Show Me the Money: Views from ACA's Compensation and Benefits Report 2010

Jeff Jacobs, Ph.D.

Camp professionals often look to the American Camp Association (ACA) for salary and compensation information. In order to help association members stay current with salary and compensation trends, and to assist members in assessing where their organization is in relation to others in the industry, ACA conducted the National Survey on Compensation and Benefits. In October of 2009, mailed surveys were sent to 1,350 member camps. Administered by a professional research firm, the questionnaire asked respondents to share compensation and benefits information for key full-time and seasonal staff members. Of the camps invited to participate, 37 percent (501 camps) returned their completed questionnaires, with responses coming from all ACA regions. The results below reflect the diversity of ACA membership and highlight both the commonalities and differences that exist in terms of compensation and benefits for camping professionals. Many of the examples use the median salary rather than the average salary because the median is the mid-point and less influenced by the extremes of very low or very high paid staff.

Residential Camps

Approximately 52 percent of the survey respondents indicated that their primary orientation 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 (96 percent) with a median age of forty-five years. Overall, 57 percent of participating residential directors were men, yet at religiously-affiliated camps this percentage increased to 67 percent male directors. In terms of education, the majority of residential camp directors have a bachelor's degree, while 43 percent have graduate degrees. How long do directors stay in their jobs? According to this survey, the overall average is eight years, yet at independent for-profit camps, the average length of service at the camp is nineteen years — more than twice as long when compared to any other type of camp.

How much do residential camp directors earn? Nationwide, the median salary is $52,000 (see Table 1). This figure ranges from a low of $42,500 at agency camps to $100,000 at independent for-profit camps. As you might expect, camp directors with more experience earn more than those with less experience, and camp directors with higher levels of education tend to earn more than those with less education. Regionally, New England directors earn the most at $71,300 per year, while those in Mid-American states earn the least at $45,100. As expected, the larger the revenue generated by the camp, the larger the director's salary. For example, directors in camps generating less than $250,000 in revenues had a median salary of $37,800 while a director in a camp with revenues larger than $2 million earned $120,000.

Similar to the findings with salaries, there is a fair amount of variation when looking at camp director benefits. The most common benefit for camp directors is health/dental insurance, with 78 percent receiving this benefit. In addition, more than half of the resident camp directors received paid vacations (75 percent), retirement plan contributions (57 percent), and professional development (55 percent). While housing or a housing stipend was only provided to 35 percent of camp directors, this benefit provided to camp directors had the greatest dollar value at an average of $9,660 a year. While camp directors at independent for-profit camps earn significantly higher salaries, benefits are less common for these camp directors.

In addition to camp directors, respondents were asked to indicate what other year-round, full-time employees work for their camp. The most common year-round, full-time position for camps to employ is a maintenance director (59 percent). Second most common are associate or assistant directors (42 percent), followed by food service directors (16 percent). Associate or assistant directors averaged $37,000 per year, maintenance directors $35,000, and food service directors $30,000. For all three positions, the median change in the salary from the previous year was 0 percent, with only 31 percent reporting employees in these positions experienced a salary increase since the previous year. Associate or assistant directors generally received benefits similar to those of the camp director, with maintenance and food service directors receiving benefits valued at approximately the same level as associate or assistant directors but in different proportions. For example, maintenance directors were more likely than the others to receive housing or a housing stipend while food service directors are most likely to receive employer retirement plan contributions.

Summer and seasonal staff salaries were naturally quite a bit lower than year-round salaries. Median gross weekly wages for counselors was $235, but 10 percent of camps reported salaries for counselors of over $1,000 per week. Nurses were paid a median wage of $650 per week, and waterfront directors received a median of $350. These salaries were largely unchanged from the previous year. In fact, 55 percent of respondents reported no change from the previous year for seasonal positions. On average, residential camps that employ full-time, seasonal employees report the value of room and board provided as $194 per week. More than half of the camps (56 percent) responded that they utilized international staff, with the median number of international staff per camp being three.

