20 Questions You Should Ask Before Buying Summer Camp Software

Camp directors are tasked with the impossible: Finding order in camp’s unrelenting business cycle.

That’s the nature of camp. It’s a continuous, year-round process. If you blink in spring, next thing you know, it’s the first day of camp.

camp-management-softwareBut camp pros don’t have to rely on supreme organization skills to ensure things run smoothly. There’s a better way. Directors can leverage summer camp software to keep up with – and heck, even get ahead – of the sprint to summer.

The challenge though is finding a camp management platform that fits seamlessly into your workflow. And with a range of options on the market, that’s no easy task.

But as you research tools, here’s a strategy that can help you along the way: Ask the right questions.

Shopping for camp software should be like an interview for a new employee. You don’t have to settle for technology that doesn’t wow you. In fact, after talking to camp software companies, you should be saying: “Hey, this software would fit perfectly on my team.”

So as you prep for researching new technologies, think about what you will be asking. These 20 questions will ensure your tech shopping is more informed and leave you with a strong sense of how a solution will enable you to work smarter.

  1. How Will the Software Help Me Work Smarter?

A camp management platform has many practical uses. But many of them may not be obvious. That’s why starting with a broad question will give you insights into A) what the software is and B) what it can help you do.

A simple definition: An online camp platform is a tool for organizing your data, like camper health forms and transportation schedules. But it does a lot more than data storage. A unified platform also makes it easier for you to share that data with your staff.

You can think of it like a centralized digital filing cabinet that you can allow your various teams to access. By having that single source of truth, your staffers will be empowered to make informed decisions faster.

2. What Areas of Camp Does the Software Support?

Here’s some good news: Many camp technology vendors offer their programs a la carte. In other words, you only pay for the pieces you use.

So be sure the software has the functionalities you need. Ask about the types of modules that are available. Some of the most popular include: Online camp registration (i.e. software that allows parents to register and pay online), health record management, transportation scheduling, camper record management, and fundraising tools.

3. What about My Existing Technology?

Chances are, you’ve already invested in data management or marketing technology. And you don’t want those investments to go to waste. That’s another camp director master skill: Resourcefulness.

But fortunately, many camp technologies work alongside or in tandem with your legacy systems.

So make sure you ask about the software’s compatibility with Your existing hardware, database software, and IT equipment. For instance, many camp platforms accept data from existing CRM platforms. That means all that useful camper data you’ve spent years storing doesn’t have to go to waste. Instead, it fits right into your new workflows.

4. How Will It Help Me Be More Efficient? Can It Really Fit Into My Existing Operations?

It’s best to learn new software by doing. To experiment and try it out. That’s why it’s so challenging to visualize how it will fit into your day-to-day operations.

As you shop, though, it’s important to ask how it works with your existing process. The best summer camp software fits seamlessly into your workflow. It should help make your mission-critical tasks — like how you accept registrations, for instance – more user-friendly, more efficient and faster.

Vendors should help you “see” this. But you should absolutely get a feel for the software by scheduling a demo. This will give you a hands-on look at how it works, how easily you get the hang of it and understand how it can make you more efficient.

5. Is the Software User-Friendly?

Awesome camp technology shouldn’t require a computer science degree to use. You’re not an IT professional, after all. One great trick: Choose a vendor that serves camps exclusively, a vendor that understands the work that you do and designs technology for use by camp professionals.

If the vendor meets that benchmark, chances are, the software they develop will closely align with your needs.

That’s a good start, but you’ll also want to ask some specific questions like: Is the software accessible for non-technical people? Does the company offer videos, how-to guides and online training to get staffers up to speed? Do they provide helpful support via phone?

6. What’s the Realistic Timeline for Implementation?

Lots of sales people like to say: Our software can be installed in no time! Or they might offer a timetable that’s a best-case scenario.

