establish the vision direction you bring to the camp. Here it's the idea and practice of Kids and Guests First!

It's a simple enough slogan but a much harder philosophy to train and establish. A plan needs to be created initially and then modified by the staff as a whole. All-staff meetings are the next step.

All-staff meetings are scary when they are held without structure and focus. Avoid unorganized meetings at all costs!

After holding the individual staff meetings, you will first make the necessary staff changes. This usually results in the parting of ways between the camp and the staff who are not interested in signing on with the new direction. Wish them luck and good fortune.

In our case, the all-staff meeting was held first to share the budget with the entire staff. We showed where camp has been for the past four years, our current retention rate, and the current obstacles to our budget.

The staff has a right to know. They have a right to be able to assist with the problems. Show them that how they treat our guests affects our retention and income.

Next, we discussed the underlying philosophy wrapped up in Kids and Guests First, what this means and how we implement it. What does it mean to them? How should camp approach this? Get their input.

Lastly, the choice of excellence! Inform the staff you are here for the kids and to make the camp and staff better. You want them to feel the same way.

Explain that the only way to accomplish excellence is to decide personally to be excellent. Pass out index cards and ask them to write down promises to themselves. Collect the cards and share them at each all-staff, then discuss them with the owner of the card individually.

The all-staff meeting should be held quarterly. Always share the current status of the camp financially and in the eyes of guests through evaluations.

Remind them of their promises and review your philosophy plan and customer service agenda. A total team effort will bring the staff along with you and to the camp's aid.

Remember that all of this is only accomplished through consistent leadership from the director. Your word must stand for something. You must be viewed as fair and equal in dealing with your own people. You must be able to be wrong and admit it. Make your promises and keep them.

These leadership qualities add to the motivation for following you and your plans. Stay positive and do not lose your temper in embarrassing ways or situations where you belittle yourself and those around you.

Over the course of the year, we plan to go item by item, identifying each possible aspect of running a camp that we possibly can. Our hope is to provide ideas and solutions to perplexing problems, or just to tweak the process a bit to make running a camp easier and more efficient.

Good luck!

Jeff Merhige is the executive director of YMCA Camp Kern, Dayton YMCA, Dayton, Ohio.

Bryan BuchkoComment