Out in Front

So the summer is coming to a close and all most people want to think about is well-deserved rest and relaxation... Heck, maybe even get to bed before 10 p.m. for the first time in 12 weeks!

True, much needed, and well deserved! But consider hanging on for one or two more weeks to ensure a brighter future a year from now.

Camper recruitment is a process that is year-round, but very important steps can be taken during the summer and directly after the conclusion of a summer to help make the next summer even better.

Educate our Clients

During the summer why not educate our clients about the future? Why not have information about next summer available for everyone leaving camp? The rates, dates and ability to pre-register, not to mention advertise for all fall events and camper weekends.

Let your current campers know before they leave the grounds after having such a wonderful experience about ways to continue the fun... Labor Day family camp, Halloween camp, winter camp, fall colors, leadership weekends and so on… These should be already planned and the information ready to go home with summer campers.

Also, why not include a letter to parents about rate changes and why for the next summer? Why not warn and allow our parents to plan a year in advance? A camp director may answer this question by saying that parents simply don't do that. Really? Have we taught them to do that? Have we created an incentive to register a year in advance? Have we educated them about how many waiting lists we have for programs, and have we informed them that this is an opportunity for them before open registration for new campers?

It is difficult to blame the public for trends and behavior if we have not taken on the responsibility of training and educating them on ways they can better do it.

This year we are continuing our pre-registration drive for parents to do before the holidays. All summer long dates for 2006 went home with parents, including a letter explaining a rate change for 2006 and why (counselor pay and program operating costs were the main reasons).

Incentive to Motivate Action

The worst thing I have ever heard about human beings is that we are naturally lazy. Then I thought about my own quickness to action to do things that I can put off for later.

I am a procrastinator by nature. You need to give me a reason why I need to make something a priority and then I'll get it done. Well, it's really not important what your philosophy on the subject of human procrastination is, what is important is that we're selling something, and if you want people to move on the sale of your product you need to make it worth their effort to do it six or nine months earlier than they normally would.

Included in the letter sent home are ways we have come up with to make pre-registration better for the family and help them to deal with the new rates.

For example, any registration received before December 15 would result in a $15 discount off of the 2006 rates. Also, a t-shirt and certificate would be mailed to the families for the holidays to give to their camper as a gift.

We instituted monthly payments for families effective January 1, allowing for six months of payments before the summer starts. Lastly, we continued to push the ability to pay for summer camp in installments over time. People like to write smaller amounts on a regular basis instead of one huge amount on their credit card or checkbook.

Informed Repetition

During the summer basic information on dates and programs to be offered the following summer is sent home, with the notice of rate increases for the next year and that a pre-registration system will be forthcoming.

Most important, as mentioned previously, is an explanation of why rates are changing. Two weeks after the close of summer camp we are re-sending this letter, with a fall newsletter and a pre-registration form with all the program fees and offerings for 2006. This program leads to retention, retention, and retention.

One of best marketing realities I have read and lived is that it costs less to keep the client you have than it costs to try and recruit a brand new one.

To be able to offer all the program offerings we hold brainstorming sessions throughout the summer and in concentration the first two weeks after summer closes. This is when we adjust the schedule and decide on what programs to re-offer or scrap, and brainstorm new programs thought up throughout the summer season.

When a camp director can get their team to the point of working on one summer while conducting the current summer, the energy of change and innovation takes place. The current summer is continually tweaked, improved upon and used as inspiration for future summer programs.

I find more creativity comes from the freshness of being in the summer experience with the summer staff and getting their ideas about possible changes in the program. The very last week is difficult because they are tired and focused on their next steps, but if a camp director can get their ideas, work with their full-time staff to implement them and then give our parents and campers a heads-up, then you make the future easier to bring about.

A fall newsletter, a winter newsletter and spring newsletter are essential to the idea of repetition and to creating an informed client base.

We have experienced over-mailing where our parents and campers were getting something from us every couple of weeks. We became part of the junk mail system that most households have to deal with.

Quarterly, with important announcements sporadically placed, has yielded the best results for us. Also, informational mailings through your group camping and conference groups will also help get the word out about new programs.

New Clients

After covering the retention field, we look for new clients. First off, use your existing clients! Send multiple brochures home to existing clients asking them to pass them along to a friend. Two things are accomplished... 1) The printed material gets into the hands of someone not on your mailing list 2) Your existing camper and camper parent becomes your salesperson, and they tell people why they go to your facility. That's the best salesperson you can ask for... a participant.

We mail the brochure to our existing campers three times, in January, March and May.

Here are some ideas for cold contacts:

1. Churches and youth group mailings: Use informative postcards about the experience.

2. Movie theater slide show advertisements: The population of campers you are looking for still go to the movies, and this gets the idea in front of them and their parents. Use great pictures.

3. On-line search engines for camps.

4. School fliers: These informative fliers go home with the student and directly into the hands of the parents.

5. Local summer activity fairs: A lot of communities have summer activity fairs for children. Check with your local school district and reserve a booth during the fair.

6. Board and volunteer recruitment drives: Challenge your board and volunteers to recruit first-year campers through their friends and family. Make it a race or competition between volunteers and offer a great reward for being the year's best recruiter.

7. E-mail recruitment: Ask contacts, volunteers, board members and friends to forward an electronic version of your brochure to all their contacts and organizations! Very quickly and electronic flier will go out to thousands of people. It's free.

Now take it a step further and give your parents and campers the information they need to also be working a year in advance. I once heard a camp director say that for every bad year of programming it takes three to outrun the poor reputation created, because you lose your sale force with a poor quality year. Your campers and parents don't represent you well and your retention goes down, forcing camp directors to spend a fortune in new recruitment and blanketing approaches to finding campers to try them out.

Make working a year in advance fun, use your summer staff while you have them, and talk to campers and parents and keep them in the most honest loop possible about your plans for the program, fees, and future. They will help you because they believe in what we do and the experience we provide. Good luck!

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

Bryan BuchkoComment