Camp spirit is like a campfire. When you’re living and breathing camp during the summer, the fire is roaring. Friendships blossom. Camp spirit flourishes. And S’mores. Get. Eaten.
Creating lasting relationships when camp’s in-session comes naturally. After camp, however, the fire starts to wane. And if you’ve ever tried to restart a fire, you know, it’s a lot of work (and really smoky).
A better option: Fan the flames throughout the year. You’ll be keeping that sense of community alive and well, and helping to create deeper bonds with campers and staff.
Fortunately, camp directors and managers have plenty of tools to stay connected with staff, campers, and alumni. From email management tools to social media platforms, building relationships with all your camp friends has never been easier.
As you know, you’re not really in the camp business. You’re in the people business. And investing in people by creating long-lasting relationships is key to your success as a camp (and let’s be honest, to life as a whole!) Check out today’s post if you need a little inspiration for how to successfully build relationships with your campers and staff throughout the year; below are ten tips for fanning the flames when you’re not gathered around the campfire.
1. Host Alumni Events
Nothing stokes the camp spirit campfire like fun, engaging alumni events. One of our clients, Camp Sabra, does an excellent job of connecting with their alumni population. Take notes!
What should you actually do to engage your alumni? General parties are always great, but there are plenty of outside-the-box ideas that can make your alumni events even more memorable. A few ideas include:
- Escape rooms
- Improv workshops
- Field trips to sporting events
- Leadership trainings
- Nature hikes and backpacking trips
Plus, camps with a strong alumni base should have no problem getting alums to pay their way to these reuniting get-togethers.
2. Create A Private Facebook Group
Social media is perfect for re-creating the camp community online, and YMCA Camp Santa Maria does a great job. For your camp, in addition to your public Facebook account, consider creating private groups for each of your audiences including parents, campers, and staff. On the official group page, campers have a place to share memories, post their camp photos, and start discussions about the upcoming camp season. On the private page(s) you can allow different groups affiliated with your camp to stay well-connected to each other – and your camp.
Just be sure you don’t forget to add anyone. Get the word out about the group via your newsletter, and add several staff admins so there are plenty of moderators.
3. Publish a Newsletter
Email is a powerful tool for staying connected. But without a plan, your email communications can be a mess. One tip: Utilize digital tools for organizing your work. Newsletter generators like MailChimp or Constant Contact help you easily design, schedule and distribute your weekly or monthly email communications.
So what’s the key to making your newsletter a must-open email? Start by sharing a variety of content. You’ll want to share camp news, of course, like updates about renovations, upcoming deadlines, and previews of new activities for next year.
But newsletters are also a great medium for sharing photos, news about campers and staffers, and other camp-related tidbits. Looking for some ideas to spice of your emails? Consider including:
- “Reunion” photos – Did two staffers bump into each other in Barcelona? Share the photo with your audience.
- Survey results – Give campers a taste of your end-of-year survey results. Tell them what you found out, like favorite camp activities or favorite camp meals.
- Camp factoids – Have an interesting tidbit to share about your camp like an anniversary? Put it in your newsletter.
- Event news – Drum up RSVPs for an upcoming alumni event by promoting them in your newsletter.
- Blogs and articles – Do you want to grow your audience for your camp’s blog? Add article teasers in your newsletters that generate clicks.
- Camper/staff accomplishments – Honor roll, internships, new jobs, science fair wins, they’re all great to share in your newsletter.
4. Bring the Family Back for a Camp BBQ
Similar to the alumni event – but this time, their whole families are invited. An extended-family BBQ is a wonderful way to let parents feel like they’re part of the camp family. Plus, you’ll give parents a chance to network and get to know other camp families.
One tip: Let families stay overnight to get the full camp experience. Have a campfire, sing camp songs, and let them try out a few camp activities for themselves.
5. Write Recommendation Letters
Camp directors and senior counselors can be important mentors for former campers and staff. That means you might get a call one day for a letter of recommendation, for a new job, an internship or a college application. And this is your chance to strengthen a relationship.
The key: Be open about your willingness to write letters of recommendation. Talk about it at the end of camp, and make sure your former campers and staffers know you’re an ally that wants to help each one of them to succeed.
6. Create a Pen Pal Program
So far we’ve touched on only digital means of communication. And sure, an email, text or Facebook message is certainly convenient. But there’s nothing quite like a personal letter.
Here’s a way to help your campers keep connections alive: Launch a program to rejuvenate those written connections that camp inspires. Have partners pair up as Pen Pals. You could pair them off alphabetically, by geographic location, or draw names from a hat. Just make sure you’re encouraging new and deeper connections with your pen pals.
We need to give a tip of the hat to one of our beloved clients here – Camp Greystone is all over the Pen Pal game, and are an excellent example to model off of.
7. Say Hi on Birthdays and Holidays
Nothing says you care like a birthday or holiday card. Not to mention, hand-written notes are powerful business tools. Here’s an example: HEX, a men’s fashion retailer, wrote more than 13,000 personal thank-you notes to customers when they launched. And it worked. The notes were a powerful marketing tool that helped the company build loyalty and grow sales.
You can make it more manageable by splitting up your contact list. Make each person on your leadership team responsible for a short list of birthday cards each year – and then create a digital record on your camp management platform every time a card gets sent.
8. A Check-In Phone Call
Phone calls can seem old school in today’s connected world. But just try it – we dare you. All too often, we forget the power of screenless, voice-to-voice human connection. Actually picking up the phone – even just to check in – fosters deeper connections than a quick text or email can. Here’s one strategy: Just after camp ends, set a goal to reach out to 15 families and campers each day. Use this call to check-in, hear first-hand what campers thought of camp, and encourage them to stay connected throughout the year.
The call might just last a couple of minutes – but apart from face-to-face, really no form of communication is as personal and memorable. It might seem time-consuming, but it simply works.
9. Engaging Social Posts
You camp’s Facebook and Instagram pages provide an opportunity to connect with your audience…and their friends…and their friends…etc. But the key is keeping it creative. If you’re only sharing one type of post – say informational, text-only updates – you’ll force your audience to tune out.
Shout out to our friends at Lake of the Woods Camp, yet another one of our clients who crushes it. They’re consistent, on point, and they know their voice. Notes, people!
Aside from emulating LOTWC, simply make your social media feeds fun and engaging, no matter the season. Share photos and videos of camp, and use these platforms for getting the word out about important camp events. Here are a few quick ideas:
- Throwback Thursday photos from camp
- Mini-reunion photos
- Photos and videos of camp renovations
- Teaser videos of new camp activities
- Camp memes
- Camp news and newsletter links
For more, check out our post on 11 ideas for awesome social media content!
10. Host Camp Theme Days
Here’s a spin on the alumni event: Keep your calendar full with camp-inspired fun days and sleepovers throughout the year. Where an alumni event is focused on catching up, these events are more a celebration of camp – they’re like a day at camp (but in the middle of December).
For example, you might host an early camp orientation in the spring. This would be like a meet-and-greet and provide a chance for attendees to develop relationships prior to arriving at camp. Other ideas include overnights, campfire nights, camp activity days, and meet-ups with other camps.
Staying Connected Starts with Staying Organized
The good news is you don’t have to rely on snail mail to keep the camp spirit alive. (The humanity!) These days, you have super useful tools at your fingertips for reaching out: From email newsletter distribution tools to social media, and events.
So roll up your sleeves, develop a communications calendar and get busy fanning the camp spirit flames (even if there’s 3 feet of snow on the ground!).