Day Camps

Day camp salaries and compensations show some notable differences from residential camps. Survey respondents reporting their primary mission as day camping numbered 124, or about 25 percent of all survey respondents. Day camps participating in this study come from all ACA regions. The Mid-Atlantic region had the highest percentage of participating day camps, with 30 percent of the participating camps coming from this region. This high percentage is likely influenced by the large number of day camps in the New York area. The Southern states seem to have the fewest ACA-member day camps, with only 11 percent of survey respondents reporting their primary mission as day camping in that region. The 124 survey respondents were fairly equally divided among the three most common types of camps with 32 percent from agency camps, 27 percent from independent for-profit camps, and 27 percent from independent nonprofit camps. About two out of three (69 percent) of respondents indicated that they own their camp facilities.

The median age for a day camp director among the respondents was forty years. This is five years younger than the median age reported for resident camp directors. Furthermore, while residential camps tended to have more male directors, the majority of day camps reported having female directors (57 percent). In terms of education, 34 percent of day camp directors had graduate degrees, compared to 43 percent of resident directors having graduate degrees. Day camp directors are less likely to be Caucasian than resident camp directors, with 89 percent reporting to be Caucasian compared to 96 percent for resident camps.

Day camp directors have less time in their jobs than residential directors. The average tenure for a day camp director is just five years, versus eight for resident directors. Just 31 percent of day camp directors have held their current position for more than ten years, compared to 43 percent of residential directors. There are some variances in experience levels for day camp directors when looking at type of camp and region, with independent for-profit directors reporting the longest median tenure (ten years) in their current positions, and directors from the South reporting twelve years in their current positions.

As expected, day camp director salaries are lower than salaries for residential camp directors. The median salary reported was $45,000, compared to a median of $52,000 at resident camps (see Table 2). Approximately 29 percent of day camp directors reported salaries under $40,000, and just 8 percent reported salaries over $100,000. These findings indicate that a higher percentage of directors at day camps are making under $40,000 than at resident camps (only 23 percent under $40,000). On the upper end of the pay scale, day camps have fewer highly paid directors (over $100,000) than residential camps (8 percent and 16 percent, respectively). The geographical exception for day camp director salaries is the Mid-Atlantic region, where the typical day camp director makes more than their counterparts at resident camps. Salaries were reported to have had no change from the previous year and were predicted to once again remain the same for the coming year.

Geographically, day camp directors in the Mid-Atlantic states make more per year than directors in other regions. Median salaries in the Mid-Atlantic states were reported as $63,500, compared to $45,000 in the Western states and $38,500 in Mid-America. Of course, cost-of-living differences make these differences difficult to compare. Camp directors with a master's degree earned close to $20,000 more per year than directors with bachelor's degrees, and directors with ten years or more of experience averaged over $10,000 more per year when compared to directors with less than five years of experience.

In addition to lower salaries, the benefits that day camp directors receive are a bit lower when compared to directors at residential camps. Only 73 percent of day camp directors reported receiving health insurance, compared to 78 percent of residential directors. Paid vacation and professional development were also less common, according to respondents. Yet, day camp directors were slightly more likely to receive retirement plan contributions and life insurance than resident camp directors. Several benefits were lowest among day camp directors at independent for-profit camps, yet 36 percent 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 for the two most common positions were as follows: $42,500 for an assistant or associate director and $40,000 for a maintenance director. In general, benefits for these positions were comparable with those received by the director. The one exception noted was the increased likelihood for maintenance directors to receive housing or a housing stipend.

Median salaries for many seasonal employees at day camps are higher than at resident camps. Counselors at day camps received a median wage of $306 per week compared to $235 per week at resident camps. Waterfront directors received, on average, $560 per week compared to $350 per week at resident camps. In cases where the director was hired for just the summer, the median wage was $833 per week, but strong regional differences were noted. For example, in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states, median weekly wages for a seasonal camp director were close to $1,000, but in the Southern region, the median was just $475.

