Slicing the Pie: Selections From ACA's 2007 Compensation and Benefits Survey

Jon C. Malinowski, Ph.D.

Naturally, camp directors want to be paid a competitive salary and compensate their counselors and staff fairly. It is not surprising, therefore, that salary and compensation information repeatedly comes to the forefront when directors are questioned about statistical information they want from the American Camp Association (ACA). In September 2006, ACA sent surveys to over 1700 of its accredited camps. Administered by a professional research firm, the questionnaires asked members to relate salary and benefits for key positions at their camps. When the responses were totaled, 52 percent of those surveyed, a total of 938 camps, had participated. The results, outlined below and available in detail from ACA,, show that while there are great differences among camps and among areas of the country in some respects, there is also relative parity on issues such as counselor salaries.

Residential Camps

Approximately 63 percent of the survey respondents indicated that their primary mission was residential camping. These camps included both independent for-profit and nonprofit camps, religious camps, and agency camps. On average, residential camps in the survey had Caucasian directors (95 percent) with a median age of forty-three years. Overall, 58 percent of participating residential directors were men, but at agency camps, 59 percent were women. In terms of education, the majority of residential camp directors have a bachelor’s degree, but 39 percent have graduate degrees. How long do directors stay in their jobs? According to this survey, the average is seven years, but 36 percent of directors have over a decade of service and 16 percent have over two decades of service.

How much do residential camp directors earn? Nationwide, the median salary is $43,000. This ranges from a low of $40,000 at agency camps to $60,000 at independent for-profit camps. Regionally, New England and Mid-Atlantic residential directors earn the most, at $50,000 per year, while those in the Western states earn the least, at $40,000. The highest reported salaries are over $150,000, and nearly all of these were in either the New England or Mid-Atlantic regions. Salaries over $100,000 are also more common in these regions. Over half of all responding directors reported getting raises in the past year, but increases were slightly more common in New England than in other areas.

Just as with salaries, there is quite a bit of variation in director benefits. According to the results, 84 percent of residential directors receive health insurance, 69 percent have retirement plans with employer contributions, and 50 percent receive life insurance benefits. Only 16 percent report bonuses, profit-sharing, or incentive pay. Overall, benefits are less common at independent for-profits, which makes sense given the higher reported salaries and perhaps the fact that some of these directors are also owners.
As expected, salaries for year-round positions other than director are generally lower. Assistant directors averaged $35,000 per year, maintenance directors $32,000, and food service directors $29,000. All salaries had gone up about 3 percent from the previous year. Assistant directors generally received benefits similar to those of the director, but other positions, on average, had smaller benefit packages.

Summer staff salaries were naturally quite a bit lower. Median gross weekly wages for counselors were $200, but eighty-six camps reported salaries of over $1,000 per week. Average salaries are about $100 higher than the median salaries. Nurses were paid a median wage of $500 per week, and head cooks received a median $400. These salaries were largely unchanged from the previous year. In fact, 43 percent of respondents reported no change from the previous year for seasonal positions.

Day Camps

Day camp salaries and compensation show some notable differences from residential camps. Survey respondents reporting their primary mission as day camps numbered 321, or about 29 percent of all survey respondents. Day camps were far less common than residential camps among ACA-Accredited® camps surveyed in all regions of the country except the Mid-Atlantic, where there is more parity between the two types. This is probably because of the large number of day camps in the New York area. The Southern states seem to have the fewest ACA-accredited day camps, with only 17 percent of survey respondents reporting their primary mission as day camps in that region. The 321 survey respondents were fairly equally divided among independent for-profit, independent nonprofit, and agency camps.

The median age for a camp director among the day camp respondents was thirty-six years. This is seven years younger than the median age reported for resident camp directors. Furthermore, while residential camps tended to have male directors, the majority of day camps reported having female directors (56 percent). In terms of education, 31 percent of day camp directors had graduate degrees. Day camp directors are more likely to be non-Caucasian than resident camp directors. For example, 5 percent of day camps reported an African-American or Hispanic director, compared to just 1 percent for each category among residential camp respondents.

