The Most Common Misconceptions About Managing Camp Finance

Is there any skill camp directors aren’t required to have? They need to be communications and programming mavens, planning superstars, community builders, and HR pros, for starters.

But of all the special skills directors need, camp financial management might just be the most demanding.

Contrary to popular belief, summer camps aren’t cash cows. Most tend to have healthy – but narrow – profit margins. According to the ACA Operations Business Report in 2012, for-profit resident camps had an average profit margin of about 10 percent. For nonprofit overnight camps, the profit margin was just 2 percent on average.

In other words, without sound financial management, camps can quickly end up in the red.

Summer camp bookkeeping is so challenging because there is a lot of cash coming in and flowing out. Tuition and fees and sponsorship dollars come in, while day-to-day expenses and payroll expenditures flow out.

Bottom line, camp directors must be masters of many skills – but math might be the most necessary.

Making Sense of Summer Camp Dollars

Misconception #1: Camps Receive Tuition and Fees All at Once

If all your registration invoices were all paid-in-full on deadline, how much easier would financial management be for your camp? If only it was that easy, right?

The truth is: Tuition and fees flow into camp across about six months of the year.

Some parents choose to pay in full the day you open registration; others prefer to schedule installments up until the final deadline. Every camp should offer flexible payment terms, but the practice certainly makes it hard to keep tabs on finances.


And considering registration accounts for about 60-70 percent of revenue for resident camps, it’s absolutely critical that camps can gauge the status of their tuition payments in real-time. Having accurate figures empowers directors to properly calculate cash flow, understand the financial status of camp, and compare year-over-year growth. 

Why You Need Camp Software for Registration

When it comes to managing tuition payments, camp management software is an extremely useful tool. It allows directors to:

  • Plug-and-Play Registration: Camp management platforms allow camps to plug a registration platform into their website. Parents can easily make payments through this portal.
  • Organized Payments: Parents can create accounts, make payments or schedule payments through your website. The benefit: All of your payments come from the same source.
  • Seamless Reporting: Having a portal for payments lets camps see the status of their accounts, including current and potential revenue, overdue balances and paid-in-full accounts, for example.

Misconception #2: Camper Fees Are Easy to Calculate and Collect

Fees vary from camp to camp. Some charge add-on fees for specific activities, like horseback riding, while others include everything in tuition. The challenge, though, is billing parents for these fees (with their endless variations).

Just think: At Camp A, horseback riding is included. BUT parents can add additional horseback riding lessons for an additional fee. How can the camp accurately invoice for parent-added lessons?

Manually created invoices? Invoicing separately for fees? There’s got to be a better way. camp-finance-management

How Camp Management Tools Help. This is another example of why camp management software is so useful for registration. The right registration platform allows:

  • Endless Fee Variations: A powerful camp management platform allows camps to add a fee selector to their registration process. You can add all your fees into the platform and account for all the variations that exist in advance.
  • Parents Can Select Fees: Another advantage of registration software: Parents can select the exact add-ons (or more precisely the activities) for their kids, i.e. extra programming, unique transportation fees, or field trip fees.
  • Add-on Invoicing: Ultimately, the fees are added to the camper’s tuition invoice. No need for taking two payments or hunting down late fee payments.

Misconception #3: Camp Tuition is Still Mostly Paid by Check

In the not-so-distant past, summer camps lived by the personal check. Tuition, fees, donations, camp store accounts – really the majority of a camp’s revenue was paper-based, whether cash or check.

Today’s camp families, though, prefer to shop online, manage their tuition accounts like their Amazon accounts, and make auto-debit, recurring payments.

In other words, today’s camps have to be prepared to accept online credit card payments – for just about everything.

Camp Management Software Offers a Solution. Accepting credit card payments can be a technological challenge without the right tools. And that’s where camp management tools come in. The right software helps you:

  • Accept Secure Payments: The best platforms allow camps to accept all major credit cards for every type of transaction – from a camp store account re-up, to paid-in-full tuition.
  • Set-Up Personalized Payments: Camp software also enables parents to set payments up on their own terms. Camp Parent A might choose to pay in three auto-billed installments, while Camp Parent B prefers monthly recurring payments.

