by Derek Wyse
Camp management can be an imposing task. No longer is it confined to
just managing campers and staff. Now data management is an even more
important component. This means that in order to compete and survive
market, camp owners and directors need the most up-to-date tools available
if they are to effectively manage their camp’s operation.
Camp management software has been around in many formats for years.
Camps have created their own ‘homegrown’ systems; have partnered
with other camps to create systems; and have purchased systems designed
specifically for the industry. Those systems range from the simple database
used to collect data to the most complex systems that utilize computer
logic and improve efficiency.
Camp management software, however, may be a misnomer, as in reality what
owners want and need is administrative software. Not only do owners and
directors want to be able to manage day-to-day operations, they also want
to be able to have access to up-to-the-minute data so they can make strategic
decisions based on real-time statistics. They want to be able to access
this data quickly and have their camp administrative team connected to
the same database in order to communicate with each other. In addition,
they want their campers to be able to communicate with them and register
electronically via their camp Web site. They know campers have grown accustomed
to doing business online; therefore, their software must be able to address
John Hall, owner of Camp Horizons in Harrisonburg, Virginia, puts it
this way, “While we operate a traditional summer camp, the way we do business
is anything but traditional. We have been using camp management software
for several years, but quickly outgrew its capabilities. We had to have
software that allowed us to better understand and manage the administrative
functions of our operation. With our new administrative software, our directors
and all of our administrative personnel are on the cutting edge of technology,
and we have to stay there if we are to compete and survive. We can track
inquires and enroll campers, view comparative trends, and automatically
house campers based on pre-defined criteria.
“Even more important, our camp families now can go online and register
or view their accounts or make payments without the need to personally
talk with a camp staff member. And we can do this with one fully integrated
system. Before choosing our current software, we looked at what it would
take to add the online capability and quickly determined that to do so
would require dealing with a third-party vendor, which would have been
OK, except the basic system package was still not adequate. We also took
into consideration the group aspect of camps. We draw a significant percentage
of our business from off season groups. Therefore, we needed the ability
to track and place groups, and all that it entails.”
Choosing Your Software
When selecting software, it is important to receive input from all of
the people in the camp who will be using the new software. The software
you choose should meet your immediate needs, but should also be capable
of addressing and handling your future needs as well. Talk with references
from the various vendors, especially those from similar camps.
While price will ultimately come into play, do not necessarily let price
alone be the defining factor — until you have thoroughly reviewed
your options. Work closely with your financial department and do a return
on investment analysis on all the packages. When comparing the costs of
individual software products, take a look at what is included in the purchase
price. Some vendors bundle features together, while others choose to sell
each function separately.
Your analysis should also include factors beyond the initial up-front
cost of the software. If there are add-ons that must be purchased to
optimally use the software — such as online registration software — be
sure to include the cost and user fees for them. Additionally, include
the cost of ongoing maintenance/support fees and any charges necessary
for data conversion in your analysis.
Also, take a close look at the software company. Understand their mission
statement, and see how well their philosophy matches yours — and
ask the references if they truly do what they say. Then, make sure the
system will be easy to use. If your staff can immediately use the system
with little training, they will instantly be more productive.
Security is another important feature that should be evaluated in the
selection process. Knowing that your data is safely stored and protected
is critical. Security should be a huge issue for all camps, and your
software should be able to address the concerns in an easy-to-use fashion.
For optimum protection of your data, you need to be able to assign different
tasks to camp personnel and then give them the level of system authority
they need to do their jobs. Not everyone in your camp