Dispelling Myths About Accreditation

Accreditation is a statement to our guests that we care, a statement to the community that we are accountable, a statement to the legal system that we have taken the initiative to be aware of and comply with the law, and a statement to our industry that we are interested and cooperative.
Neil Fichthorn, director of Sandy Cove Ministries in North East, Maryland.

Myth #1 We don't have enough time right now to prepare.
Other variations on this theme:

  • Getting accredited takes too long . . . is too involved . . . takes too much work.
  • We're a small operation (or one-man show) and we (I) can't do that while we're (I'm) doing everything else.
  • We're in the midst of a capital campaign . . . long-range plan . . . building phase . . . staff restructuring . . . and need to wait until that's over to begin.

Reality: In today's world, we'll never have enough time to do all we want to do. We do what we make time to do. Rather than perceiving preparation for accreditation as an intrusion on available time, think of it as an investment that will pay off in time saved later. Think about how many times you've had to re-explain procedures or correct mistakes made by new employees or volunteers because they weren't sure "how it's been done." How many times have you said to your assistant, or spouse, or board, "We need to get that organized?"

Sure, preparing for accreditation involves some work. But much of that work can be delegated to staff or volunteers who are involved in the operation of the camp or conference center and who have a vested interest in seeing things done right. All facilities currently operating with any degree of success already have much of what is required for accreditation.

Myth #2 Our facility needs too much work.
Variations on this theme:

  • We need to add to/update our facilities first.
  • All our facilities are not accessible.

Reality: ACA standards do not require modern buildings with the latest equipment or amenities. Camp facilities can be rustic and primitive, as long as they are in good repair. Cabins don't need air conditioning or electricity, as long as they are clean and screens, stairs, and bunks are in good repair. Accreditation criteria do not require 100 percent compliance with standards. Some nonmandatory requirements, such as shower ratios, can be missed and the camp or conference center can still be accredited.

Myth #3 Accreditation costs too much.
Variations on this theme:

  • It will cost too much to update our facility (see Myth #2 above).
  • Our board thinks the cost is too high.

Reality: The sliding scale for ACA service fees varies according to ACA local offices. In any ACA section, however, the cost to a camp is less than 1/2 of 1 percent of the program's operating budget. Camp directors realize the value for their money once they understand how the fee system works. Where else can you get the risk management benefits for such a tiny portion of your total budget?

Myth #4 We don't need accreditation - The state licensing criteria are adequate.
Variations on this theme:

  • Parents don't ask or care if we're accredited.
  • We've been in operation for years and have never had a problem.
  • We don't need accreditation for recruitment or marketing purposes.
  • We follow standards - we don't need someone to come in and tell us how to operate.

Reality: ACA accreditation is the only system for evaluating camp and conference center operations that has been developed by and for camp professionals. Often state or county regulations cover only parts of a camp's operation, such as the kitchen or pool. In fact, in some states, having ACA accreditation helps ensure fewer and speedier inspections by state and county officials, who recognize the comprehensive evaluation of accreditation and a facility's commitment to seeking that outside evaluation by camping professionals.

In addition, some companies, scholarship committees, and other national organizations recognize ACA accreditation and offer discounts and special services to accredited camps.

Also, quality is essential to baby boomers - for themselves, their kids, their whole families . . . Thus, they seek program providers who can demonstrate a measure of quality, such as accreditation.

Myth #5 We have a new director (administrator) who needs to get settled before beginning the task of accreditation.
Variations on this theme:
- See Myth #1.

Reality: One of the best ways to orient a new director to the operation is to systematically evaluate all aspects of that operation (that is, to prepare for accreditation). A new director or administrator can involve key staff in reviewing policies and procedures, locating records, and compiling staff and program profiles. Site and facilities, food service, administration, personnel, health care, and program all are reviewed in the accreditation process.

In addition, once a camp is accredited, the tasks of board members and administrators during a transition in leadership can be significantly reduced. The documentation, procedures, and training materials for a successful operation are in place for a new director to pick up. The administration also has the peace of mind knowing that the important health and safety issues have been covered.

Don't Buy Into the Myths
As you examine your reasons for not getting started with accreditation, make sure you are not perpetuating myths. Look for the benefits to you, your operation, and your ministry.

What better way to demonstrate to your funding prospects or board that your camp or conference center program meets the standards of the camping industry? Can you really afford not to make time to get verification that you meet recognized industry standards?

Originally printed in Christian Camp and Conference Journal; copyright 1997.