Being new to the job in this industry is really challenging, as is reevaluating and revamping it. As referred to in the last article a new director, or one who's evaluating and working to improve the camp, has to establish a staff culture right away, guided by the vision he or she brings to it.
After establishing this vision and the team atmosphere to approach it, it's time to get to the details of running a camp. The details include creating a system of support made up of volunteers and advisors.
No one can do it alone. It's a simple lesson but one that seems to be difficult to remember in the camp industry. We all are so used to doing it ourselves.
As program directors we can all tell stories of all the programs we ran at once, and all of the extras we still had time to do. All camp directors I speak to seem to have the same opinion when talking about the amount of work we have -- it's huge. To help achieve all that our vision outlines, the development of a good committee system and board is required.
Here at YMCA Camp Kern we established five committees: Building and Grounds, Program and Special Events, Outdoor Education, Equestrian, and Alumni.
The committees are made up of a staff liaison, a board member to chair the committee and volunteers. I cannot stress enough the importance of a good committee system. These are people who have a vested interest in your camp and will spread the word about your camp through their work with it and general word of mouth to others.
Try to ask people to join you who have work experience that could be beneficial to the camp. I don't know how to design a building! But one of the Building and Grounds committee members is an architect! He does, and will design for the camp. And if he doesn't, he can help us through the process.
Committees are brainstorming sessions, and experts who the camp director can call on for advice and answers. Combined with the board, the committees are the library in which a camp director can research.
A great committee system allows volunteers to get a little more involved with your camp. It creates a bond and cultivates volunteers who may be ready to become board members.
The board is made up volunteers who represent all the areas a camp needs to run. The board members serve as chairpersons of the sub committees.
The board gives the results of the committee work and votes (policy and or advice) to the operation of the camp. A great board should be represented in experience for all the areas a camp director needs to be successful in running a business, and they should be community leaders of all calibers, who have a passion for what camp represents.
I have spoken to old directors who have had my position and they tell me stories of having great and bad boards. A great board is one when you can walk into a room and say, "Here's the problem I am facing…" and the board responds with solving the problem by contacting the right people and surfing the right channels to fix or get what the camp needs.
A little warning about committees and boards! Make sure that you have clear objectives and outlines for committee and board members.
Leaving volunteers without guidance and boundaries can allow your board and committee to lose focus on the productive goals. No one wants their ides to always be lost in the committee process. You want ideas to be examined, improved and then implemented, not talked to death before they have the chance to live.
Once your board of advisors is created, and a committee system to support them, there is another area that a camp director should always keep and eye on -- development.
Here in the YMCA we have annual campaigns. These campaigns range in purpose from sustaining campaigns (assisting operation) and endowment campaigns to purely scholarship campaigns (where we raise money to send kids and families to camp). All types are important to a camp and branch operation and longevity.
No matter what your campaign type, you must actively pursue organizing and setting up a functional campaign. Here we run a Kids to Camp campaign, which is a purely scholarship-focused campaign.
The YMCA has very established ways in running annual campaigns, from recruiting volunteers to work on the campaign to the actual gift asking and soliciting. We encourage any and all camp directors to research campaigns and design the one that best fits your organization and need.
There are annual campaign trainings and fundraising seminars. Research is the first step. Include in your research how to make the ask.
As for Camp Kern we changed our campaign from being a mail-out pledge card campaign to a team phone call and letter of solicitation campaign.
We organized board and staff members into teams, recruited campaigners from the committees and outside, set goals, had training and provided samples and guides to everything from letters for past donors and cold contacts. It was fun!
It is essential that once you set off down this road that you set up trainings for your campaigners and staff. Create an internal support system for your campaigners to call for help and materials. Giving samples of letters and even scripts of what to say will help. Cue cards with major points to remember are beneficial. But most of all make sure that, no matter what the project, you clearly explain what their money will be used for.
Sometimes fundraising has a bad stigma. Truthfully, I hated fundraising for years. Only in the past five years did I realize how much fun it is.
Unless your ideas cost nothing, and unless you have unlimited capital to improve you camp and add new structures and programs, fundraising will be a part of your camping career.
The idea of asking people for money is difficult. But remember, there are people out there who share your passion for what you do. Share your passion and your story, and those people will be there to help you accomplish it. Why? Because they are accomplishing something they care about through you.
Explain your vision, the goals you have set and how you want to reach them. There will be those who don't agree, and those who do. With each yes you come closer to accomplishing all that you have set out to do! Good luck.
Jeff Merhige is the executive director of YMCA Camp Kern, Dayton YMCA, Dayton, Ohio.