In a rapidly evolving digital age, the traditional methods of staff recruitment — job fairs, Handshake, and campus pizza parties — seem to be fading into the background.

As we navigate this dynamic landscape, we've learned that the most potent marketing tool is not a flashy advertisement or a catchy slogan. Instead, it's the authentic peer-to-peer sharing of experiences. Jay Baer, the author of Talk Triggers, aptly notes, "In today’s world, meaningful differences between businesses are rarely rooted in price or product, but instead in customer experience." And at Camp Manito-wish YMCA, that customer experience begins with our incredible staff.

To build a passionate and dedicated team, we've realized the importance of starting our staff recruitment process with the individuals who wholeheartedly embrace our mission — returning staff. Their passion and commitment serve as the cornerstone of successful staff recruitment, surpassing any budget, job fair, or incentive we could imagine. But the question remains: How can we fully capitalize on this valuable resource?

Enter the innovative concept of camp staff influencers.

Think about how many times you've scrolled through TikTok, Instagram, or Facebook, only to encounter an influencer passionately endorsing a product or service. We've all been there, and if we're being honest, most of us have succumbed to the allure of an "influenced" purchase at least once or twice. The power of influencer marketing is undeniable, and even more powerful when coming from a trusted source. The majority of our staff are digital natives inherently inclined to share their experiences and passions online. By involving them in the conversation, offering them an outlet to use their voice, and collaboratively picking an incentive for doing so, we developed a program that is valuable to all.

So, what exactly does the camp influencer initiative entail? It's a simple yet ingenious idea that leverages the digital savvy and enthusiasm of our staff. Here's how it works:

Exclusive Rewards

We talked with some key individuals who will be kicking off our Influencer program and asked what would incentivize them. Surprisingly, it’s just a unique camp sweatshirt! This isn't just a token gesture; it's a symbol of our appreciation for their advocacy and a tangible reminder of their role in our camp community. Additionally, the exclusivity of this special design will entice more and more staff to consider joining the Influencer initiative to get their own.

Social Media Takeovers

Influencers take charge of camp’s Instagram, Tiktok, and Facebook Live as well as other accounts in their lives. Conducting takeovers on their own campus, athletic, or Greek Life profiles to share their personal experience with their own networks — leveraging on the authentic peer-to-peer relationship. They share their genuine experiences, behind-the-scenes glimpses, and heartfelt stories about working at Camp Manito-wish YMCA. We piloted this over the summer for our all-camp activity, and not only did the staff love doing it, but the parents’ feedback was incredible! They loved having the “in the moment” view of what was happening at camp. While that takeover was targeted at the parent demographic, it was concrete proof that we were heading in the right direction.

Boosting Algorithm

Through social sharing, commenting, and engaging with our content, camp influencers actively engage to boost our algorithm. This not only expanded our reach but also increased our visibility among potential recruits. Over the past two months, our average engagement rate across digital media platforms increased by over 300 percent.

Positive Reviews

When I look to buy something online, I read all the reviews. As a marketing professional, I know it’s the company’s job to make their own product look good. What I care about is what real people are saying about their product. Similarly, we ask our influencers to leave reviews on platforms like Handshake, sharing firsthand insights into why working at camp is the perfect move.

Peer-to-Peer Advocacy

Camp influencers present their firsthand experiences to their peers. They become trusted voices advocating for the unique and transformative opportunities that Camp Manito-wish YMCA offers. Due to time and budget constraints, it’s no longer realistic for us to attend every job fair or get to every campus we’d like to throughout the off-season. However, we have many individuals already in those key locations that are happy to share with a class, pass out marketing materials, or staff a table at a job fair. Influencers who engage in this level of recruitment are rewarded with additional incentives for their time and work.

Incorporating camp staff influencers into our recruitment strategy is a bold step into a new era of recruitment and retention. It recognizes the power of authenticity, trust, and digital connectivity in our modern world. By capitalizing on the storytellers, advocates, and champions of our mission, we’re not only placing value in our existing staff pool but attracting exceptional talent while fostering a sense of community and belonging that extends far beyond the digital realm when those new staff come to camp and recognize a familiar face.

As we embark on this exciting journey, we look forward to witnessing the transformative impact of our camp staff influencers. Together, we're shaping a future where staff recruitment is not just a process but a shared experience, a collective adventure, and a testament to the power of authenticity in the digital age. Welcome to the era of camp influencers, where passion meets purpose, and connections are forged one post at a time.

This blog was written on behalf of Project Real Job, whose purpose is to support camps in their efforts to recruit, hire, and retain staff.

Sara Farrow (director of marketing and recruitment at Camp Manito-wish YMCA) is a dedicated servant leader specializing in nonprofit management and marketing, with a track record of fostering growth and success over eight years in the field. Sara's ability to think beyond the confines of traditional paradigms has been a hallmark of her professional journey. She thrives on pushing the boundaries of creativity and innovation to not only meet immediate goals but also to strategically shape the long-term trajectory of organizations. Her exceptional capacity to navigate complex challenges and seize opportunities has made her a driving force for Camp Manito-wish YMCA. Email:

Photo courtesy of Camp Manito-wish YMCA in Boulder Junction, Wisconsin.