Marketing Matters: A Look at Camp Collaborations

by Joanna Warren Smith

Resourceful camp directors throughout the country have developed innovative collaborations. Win-win partnerships are the way to expand service, enhance visibility, maximize profit, and position camps, retreats, and conference centers for success in the twenty-first century.

Collaborations Expand Camps’ Reach

Traditionally, camps have cooperated with school systems through outdoor education and leadership programs. Students receive quality programs in ideal environments while camps earn marketing benefits from the introduction to parents and potential campers.

Other programs and year-round facilities have expanded their strategic alliances. Some work with departments of corrections for maintenance assistance and facility improvements. Others cooperate with area businesses to provide employees with convenient summer camp and year-round programs. They design services to correspond to work shifts, and they respond to personnel and corporate needs. Many camps involve themselves in community service as part of their core program and benefit from local recognition and cooperative ventures.

Collaborations Expand Fund-raising and Marketing Efforts

Relationships between parents and alumni of both nonprofit and independent camps are actively nurtured to enhance fund-raising efforts. And a substantial number of programs have created internal referral systems to successfully recruit campers and staff. Motivated directors and recruiters have developed a counselor curriculum with college credit that is a definite plus in a very competitive employment market.

Businesses of all sizes are eager to support efforts on behalf of kids and families in order to position themselves as good community citizens. Independent camps have secured sponsorships in exchange for product testing, usage, and visibility. Numerous other collaborations save money and raise funds for both private and nonprofit camps, retreats, and conference centers.

When cooperative ventures present themselves, directors are eager to capitalize on the opportunities, and rightly so. Too often, however, the most essential of partnerships is neglected and every facet of the business suffers.

Internal Collaborations Fuel Success

The collaborations that are the most important to camps, retreats, and conference centers are internal. The crucial business partnership defines the culture of the year-round office and its extension to seasonal staff. The internal collaboration is more than job descriptions and individual responsibilities, it is the style with which business is managed and it has impact in all phases of marketing and operations. If the culture of the organization is neglected, the success of the operation will ultimately be undermined.

Staff members all over the country tell of ongoing bouts with co-workers’ bad moods and intimidation by those who scream and can’t control themselves. Office tension and unmotivated employees frustrate staff and inhibit performance.

Parents relate incidents of staff actively speaking against their camp in the outside community. Even more important, they tell of uncaring, rude, and indifferent treatment that is accepted and condoned.

We in the camp community don’t want to admit it, but these accounts of less-than-professional behaviors are common. Directors are very busy and often so caught up in the frenzy to get things done that a counterproductive office culture consumes the workplace. When this happens, the defense is usually that the director wants to let employees do things their own way and personalities can’t be changed. This is an excuse for not being willing to take the time to define the culture for good business.

Define and Evaluate Office Culture

The mission and philosophy of the organization should encompass the office culture, but often it does not. The culture itself must be defined and articulated. It isn’t a question of just getting the job done, but rather the style by which the goals are achieved. The culture starts at the top. It is a respectful, involved, dedicated, and committed manner of working that nurtures a real team effort and creates enormous pride in the products and the business.

The culture determines the quality of customer attention, but more than that, it is an awareness that every member of the staff is integral to the team and is individually accountable for the productive environment.

Unfortunately, consumers have come to accept casual practices as the norm. And yet there are businesses that are consistently professional with great morale and spirit because the culture has been predetermined, the ongoing daily business is monitored, and expectations are clear. You are dealt with carefully, details are finalized, and because it is such a pleasure to deal with these companies, you actively refer other folks.

Evaluate your office culture. Is there a real collaboration that is conducive to excellence? Are all members of your team actively involved and is individual performance of the highest caliber? Are people excited to come to work and willing to do everything necessary to achieve the organization’s goals? If not, change the culture now.

Examine Other Areas of Your Operations

Realize that customers are your reason for being in business. Without them, you have no business. Therefore, in addition to evaluating your office culture, examine other aspects of your operation as well, including the business culture, expectations of staff, and your communication.

  • Define the business culture. Identify how the year-round office and seasonal staff will work together to maximize individual performance, productivity, and business solutions.
  • Explain the details of the culture, expectations, and accountability when hiring year-round and seasonal staff.
  • Invest the necessary time to train staff to ensure individual success.
  • Monitor efforts and mentor to nurture staff development in keeping with the established culture.
  • Expect clean communication, that is, direct discussion of problems and issues between the people involved. Eliminate behind-the-back conversations which sabotage the team effort.
  • Encourage unusual thinking and creative problem solving. Do not allow folks to defer to the “way we’ve always done it” and preconceived limitations.
  • Demand genuine respect and regard for co-workers and customers. Even the most dramatic of personality conflicts will be minimized in an environment that appreciates differences.
  • Communicate regularly and in a forum that applauds efforts and moves criticism to productive suggestion to enhance product delivery, customer attention, and the team morale.

Create a dynamic office and year-round staff culture and your reward will be a waiting list of extraordinary individuals who want to work with you and a widely acclaimed product that will be sold out at every offering.

Originally published in the 1999 September/October issue of Camping Magazine.

 

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