Day camp directors, according to the survey, have less time in their jobs than residential directors. The average tenure for a day camp director is five years. Just 27 percent of day camp directors have held their current position for more than ten years, compared to 36 percent of residential directors. The exception to this pattern is among day camp directors at independent for-profits. In this category, directors reported a median tenure of twelve years in their current positions.

Day camp director salaries are lower than for residential camp directors. The median salary reported was $38,200 as of mid-2006. Approximately 18 percent of directors reported salaries under $30,000, and 6 percent reported salaries over $100,000. The higher end is about the same as for residential camp directors, but a higher percentage of directors at day camps are making under $30,000 than at resident camps, where only 12 percent were in that category. The geographical exception for day camp director salaries is the Mid-Atlantic region, where directors make more than their counterparts at resident camps. Salaries were reported to have increased about 3 percent from the previous year and were predicted to increase at about the same rate for next year.

A camp’s sponsorship category makes a significant difference on day camp director salaries. At agency day camps, the median salary for a director was $34,000, while at independent for-profits the median was $64,100. Religious and independent nonprofits were $39,600 and $48,000, respectively. Geographically, day camp directors in the Mid-Atlantic states make nearly $13,000 more per year than directors in other regions. The median salary in the Mid-Atlantic states was reported as $51,000, compared to $38,000 in New England, $38,200 in the Western states, $37,400 in the South, and $34,400 in Mid-America. Of course, cost-of-living differences make these differences difficult to compare.

In addition to lower salaries, day camp directors are less likely to receive benefits compared to directors at residential camps. Only 74 percent of day camp directors reported health insurance, compared to 84 percent of residential directors. Retirement plan contributions and professional development were also less common, according to respondents. Insurance benefits were lowest among day camp directors at independent for-profit camps, but nearly half of these camps reported some sort of bonus or revenue sharing for their directors. These findings are difficult to interpret because some of these camps are undoubtedly owned by the director.

Year-round positions other than director are less common at day camps than at resident camps. But for those camps reporting full-time salaried personnel, the median salaries were as follows: $37,500 for an assistant or associate director, $35,000 for a maintenance director, and $36,000 for a program manager or equivalent. In general, benefits for these positions were comparable with those received by the director. The one exception noted was a greater likelihood for maintenance directors to receive housing or a housing stipend.

Median salaries for seasonal employees at day camps are higher than at resident camps. Counselors at day camps received a median wage of $290 per week compared to $200 per week at resident camps. Nurses received, on average, $600 per week, and assistant camp directors were paid $520 per week. In cases where the director was hired for just the summer, the median wage was $700 per week, but strong regional differences were noted. In New England and the Mid-Atlantic states, the median weekly wage for a seasonal camp director was $850, but in the Southern region, the median was just $400.

Salaries by Region

For all types of camps, both day and resident camps, counselor salaries are fairly consistent in all regions, ranging from $200 in the Southern and Mid-America regions to $250 in New England. Salaries for nurses showed more regional variation, ranging from just $390 in the Mid-America states to $600 in New England and Mid-Atlantic. There were also large differences in weekly salaries for cooks, who received median wages of $600 in New England and $350 in the Southern and Mid-America states. Average salaries are higher than median salaries in all regions.


This large and detailed member survey shows that there are significant regional variations in salaries. This is probably explainable by cost-of-living differences, but warrants some further attention. Furthermore, differences exist between positions at day camps and resident camps. These seem more pronounced at camps that are nonprofit or run by agencies. Finally, the responses seem to suggest that while salaries for yearly positions have increased at about 3 percent per year, seasonal wages are more stagnant. This finding needs to be researched more closely. For example, will counselor salaries continue to stagnate as Federal minimum wages increase? Will inflation and rising gas prices make camp jobs less enticing for American teens and young adults if salaries fail to increase? Furthermore, what effect, if any, has the rise of the international counselor placement industry had on depressing wage increases for American staff?

Jon C. Malinowski, Ph.D., is professor of geography at the United States Military Academy and a member of the American Camp Association Research Committee.

Originally published in the 2007 September/October issue of Camping Magazine.