Misconception #4: Invoicing Parents Doesn’t Take a lot of Time

Until recently, camp invoicing was mostly done manually and it was super time-consuming. You’d have to create individualized invoices for each camper. For example, Camper A is attending all sessions, while Camper B is just attending just session 1 and 2. Camper C, well she qualifies for the sibling and middle school discount…

And that’s just the beginning. You have hundreds of others.

Camps need a system in place for customizing invoices – or more specifically – allowing camp families to choose options and having a custom invoice automatically created. This can save an immense amount of time (and save camp directors a real headache).

How Camp Software Solves the Invoicing Problem. You don’t have time to create an individual invoice for every camper. But fortunately, you don’t have to! By utilizing a camp management platform, you can allow invoices to be auto-created, distributed, and organized. The right tools help you to:

  • Generate Custom Invoices: A parent lands on your homepage and registers her daughter for camp. She selects a session, a few extra activities, and a special transportation fee. Then, viola, an invoice is automatically created by your registration software.
  • Send Invoices & Reminders: The invoice then gets sent to the parent’s account. Here, they can set up payment options. Plus, reminders about upcoming invoice deadlines are automatically sent to the account.

Misconception #6: Payroll Manages Itself

Staffing at summer camps is like a complex science project. There are numerous employee variables. And that creates the perfect storm for a payroll conundrum.

How can you accurately monitor wages and payroll expenses, when you have seasonal and year-round employees, some employees were compensated with room and board and some qualifying for benefits?

Bottom line: Organization is an absolute necessity. Not only does it empower directors to keep payroll expenses in check; an organized payroll system also allows camp directors to monitor salaries in real-time – every camp’s most significant line item.

How Camp Management Software Transforms Payroll. Payroll presents a challenge in accounting and records keeping. For one, you have endless employee forms you need to properly store and access. But you’ll also need to keep tabs on how much is going out each week or month in wages.

  • Faster Reporting: Summer camp HR software helps you generate in-depth employee reports. Whether you’re calculating estimated salary expenditures for the season, or you’re identifying how much you paid last week to seasonal employees, the right management tools empower you to find those insights in minutes.
  • Employee Records Organization: Build a digital filing cabinet for all your vital employee records. From initial hiring docs, including resumes and applications, to all the data you’ll need like tax and health forms, a management platform helps you build and access useful employee records.

Misconception #7: Enrollment Reports Don’t Matter Until the End of the Season

When you’re in the thick of enrollment, your to-do list might seem impossible. Marketing tasks to take care of, a newsletter to produce, last minute hiring, etc. etc. The last thing you have time for is generating enrollment reports.

But you need these reports handy. Enrollment figures help you to A) see where you are now and B) compare that to where you were at the same point last season.

Enrollment data is a super important tool for measuring your success in real-time and letting you know if you might need to pick up the recruitment pace.

Camp Software Puts Enrollment Data at Your Fingertips. A database for all your enrollment records can superpower your registration campaign. For starters, you can see if you’re on pace for growth, holding steady, or if your camp might be in for a drop in enrollment. Plus, this data helps you estimate revenue and expenses.

  • Revenue and Expense Estimates: When you have up-to-the-minute enrollment figures, you can properly count camper days. And with that, you can extrapolate your expense per camper day and revenue per camper day.
  • Make More Informed Hiring Decisions: Is your camp on pace for growth? Will you hold steady? Having an idea of where you enrollment stands to empower you to choose proper staffing levels and uphold ideal camper-to-staff ratios.
  • Generate Year-Over-Year Reports: Camp management platforms are designed for fast reporting. You choose a parameter – i.e. % of returning campers – and you can create a report in minutes that tells you exactly what you want to know.

Get a Handle on Your Camp’s Finances

Really, managing your summer camp’s finances is a full-time job – even though camp directors have so many other responsibilities. Fortunately, technology helps you move away from manual accounting – and get much closer to automated accounting.

In other words, with the right tools, you’ll have more accurate and more complete data at your fingertips – in a fraction of the time. Now the only question is: what will you do with all the extra time?