Get A Jump On Next Summer

By Elissa K. Miller
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / sbworld9

For most camps, autumn is the time to take a deep breath and recover. Sure, you might still need to manage weekend programs and facility rentals, and holiday camps are about to begin, but nothing in the fall involves the intense commitment of summer-camp planning, registration, and management.

While it’s tempting to put off thinking about next year’s camps, October and November are actually the perfect time to strategize in order to make registration and administration easier for camp families and staff members.

Debrief, Debrief, Debrief
It’s worth the time and effort to debrief all staff members on what worked well and what could be improved. Year-round staff and volunteers can share their perspectives on the strengths and weaknesses they encountered. Survey summer counselors—even if they’re back at school, their summer was important to them, and their insights can be valuable. And, of course, seek honest feedback from camp families.

In addition to identifying opportunities for improvement, a systematic debrief can help create a comprehensive list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs); these can empower staff members and campers to sail through the registration, preparation, and check-in process.

Revisiting Fee Structures
Autumn is also a good time to revisit fee structures. Do you need to change the rates or offer early discounts, discounts for multiple sessions, late fees, or special pricing for members? Make every effort to simplify the structure so it supports your needs, while still being easy for camp families to understand. When offering payment schedules, be sure to clearly communicate due dates, penalties, and the calculation for the amount due for each installment. (Online registration software can make payment schedules easier by automatically calculating payments and due dates.)

Information, Please
To make it easy for people to find information about next year’s camps, make sure that all of the information is available from a single Web page (create a page, like www.examplecamp.org/ Camp2014 ). In addition to the standard material about session and registration dates, include FAQs as soon as possible—the sooner families receive that information, the more likely they’ll read it. And add a link that lets people sign up for emails about registration dates and other information. They’ll appreciate the reminder, and you can get sessions filled faster.

But no matter how efficient and thorough the communication, people will continue to call to ask questions that have already been answered. Devise a training plan to ensure staff members or volunteers who answer the phone and reply to emails always have the most up-to-date information, and use a standard method to document requests for callbacks or other follow-ups. Staff members who respond to emails should be able to copy and paste answers into their replies, as well as send a copy of the complete FAQ or direct people to a specific location on the website.

Simplify Forms
Filling out forms can be the most burdensome part of the registration process, but a few steps can make the task easier. For those who distribute forms by PDF for families to return by mail or fax, set the forms up so families can type answers directly into the form before they print it. They’ll appreciate the convenience.

Many camps find the easiest way to collect information is through online forms, which eliminate the need for staff members to re-enter information. For those using these forms, be sure to collect all of the necessary information (with special attention to the fields that are required and those that are optional). In addition, sometimes forms are inadvertently required for each session when they’re really only needed once—for example, make sure that the required medical form is completed only once for each camper.

Streamline The Check-In Process
With hundreds of campers (and their bags) arriving at the same time, check-in frequently becomes a bottleneck. Based on feedback from volunteers and staff members, is there anything that can be done to streamline the check-in? Is adequate parking available or at least available staff to provide direction in the parking lot? Are the lines at certain stations too long, and if so, why? Consider an automated solution in which a receipt can be scanned to check campers in and to identify any missing materials.

Test, Test, Test
If using an online management system, set up and test next year’s camp structure now. (The software should allow you to configure and test information and registration without making the process visible to the public.)

If the offerings are similar to last year’s, check whether the software allows you to copy the program and adjust the dates and other information—thus avoiding re-entering detailed information about programs or trying to remember all of the configuration settings.

For those who plan to use the software to generate rosters or reports, make sure that you know exactly what information will be used so it can be collected during registration. And make sure that the roster or report writer can put the information in the desired format; you don’t want to wait until the week before camp to find you can’t extract the needed data.

What Else? Let Us Know!
This list is far from exhaustive, but hopefully it will provide some direction for making next year’s camp even better. Do you have any suggestions about planning for next year? Let us know at www.camp-business.com .

Elissa K. Miller is a freelance writer and technical communications manager in Silicon Valley, who is passionate about helping nonprofits and youth-serving organizations like camps use technology to support their missions. She is also the author of The Dollar Tree Gourmet: 30 Surprisingly Good Recipes Using Only Dollar Store Ingredients . Visit her at www.dollarstoredame.com.