While many of us in the camp world are barely able to look beyond what we need to do to be ready for this summer, it is important to remember that recruitment for next summer has already begun — and you may not have even realized it. Dedicating just a little of your time to thinking of staffing for next year's summer right now might save you a lot of work in the long run.

It is no secret that the best tool that many of us have for staff recruitment is those staff members that are currently hired. Nothing gives a better endorsement of your camp than the staff that are already invested in spending their summer with you. These are the people you need to focus on to help you bring in excellent staff for the future.

How to go about that can be a real challenge, so below are five simple ideas that you can implement right now and over the course of the summer. Get a massive head start on recruitment for next year and beyond!

1. Recruit Staff Advocates/Ambassadors

Various staffing conversations have brought up recurring themes around the idea of staff ambassadors, i.e., having current or recent staff serve as recruiters for your camp. 

A helpful recommendation for managing this initiative is to create a points-style reward system. Staff members can earn “points” for certain activities and cash them in for rewards such as gift cards or camp swag. Point scoring activities can be posting on social media (10 points), attending a college recruitment fair on behalf of the camp (15 points), or giving a talk in front of their classmates at college (25 points). This simple reward system can be easy to track and doesn’t cost you a huge amount.

One of the great things about this idea is you can apply it to other areas of priority too! Trying to boost your social media presence? Give them created content and ask them to share it on your behalf (5 points). This benefits you and your camp in two ways . . . 1) you get content posted across social media that will be seen by eyes that are not looking at your channels, and 2) you still have control of the branding and messaging that goes out with your camp name attached to it. Both are great reasons to pursue this method of social media marketing.

2. Offer Incentives to Sign up Early/Bring Friends

This may sound simple, and it is! Why wait until the summer has finished to begin reaching out to your staff to ask them about returning? At the end of the summer, before they leave, offer them a cash incentive on their salary next year if they sign up there and then!

Sure, they may not follow through on it and pull out anyway, but a cash bonus might be just what you need to catch some of those staff that are on the fence and pull them back for another summer.

For the staff that are coming back (and even those that aren’t), offer them cash incentives to send you staff. If those leads get hired and complete the summer, you pay the person that referred them. You’d likely be spending that money on online ads or simply through your own personal time trying to recruit staff when you could be taking on other vital projects.

3. Create a Plan for Staff Recruitment Content — Featuring Your Current Staff!

This summer is the perfect time to get your staff on camera to talk about how much they love working at camp! You should absolutely use this time to create content that can help you recruit staff for next summer.

Take pictures of your staff during orientation when they are (hopefully) having a lot of fun. Toward the end of the summer, get them on camera to talk about how much they love camp, how much they have grown, and how much they have enjoyed their time there. Get videos of your campers talking about how much that staff means to them and the impact they have had on them. 

Gen Z pride themselves on being able to spot a fake, and so the scripted, glossy, well-polished videos that many of us have relied on in the past just don’t cut it with our target demographic. Use your current staff to create genuine, authentic content that isn’t scripted and features them really talking about what camp means to them – this will likely solicit a better response from potential staff. Finally, trust what they say/produce — it might not be how you would talk about camp, but that’s kind of the point!

4. Find out What Training/Perks/Professional Development They Want — and Give That to Them This Summer!

We all know what we want our staff to learn during their orientation and over the course of the summer, but when was the last time any of us asked THEM what they want to learn?

Now is a great time to speak with some of your returning staff and ask them what they wish they had known before their first summer. This group is also perfectly placed to tell you what skills and professional development they want to take from camp this summer.

Use those people to help inform your orientation planning and ongoing staff training (training should never stop once the kids arrive!). Use their feedback to develop a schedule of training and skills sessions that can be delivered by you, your leadership team, and if possible, outside speakers. Your staff will appreciate the lengths to which you have gone to help them progress their skills, and it might just encourage them to come back for another summer!

5. Figure out What You Can Offer Staff Even after They Have Left for the Summer

For many of us, the end of the summer comes and we say goodbye to our staff, some for the last time knowing that they won’t be back. Some are just here for a summer adventure, some are off to explore other walks of life, and some have commitments that will not allow them another full summer off.

We may engage them through some social media, perhaps there is a reunion that brings groups of friends back together (this in itself can often reignite someone’s love of camp and you might well pull a few staff members back in who you thought were out), but beyond this, do you offer them anything of substance?

Are there opportunities for professional development? Do you offer to help with high school/college essays? Do you offer great references? Are there any opportunities at your reunions for them to network with alumni who may help them gain jobs or internships?

All of these and more are opportunities to demonstrate to your staff that they are part of the team and their success and development matter to camp. Continuing to engage with your staff might keep them with you longer than they otherwise may have stayed.

While these ideas are not rocket science, and you may already be doing some or all of them, it is worth dedicating some time now and during summer to catch the real magic of being at camp by using the voices of your current staff. You never know — it may help you out tremendously in the long run!

Have a great summer everyone!

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.

Jon Carter is the activities, communications, and events coordinator for Camp Schodack in Nassau, New York. This will be his 14th summer working for Schodack and his 7th as a member of year-round team. Carter is on the ACA Staff Recruitment and Retention Committee.

Photo courtesy of Camp Carson in Princeton, Indiana