The truth is: Implementation is dependent on a number of variables. The software company you choose should ask about your camp and provide a realistic assessment. That’s likely to depend on things like: the difficulty of data migration, the type of data you’re migrating, and the number of users, etc.

One quick tip: Ask the vendor how long camps similar in size and age to yours took to implement a specific solution.

7. What Is My Role in Preparing for The Software?

As a camp director, you don’t have a lot of free time to manage software implementation. Fortunately, the best camp management software is designed for speedy deployment. And great vendors love to lend a hand and ensure the process goes smoothly.

What will be your role in all of this? Be sure to find a provider that offers comprehensive support. You shouldn’t settle for a vendor who won’t return your calls after the sale. Instead, choose a provider that wants to learn about your existing data, determine how difficult a migration project may be, and offer advice and a helping hand through the project. camp-management-software

8. How Does the Platform Integrate Into My Website?

You’ve spent a lot of time and resources building a beautiful website. And the last thing you want to do is plug a registration app on your site that’s an eyesore.

Not only would that hurt your brand image, it might even confuse or alarm visitors. You don’t want to do that. You want them to feel like they’ve never left. And the best providers understand how important this is. So be straightforward and ask for examples.

9. Is the Software Hosted? Do I Pay Data Storage Costs?

Here’s a term that you might hear as you shop: SaaS, or Software as a Service. Sounds a little complex, but the idea is easy to grasp. Essentially, it means users pay a subscription fee, and then can access the software via the web.

More importantly, SaaS programs are “hosted,” meaning the software developer manages the software’s IT infrastructure, maintenance and data storage. A SaaS program benefits your camp in some awesome ways:

  • Lower initial costs, i.e. no capital expenditures for new hardware
  • Lower IT maintenance costs
  • Mobility, since you can access the software from any device with an internet connection

Non-hosted programs, which aren’t web-based or online platforms, require you to house the data on your own server. As you research options, be sure you understand how the software is delivered, where your data is stored, and who is in charge of data management.

10. What Is the Real Cost of Ownership?

Pricing: It’s probably high up there on your list of considerations, and for a lot of customers, talking numbers can be nerve-wracking. But it shouldn’t be.

A few rules of thumb: Choose a vendor that’s transparent about pricing. You shouldn’t be required to pay hidden fees, registration costs, or maintenance fees. You should feel informed, and have an exact idea of the financial obligations. Be sure you understand:

  • Monthly subscription costs
  • How many users are included in the plan (or if you might need additional licenses)
  • If a la carte pricing is available for specific modules
  • Credit card processing fees (if you’re using online registration)

11. Will My Camper’s Data Be Secure?

Data security is one of your top concerns. That’s understandable. Your camp likely accepts lots of sensitive information. And your reputation counts on protecting that data.

Chances are, though, that you’re not a data security expert. And vendors shouldn’t expect you to be. Instead, they should try to make these complex tech subjects accessible to you, so you understand how online data is protected. Be sure to ask:

  • What security measures are used to encrypt and secure data?
  • Who can access the data? Does the company audit this access?
  • Where is the data stored? Is the data stored on a public or private cloud?

Data security also includes measures the vendor takes to prevent data loss. To learn more about data loss prevention, you can ask: What backup measures does the vendor use? Can you access your data in the event of a power outage? And how does the vendor prevent downtime?

12. Can I Customize the Platform to Align with My Needs?

Technology isn’t like buying screws. You shouldn’t have to buy the sizes available and accept the fit. The best camp management tools allow options for tailoring. You should have the control to make it fit your camp perfectly.

Ask about customization. You should be able to set parameters and protocols for storing records; to build custom forms that collect the information you need; and to mix and match software modules that fit specific needs in your organization.

13. What Does the Payment Process Look Like?

Accepting online payments is essential in today’s marketplace. It helps parents save time, encourages on-time payment, and it can improve your cash flow.

