Small Is The New Big

It is that time of year again when camp professionals across the country are making their recruitment plans for next summer.

My hope is that this summer, you created a strong foundation by providing a meaningful, impactful, fun and intentional experience for your campers that focused on character development, social growth and skill development.

If you delivered all that, your efforts to recruit campers for next year will be much easier.

Let me mention that I use the term “recruitment” instead of “marketing”. It is a small thing, but I am very intentional about the terminology.

To me, recruitment speaks more about intentionality and focus, while marketing carries the idea of mass information. Recruitment is about the individual; marketing is about the product.

I believe there are two options when it comes to recruiting campers, and I will refer to them as micro (recruitment) and macro (marketing).

Micro can be defined as localized or focusing on a restricted area. Macro can be defined as large, great or excessive.

Macro will tell you to spend money on slick, color brochures that cost a lot of money and have plenty of words in them. Macro will tell you to buy mailing lists of your demographic. Macro will tell you to mail these slick brochures to this large mailing list.

Macro will not tell you that this is not a cost-effective or successful way to find and attract campers.

Micro will tell you to communicate with your present customers. Micro will tell you to build trust. Micro will tell you to listen first. Micro will tell you to focus on a community, school or neighborhood.

Micro will tell you that word of mouth is king.

This year, we can continue to do what we’ve always done (macro) or try something new (micro).

Small is the new big when it comes to filling your camp with campers.

Focus your efforts, improve quality, listen to your customers, utilize word of mouth, own a community.

The benefits will be a more loyal following (higher retention) and lower cost (brochures and mailing lists are expensive).

Dave Bell has directed day and resident camp programs for more than 15 years. Currently, he is the Executive Director of Camping Services for the YMCA of Greater Seattle. He is a former American Camp Association Southeast Section board member, a certified Y-USA Day Camp Director Trainer and a Y-USA partner YMCA camp consultant. Reach him via e-mail at