Where are camps going? What should you be doing? What kinds of programs, facilities and resources do you need to meet the demands of the twenty-first century?
These are tough questions. The world is changing so fast that you can hardly keep up with today’s trends, let alone predict the impact of new discoveries and inventions on the future. Anticipating how today’s technology will influence your life personally and socially tomorrow is especially difficult.
Where will camps get resources? Who will be the workforce? How much can you shape your future, or are you simply at the mercy of factors out of your control?
Addressing these questions in a systematic way is futuring. Futuring is a discipline that uses various methodologies to anticipate possibilities based on current trends, to assess the likely impact of these possibilities on different aspects of people’s lives, and to establish responses that enable people to control the directions of their lives or to be prepared to deal with the uncontrollable consequences. A popular myth says that futurists predict what will happen, but this is not true — no one can know what will happen in the future. However, by using some common methodologies, futurists can anticipate tomorrow.
I have used a number of these techniques to help camp leaders anticipate the possibilities in their future. I have also listened extensively to others who have forecast the future both formally and informally. Following are some of the observable trends and their likely impact on the next decade of the camp industry. Since these are mostly big picture trends affecting the industry and society, they will have different affects on various camps and centers. The value of forecasting possibilities is to provide an opportunity for you to determine your response in your setting and to decide if this trend will influence your future.
Smaller Consumer Niches
Consumer niches are becoming smaller and smaller, Camps need to develop new and diverse program responses, which means they will have multiple identities. This trend will bring several challenges.
Since you can’t be everything to everyone, you will need to practice specialized diversification. Identify the two or three program or service areas that you can do best and that are compatible with each other in terms of staff, resources, and mission.
All program responses must be based on an identified market need, not just on the fact that your neighbors are doing this program (though observation is an excellent way to identify new opportunities).
You may find that the program responses take you outside your traditional identity and that "camp" no longer encompasses what you do. Wrestling with this new overall identity is one of the greatest challenges in the field at present. For many years, the typical related identities were retreat centers, conference centers, and environmental education centers. Now there are new designations. Girl Scout organizations are increasingly referring to their camp sites as "program centers"; others refer to "outdoor education centers" or just "centers."
If you have an established program, this growth inevitably leads to a re-evaluation of your original mission. In most cases, organizations will not change their core values and key competencies, but they will find it necessary to broaden the application of their traditional mission. If the stated mission is for a larger organization, the camp itself may need to write a specific vision and purpose statement for its unique application of that mission. If the camp mission statement has been constructed with narrow focus, the language may need to be revised to encompass additional audiences and opportunities. A good mission statement helps you focus on what is done and not done at your facility.
The movement to diversify camp programs, sites, and styles will prompt new professional affiliations, networks, and interrelated resources.
Changing association attitudes
Thus, professional associations must specialize, just as the camps do, claim their niche, and address the identified needs of their constituency by providing the highest quality leadership and resources possible within their targeted focus. As the options for specialization grow, camp and center professionals will increasingly reject generic or one-size-fits-all solutions. They will also resist the demand of an association to give total loyalty, reserving the right to draw on any source that provides useful support services.
Diversity Expands Market
In a world of increasingly diverse peoples, more audiences are available for you to serve if you can successfully attract them to your programs and sites and demonstrate that you can meet their needs.
Adult and family camps
Enriching the camp experience
Camps are increasingly serving campers and staff from around the world. As the opportunities continue to grow, our sites and programs will need to become very sophisticated in terms of cultural integration, social mores, international travel, currency, and language.
Given the power and availability of computer technology, you must learn to use technology to enhance rather than diminish your life.
The virtual adventure
Personal communication devices
New responses in camps and centers include phones in retreat rooms, modem jacks on the pay phones, and cell phones available for rent. A number of camps now receive e-mail from parents to campers. Campers and guests are no longer willing to be cut off from the world while at your camp or retreat.
Competing in the Twenty-First Century
To compete in the next century, leaders must develop a business savvy that enables them to balance opposing and competing factors.
Be an entrepreneur
In order to create a stable organization and solid business structure at camp, these same leaders must ground the organization in well-designed policies and procedures, systematize routines, seek longevity in staff, create a history to which people are attached, and protect assets and resources. Camp professionals must develop skills to successfully balance the stabilizing business forces against the chaos of constant change.
Be a leader and a manager
Management skills track and control key indicators of success by providing feedback about whether the implementation of your vision is leading in the desired direction and whether the organization is stable and efficient, and by giving us tools for on-course correction as needed.
Be the best provider
For profit versus nonprofit
The increase in nonprofit entrepreneurial efforts is coupled with the demonstration by a number of for-profit enterprises that high-quality, modestly priced services can be provided to the traditional nonprofit markets at a profit. Both factors are weakening the rationale for a socially protected group of enterprises that deserve tax exemption and special privilege in order to serve the common good.
Preparing for the Future
The above forecasts are only informed insights. Some are evident in camps and centers in 1997 and are likely to become normative throughout the industry; some of them are just speculation based on the contextual situation. The most important thing for camp leaders to remember is that you can have a hand in creating the future. You don’t need to be pawns at the mercy of the trends. You can use the forecasts to prepare yourself, to anticipate the positive and the negative possibilities of any trend, and to determine how to respond in order to assure that, regardless of the shape and form, camp experiences continue to give kids and persons of any age a world of good.
Kathleen M. Trotter is owner and principal consultant for KALEIDOSCOPE, Inc., a consulting and development company in Fayetteville, Arkansas, serving camps and centers. She invites comments to her at email@example.com .
Originally published in the 1998 January/February issue of Camping Magazine.