Connecting For Keeps

Create Lasting Relationships With Your Campers' Parents

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This morning, I took a phone call from a 2nd year camp mom. She had a few questions about packing and wanted to make sure all of her son’s forms had been submitted. But I sensed there was something else on her mind… she seemed to be holding back.

I needed to encourage her to open up. On a whim, I turned the tables and asked for her insight: “You know, MY son is attending for the first time this year — do you have any feedback about your child’s experience last year?”

I had presented her the opportunity to be heard and understood, and the floodgates opened. Her feedback – positive and negative – was invaluable. She even offered a few subtle tweaks and great ideas that will improve the experiences of all of our campers moving forward.

The Loyalty Loop


Camp directors take the time to listen and to read between the lines. They recognize that if campers aren’t happy, parents aren’t happy. Camp directors know they are in the business of customer service. However, these characteristics are no longer enough to keep our camp families in “The Loyalty Loop.” It is requisite for us to distinguish what keeps our “loop” alive.

Consider the campers. When they don’t enjoy camp, we tend to hear sentences that begin with phrases like, “I didn’t have,” “I would rather,” and “I wish.” While these might actually be relative to real and significant issues, in many cases they boil down to problems with perception. The power of perception can greatly impact a camper’s experience. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what you do… it’s the child’s perception of why you do it that matters.

“Even if your camper’s perceptions about camp are positive, parents can still negatively impact your return rates.”

Even if your camper’s perceptions about camp are positive, parents can still negatively impact your return rates. If the parent lacks commitment to and understanding of your camp experience, that child will often not return. Parents seem to think that camp is often “too much” of something their child (or they) don’t need or want. Parents who do not re-enroll their children are often lacking a commitment to the idea of “Camp,” or more specifically, were unimpressed with what you delivered. Parents who were campers and who now have high expectations that their child’s camp experience and enthusiasm about camp will mirror their own are often disappointed by subtle shifts in tradition or leadership. If we don’t take the time to address the perspectives and expectations of all of our parents, we risk disappointing the customer.

Cultivating the commitment to camp is important. As such, former campers and staff become the foundation for building this commitment. After all, recounting a memorable camp experience is given far more weight than a social media review. But sometimes we lose track of those valuable alumni. Without continued connection, they may have forgotten about camp. In these cases, camp alumni have become disconnected with the impact, importance, and influence of the camp experience. Thus, their commitment to camp is lacking.

Staff, too, can impact camper retention. They are often some of the most vocal advocates of the camp experience. Much research has been dedicated to “the needs of Millennials.” In reality, Millennial staff members seek the same return as our parents, campers, and alumni: a sense of purpose and direction.

They need the “why” of camp.


Communicating the “why” of camp is much like riding a bicycle. The more we practice riding, the more smoothly we will change gears, the more efficient we become in the saddle, and the more competent and confident we will be as we travel on our chosen paths. Think of your organization’s mission, vision and core values as the front wheel of the bike … where it points, you go. In effect, it is your “why.”

The front wheel only rotates because the chain and the rear wheel work together to provide momentum. The rear wheel contains all of the “what” and the “how” of your camp: the activities, the training, the resources, your website, your social media presence, etc. The chain contains the “who”: directors, seasonal, and year-round staff, board members, community partners, alumni, parents, and campers. We connect for keeps by ensuring that everyone who makes up the chain understands that they are an integral part of making sure the “why” of camp continues to roll on and move forward. It is our responsibility as camp professionals to do the work and keep the chain moving. When facing challenges, it is important that we do not lose our momentum (or, the focus of our mission and vision).

We are operating in a much more transparent, value-added economic environment. Today’s families want to know and understand what their child will gain from a camp experience.

It is our responsibility to articulate not only the value of our programs, but the value of Camp as a whole. The goal, of course, is amplification in a very noisy environment.

In our marketing materials and in our day-to-day communication, we need to share specific, objective, and relevant information about our “why.” We need to give specific examples of what our mission looks like, what it sounds like, and what it feels like for campers, staff, parents, and alumni. We need to recognize the power of objective data. We need to track and share youth development outcomes, retention, marketing trends, and anything else that can help develop a broader understanding of the impacts of camp. We must connect to larger populations by understanding and employing today’s cultural vernacular (why be “tough” when you can be “gritty?”).

Great things often take a great deal of time and energy. Building and maintaining successful relationships should be one of your primary roles as a camp director. These relationships, combined with a strict adherence to your mission, will fuel the endurance necessary to keep you pedaling that bike. There will be some steep pitches and some fast descents, but there will also be incredible strength and wisdom gained on the journey.

– Ariella Randle Rogge, sanbornwesterncamps.com


Article originally published in CampMinder Magazine, Vol. 4

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