Salaries by Region and Gender

For all types of camps, both day and resident camps, weekly counselor salaries are fairly consistent in all regions, ranging from $295 in the Southern and Mid-America regions to $360 in the Western states. Salaries for nurses showed more regional variation, ranging from just $325 in the Southern states to $1000 in Mid-America. There were also large differences in weekly salaries for maintenance directors, who received median wages of $1000 in New England and $200 in the Mid-America states. In addition, while both resident and day camps reported utilizing international staff members, residential camps were much more likely to do so, with 56 percent of residential camps indicating that their camp had international staff members while only 20 percent of day camps had international staff members.

For both day and resident camps, salaries for females were lower than salaries for males. Female day camp directors received a median salary of $43,000 compared to $56,000 for male day camp directors. Similarly, female resident camp directors received a median salary of $43,000 compared to $60,000 for male resident camp directors.

Conclusion

This comprehensive member survey is a resource that many camps may want to explore further. This article highlighted select information from the findings, but much more remains. Several conclusions can be made from the findings discussed in this article:

  • Salaries and compensations need to be considered within specific geographic boundaries because significant regional variations exist. This fact may be explainable by cost-of-living differences but warrants further attention.
  • The field may have a hidden gender bias when it comes to salary levels. A significant gender gap is quite apparent when comparing the salaries of males and females even if experience and education are considered. This finding also needs additional tracking and follow-up.
  • As expected, differences exist between positions at day camps and resident camps and are even more pronounced at camps that are nonprofit or run by agencies. Nonprofits may have experienced significant budget tightening over the past two years that has been passed along to camp staff because of budget freezes and reductions.
  • The responses seem to suggest that all wages (year-round and seasonal) have remained fairly stagnant since 2008 and are unlikely to increase significantly within the next year.
  • The Compensation and Benefits Report 2010 is a useful resource that provides camps with camp salary, compensation, and benefits information. The hope is that camps will use the information to track current trends, explore opportunities for comparisons with other similar camps, and access valuable industry data unavailable in other ways.

For more information on how to access ACA's Camp Compensation and Benefits Report 2010, please go to www.ACAcamps.org/research/improve/salary_study.php.

Who participated in the ACA Camp Compensation and Benefits survey?

  • A total of 501 accredited camps (37 percent) responded
  • Affiliation of camps
    • 31 percent agency (including governmental and municipal)
    • 30 percent nonprofit
    • 27 percent for-profit
    • 13 percent religiouslyaffiliated
  • Type
    • 52 percent resident
    • 25 percent day
    • 16 percent rental facilities
  • Regions
    • 25 percent Mid-America (ACA, Great Rivers; ACA, Illinois; ACA, Indiana; ACA, Northland; ACA, Ohio; ACA, St. Louis; ACA, Wisconsin; ACA, Michigan)
    • 23 percent Mid-Atlantic (ACA, Chesapeake; ACA, Keystone; ACA New Jersey; ACA, New York; ACA, Upstate New York; ACA, Virginias)
    • 19 percent West (ACA, Evergreen; ACA, Northern California; ACA Southern California/Hawaii; ACA, Oregon Trail; ACA, Rocky Mountain; ACA, Southwest)
    • 18 percent New England
    • 14 percent South (ACA, Texoma; ACA, Southeastern; ACA, Heart of the South)
  • Seasons of Operation
    • 37 percent Spring
    • 100 percent Summer
    • 36 percent Fall
    • 29 percent Winter

Dr. Jeff Jacobs is an associate professor at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, in the Recreation, Parks, & Tourism Administration Department and a member of ACA's research committee. In addition, he has served as a summer camp director every summer since 1992. E-mail the author at jacobs@calpoly.edu.

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