But if you’re new to online payments, it’s hard to visualize how it all works. Here are a few questions to ask that will make you look like an e-commerce expert:

  • What type of payment schedule is available? Auto debiting? Payment plans?
  • How are payments handled? Does the company use a third-party processor?
  • What types of fees are associated with credit card processing?
  • What types of payments are included? ACH? Credit and debit? PayPal?

14. Is the Software Stable? Is It Reliable?

This topic is a bit technical, but bear with us, it’s an important one to understand. Software “stability” refers to the functionality of a product. Software that works perfectly every time, with minimal downtime, and that doesn’t crash unexpectedly is “stable.” Reliability, on the other hand, refers to the maturity of the products, as well as its ability to recover data in the event of an outage.

You need a product that’s stable and reliable. A few indicators of reliable software include A product that has longevity in the camp industry, that’s updated regularly, and that utilizes the latest innovations.

15. Is the Software Regularly Updated? How Often Are New Features Introduced?

Great software developers listen to their customers. They ask for feedback regularly. And they’re willing to implement changes, new features, and updates when customers ask for them.

Who wouldn’t want a tech partner like that?

But unfortunately, not all are willing to go to the ends of the Earth for their customers. So be sure to learn how they approach these updates. Are they willing to work with individual camps to add functionalities? Are new features or upgrades added regularly? How often are patches introduced?

16. How Does the Software Handle Data Input from Parents?

Camp software can streamline and simplify how you accept information from parents, i.e. online registration or online form collection. In other words, it can save you a lot of time.

But there are some important considerations to make, as you shop for vendors.

First: How user-friendly is it? Great software is foolproof, enabling even the least tech-savvy to use it.

Secondly: Ask how forms can be submitted. You may want to offer a full range of options. For example, does the platform allow you to build customizable online forms? Can it accept scanned form and documents? Can doctor’s offices electronically submit health records for campers?

17. Will the Software Grow With My Business?

You want a software that can grow with your camp — something that fits your needs now, and when you add more campers in the future. That’s why it’s important to choose a software that’s “scalable.” Scalable software can be scaled up or down based on your needs.

Additionally, a scalable solution also allows you to implement individual pieces in stages over time.

For example, you might start with online registration. After a successful launch, you could then begin to add in additional modules and functionalities like healthcare management, HR hiring tools, and a fundraising CRM.

18. What Type of Customer Support Does the Vendor Offer?

It’s the middle of camp, and you’re having trouble accessing your records. You need help fast, but the vendor won’t answer the phone. This scenario can be a nightmare. But it can be avoided by selecting a vendor with helpful, accessible customer support.

A few questions you should ask:

  • Will you be partnered with an account specialist?
  • How and when can you connect with the company? 24/7? Via messaging, email or phone?
  • What types of issues can be resolved via customer support?

19. How Is The Platform Designed for Collaboration?

Knowledge sharing through a camp management software can empower your staff to work faster. Information becomes more accessible; no need to relay information via a walkie-talkie. Your staff can use it to find: Parental contacts, allergy reports, medication dispensing specifications, attendance reports, and transportation scheduling info much faster than before. So research how the platform facilitates knowledge sharing? How many users have access to the data? Can messages or reports be sent to colleagues easily? What about notifications?

20. Is My Data Portable? Can I Access It Offline?

Let’s face it: Camps and camp staff won’t always have access to a Wi-Fi connection. And if your camp software requires a web-connection, it will be mostly useless if Wi-Fi goes down.

The best solutions, though, offer offline functionalities. For example, they may provide the ability to download reports that can be printed and carried on a counselor’s clipboard. You can’t afford to have your data stored behind lock and key; it should be shareable and accessible.

Asking the Right Questions Will Help You Find the Perfect Solution

As you shop for camp management options, you’re bound to come across technology topics you just don’t understand. You’re a camp director, after all, not an IT professional.

But remember: If something is unclear, don’t hesitate to ask. The best camp technology vendors are happy to make complex tech accessible to you. After all, you always wanted to learn how data encryption works, didn’t you?