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We all have an image of what summer camp looks like—beautiful mountain lakes, campfires, tug of war, bunk beds.
But the reality is that summer camps come in all shapes and sizes. And many nonprofits have started them as a way to not only drive revenue, but to achieve their mission in a more effective way.
If you run a nonprofit museum, advocacy group, animal shelter or environmental protection organization, starting a summer camp could be a logical next step toward rewarding your members, donors and supporters. Almost any nonprofit that runs programs geared toward children could expand upon them in the form of a summer camp.
It requires hard work and planning, to be sure, but it’s far from impossible. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
Design a camp that aligns with your mission
Your summer camp should exist as a way to fulfill your nonprofit’s mission. That is, it shouldn’t require a major shift in what you’re already trying to do.
Generating extra revenue and giving parents a break during the summer are fantastic byproducts, but that shouldn’t be the reason you start a camp.
Camps can be a way to give special opportunities to the underprivileged, educate about important social issues, teach art and music, build leadership—the list goes on. Chances are good that a summer camp would align nicely with your mission.
Find a physical location
One of the trickiest things to plan for is finding the right location to host a camp, especially when you don’t own the facility yourself.
A good rule of thumb is to pick a location based on your idea—not the other way around. Know ahead of time what your space requirements are, what kind of equipment you want, and what sort of theme you’re going for and let that guide your location search.
Other considerations include cost, convenience, safety and memorability. The latter is tough to quantify, but it’s incredibly important. Campers should hold on to these camp memories for the rest of their lives.
Create a budget
Camps come loaded with unforeseen expenses. As a nonprofit with a limited budget, you’ll need to plan ahead.
Know what you’re willing to spend on facilities, gear, program materials, food, insurance and anything else that comes to mind.
The priciest camp expenditure will invariably be your staff. Depending on the scale of your summer camp, you may need counselors, administrative support, kitchen and janitorial help and probably someone with medical training.
It all adds up, which is why it would be smart to do the following:
Leverage volunteers when possible
If your nonprofit has an arsenal of eager volunteers, this should be your first call for staff help. In fact, some camps are entirely staffed by volunteers.
Use them early on for administrative help, marketing and communication with parents; use them during the camp as your counselors and kitchen help; and use them afterward to send follow-up materials to parents.
Many of us have vague memories of our parents filling out registration forms by hand before we attended camp when we were kids, and that still happens today.
But paper is not only expensive, it’s inefficient.
Creating an online registration form is easy and cheap, and it will keep your camper information stored neatly and securely online. Best of all, some online tools integrate with payment processors so you can simultaneously accept payments when someone submits camper registration information.
Managing a summer camp can turn into a full-time job. But for nonprofits looking for a way to reach a wider audience, drive revenue and leave a lasting impression on kids and parents, it’s an invaluable option.