I'm a giant fan of clever TV commercials. Have you seen the one for a certain job service where two office workers are in a jungle, and one unsuspecting individual goes for a plate of donuts? Even as the other fellow is trying to warn him about it being a trap, the hungry one reaches for a pastry and falls into a pit; he's trapped in a pointless, endless meeting. It seems that capital campaigns at camps follow a pattern not much different from going after those easy donuts and landing in the bottom of the pit. And, since really large fund-raising efforts (and the capital projects that follow) don't happen more than a handful of times in any one career, there's a fresh crop of folks grabbing at the easy treats all the time. The lessons learned from one experience are often forgotten or lost before the next campaign rolls around. This month, we're going to look at some of the most common pitfalls associated with large-scale efforts to raise money for improved facilities, and we'll look at how you might avoid them the next time around.
You can put lipstick on a pig . . . but it's still a pig.
In our situation, a coat of paint is no substitute for real, substantial ongoing care. Raising money for new facilities when the existing ones are in bad shape is more than a challenge. It's nearly impossible! This is a two-pronged issue. First, savvy contributors look at what you have and their physical condition as an indication of how prior gifts have been cared for. Convincing donors that their money is in good hands where they can see a different history before their eyes may be an impossible task. Next, without having a detailed assessment of what's in place and how it fits into the program plans, dumb stares will be all that's available to answer potential donors' questions about what it would cost to overhaul a building rather than constructing a replacement.
Closing the Barn Door After the Horse Is Gone
Some capital campaigns focus specifically on deferred maintenance items. But to try to raise money for work before you know what it may cost is short-sighted at best. Imagine that a contributor donates a substantial sum for renovation of a building. With money in hand, a contractor's hired to re-roof, replace windows, and add heat and air conditioning. After the exterminator was finished and the insect damage repaired (!), it appeared that the worst was over because the shell was done just in time for the winter. The contractor was getting ready to install the heat when he discovered that the foundation was failing. Unbelievable? Impossible? I wish that it weren't so. It happens more often than folks will admit, and it's because they're simply in a hurry to run before they're ready to crawl, let alone walk.
It may be painful, maybe even embarrassing, but complete an honest and detailed inspection of what you have and what it would take to put each facility on an acceptable standing. What's "acceptable?" Generally speaking, my standard is that each facility should be in a condition and repair such that an adult guest, your insurance underwriter, and the local building construction inspector would take no exception. That's a tall order for sure, but isn't that where the facility should be all along? With all of the other distractions vying for parents' money, the bar has been raised to get campers in your door. It's what's required to be competitive.
If You Build It, They Will Come
Unless you want to be in the business of competing with the Orlando-style resorts, you may be on a fast track to frustration and disappointment. If you think about it, the difference between camps and a theme park is found in a single word: "Program." Your marketing materials promise a life-changing experience that only your organization can provide. The facilities and amenities of the site ought to be intertwined with the program, supporting it and providing the experiential icing on the cake. The facilities themselves should never be the focus of camp if for no other reason than any attraction at one facility can be duplicated somewhere else. Consider ropes courses. Not long ago, folks were scrambling to keep up with the industry's Joneses, and the course installers couldn't keep up with the demand. Before very long, most everyone who had the space and the money had one. Today, with the exception of the organizations where this sort of experiential education was and is an integral part of the program, many camps are now struggling with the cost of maintaining, operating, supervising, and insuring an attraction.
You need to look hard and long before adding attractions to camp. Program is what makes camp, camp. Age-specific program offerings will allow campers to grow into and through a range of experiences that they'll keep for a lifetime. Don't try to compete with the water park by being one. Instead, let your facilities support and enhance the programs that set you apart.
The "Five-Color Cartoon"
We've all seen the blackline map of Camp Wherever with dark green trees, light green fields, brown roofs, gray roads and trails, and blue water. The idea of that display is to convey the relative location of the facilities at camp both existing and proposed. As a concept tool, it can really help folks envision the facility in a future state by providing a simple,