Paying Enough and Training Right! A Snapshot of Salary, Benefits, and Professional Development Practices in Camp

Troy Bennett, MBA; and Barry A. Garst, PhD

Download the two-page summary spread appearing in Camping Magazine

Since 2006 ACA has conducted camp business research using a three-year cycle to identify industry benchmarks and to begin to identify trends. This research provides an evidence base for camp business practices. Some studies target the compensation and benefits provided to full-time camp directors, other full-time staff positions, and seasonal staff. Provided below are some key findings from ACA’s recent study, as well as some trends over time.

These findings are an important guide for camp employment practices. From increasing employee retention to maintaining a competitive edge, these data provide necessary benchmarks for what is actually happening in camps. Camps can access the full report to compare themselves with other camps based on sponsorship, revenue size, and region. Stay competitive! Get the full 2013 ACA Camp Compensation, Benefits, and Professional Development Survey report for day camps or resident camps.

In 2012 a random sample of 423 day and resident camps was surveyed (21 percent response rate) about compensation (salary or wage) and the associated benefits provided to staff. This survey represented the first time that professional development practices were benchmarked for the camp community; “professional development” referred to any educational opportunity (including seasonal staff training) meant to enhance the competences of individuals employed at camp. The following questions were featured:
  • What is the average base salary for a camp director and are camp director salaries increasing?
  • What is the average per week wage for a seasonal staff member and are salaries per week wages increasing for seasonal camp staff?
  • What benefits do camps provide to full-time staff?
  • How many hours of professional development are required for full-time, paid staff?
  • What methods are camps using to train their full-time, paid staff?
  • How many hours of precamp training, on average, are camps providing to seasonal camp staff and volunteers?
  • What methods are camps using to train their seasonal camp staff?


The “Typical” Camp Director

  • 56 percent of day camp directors are female, compared to only 35 percent of resident camps.
  • In general, day camp directors were younger than resident camp directors.
  • Day camp directors are most likely to be between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four and working in a director level position for five to nine years. Resident camp directors tend to be a little older, with the highest percentage of camp directors in the range of thirty-five to forty-four years old.
  • Resident camp directors also tend to have more years of experience, with the highest percentage of camps reporting ten to nineteen years. 

Director Salaries

  • Day camp directors, on average, earned $56,500 compared to an average of $64,600 earned by resident camp directors. The median salary of each group was lower at $45,000 for day camps and $52,000 for resident camps. Figure 1 shows data from 2007 to 2013.
  • One in six day camp directors earned $75,000 or more and 8 percent earned $100,000 or more. One in five resident camp directors earned $75,000 or more and 4 percent earned $150,000 or more.
  • Male camp directors averaged significantly higher salaries compared to female directors.
  • In resident camps, directors with a master’s degree typically make 23 percent more than those holding bachelor’s degrees. In day camps, directors with master’s degrees generally make more than twice as much as those holding bachelor’s degrees.
  • The highest salaries are found in camps in the New England region and the independent for-profit camp affiliation. The lowest average salaries were in the Mid-America region.
  • Religiously affiliated camps had the lowest average salary. (But they were the top affiliation in providing health and retirement benefits for full-time camp directors.)
  • Data from 2007–2013 allow comparisons in camp director salaries over time (Figure 1).

Comparing Director Benefits Based on Camp Type

  • 80 percent of resident camps reported that they provide health/dental insurance to their full-time camp director. Day camps were less likely to offer benefits with 63 percent of camps reporting that they provide health/dental insurance.
  • Religiously affiliated camps reported the highest percentage of camps that provide health/dental insurance for their camp directors (94 percent). Religiously affiliated camps also had the highest percentage of resident camps (87 percent) that reported retirement contributions.
  • Figure 2 provides an overview of resident camp director benefits by camp affiliation.

Seasonal Camp Staff Wages

  • Figure 3 and Figure 4 reflect the median wage trends for various seasonal positions for 2007–2013.
  • Seasonal summer day camp directors tended to earn more per week than their seasonal counterparts in resident camps, although resident camps have experienced a continuous upward trend while day camp seasonal director wages decreased from 2010–2013.
  • Program Directors received similar salaries in 2013, as did nurses.
  • Camp counselors earned a higher median weekly wage in day camps compared to resident camps.
  • Maintenance staff received higher weekly wages in resident camps.

Professional Development Benchmarks for Directors

In the 2012 survey, the term “professional development” included staff training, continuing education, self-directed learning, or other learning opportunities that allow the learner to make progress toward career goals

  • The majority of day and resident camps require professional development hours for full-time, paid staff.
    • 41 percent of day camps require ten or more hours of professional development, and 17 percent require professional development but the number of hours is not mandated. 17 percent of day camps reported that they do not require their full-time, paid staff to complete any professional development hours.
    • 27 percent of resident camps require their full-time, paid staff to complete professional development, but do not have a mandatory number of hours. 20 percent of resident camps require ten or more hours and 14 percent require less than ten hours of professional development. 30 percent of resident camps do not require full-time, paid staff to complete professional development hours.
  • Figure 5 illustrates the percentage of camps using each method of professional development for their full-time, year-round staff.
    • The highest percentage of day camps (34.8 percent) complete their professional development on site with internal staff, compared to resident camps that reported the highest percentage of camps (46.4 percent) complete their professional development off site.

Professional Development Benchmarks for Seasonal Staff

  • Of the day camps with seasonal, paid staff in 2012, more than half (60 percent) require completion of prearrival professional development for specialty staff, such as lifeguards; horse, adventure/challenge, shooting instructors; and so on). About half (51 percent) of day camps require prearrival professional development for their other seasonal staff.
  • These percentages are markedly different in resident camps. 97 percent of resident camps require professional development prior to arrival for specialty staff and 98 percent require it for other seasonal staff.
  • The number of hours of professional development required for seasonal paid staff differs between specialty staff and other seasonal staff.
    • Once seasonal, paid staff arrive on site, 77 percent of day camps require specialty staff to complete professional development and 81 percent require it for other seasonal staff. Over 40 percent require ten or more hours of professional development to be completed.
    • 73 percent of resident camps require their seasonal specialty staff to complete ten or more hours of professional development after they arrive on site, and 67 percent require other seasonal staff to complete at least 10 hours of professional development after arrival.
  • Figure 6 illustrates the percentages of camps utilizing different types of professional development for both seasonal specialty staff and seasonal other staff combined.
    • Most camps (73 percent resident, 68 percent day) complete professional development on site with internal staff providing the training.
    • Roughly 15 percent of both day and resident camps contract with external trainers or consultants to conduct professional development on site.
    • Online education is emerging as a professional development strategy with approximately 7 percent of day and resident camps using that approach.

ACA Camp Business and Employment Resources


Troy Bennett is an ACA research assistant working at the University of Utah. He is pursuing a doctoral degree in the Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Department.

Barry A. Garst, PhD, is ACA’s director of program development and research application and adjunct professor at Virginia Tech. His current research interests include the multiple meanings of nature-based experiences and the workforce development outcomes of camp experiences. Contact: