As camp professionals, we are not alone in our passion for the positive impact camp can have. There are many individuals and organizations who share, value, and understand the power of the camp experience in changing lives — but who don’t operate camps themselves.
The individuals and organizations we call “Finders and Funders” are second and third parties who have the same interest and belief in the power of the camp experience as camp operators. But rather than operate camps, they are engaged in either finding campers to attend camps and/or funding the camp experience, usually through providing tuition assistance or other types of support, such as transportation, clothing, or other expenses.
While the role of funders is some-what obvious, it can often pay — quite literally — for camps to look beyond the normal funding sources in a community or limiting fundraising efforts to tuition alone. For camp to be a reality, many families need assistance in addition to tuition, such as paying for the camp’s physical exam, special clothing or gear requirements, or transportation to camp. Partnering with second parties is an excel-lent way to support these additional needs. Cultivating community relationships may help open doors to financial support in a variety of ways.
When we are looking at finders, we are talking about cultivating relationships within communities that go beyond the traditional camp advisory services. Finders include those who refer kids to camps, such as teachers, social workers, law enforcement agents, nonprofit organizations, religious institutions, and so on. Some youth may simply lack opportunities within their own communities, while others are identified to attend camp because of a special interest, talent, or academic need. In some cases, professionals within these organizations recognize the profound impact camp may have on youth who are in at-risk situations and strive to give the children positive away-from-home experiences.
In many communities, there are organizations whose sole purpose is to find youth who will benefit from a camp experience and place them in camps, those with the mission to fund the camp experience, and some that do both. These organizations can be a source of new campers for camps as well as a potential opportunity for camps to include youth from diverse social, cultural, and economic groups in a camp experience.
In many cases, these organizations are already established in the community, and it’s simply a matter of making the connections. Camps also have the opportunity to cultivate their own relationships to create finders. For example, networking with teachers is a great way to get camper referrals. Camps with specialty programs, such as in the arts or sciences, or who wish to attract academically gifted youth, may want to explore local and/or national organizations that share the camp’s pro-gram interest.
Social workers, and others who work with kids living in challenging circumstances, are often looking for programs where they might place youth. Camp operators are encouraged to look beyond the old language of “at-risk youth,” as it is no longer only associated with kids who have serious behavior problems — a non-starter for most directors in mainstream camp settings. For many youth, going to camp removes them from situational risk. There are many kids who are at risk because of their life circumstances. These are not “bad kids”; these are kids living in bad situations.
For example, the death of a parent can quickly put a family into a state of financial risk, especially if the parent was the only provider for the household. A parent’s loss of employment or critical illness may also put youth at risk. These types of financial changes can impact children from all economic levels — not just those who were already living in challenging economic circumstances.
A camp that is savvy in cultivating com-munity resources as finders can potentially build an army of recruiters and capture opportunities to increase diversity, serve new customers, market to new and diverse clientele, and be more inclusive of the broader public — the list is limitless.
Camping Magazine’s 20/20 Toolbox Series supports ACA’s 20/20 Vision national outreach initiative. The 20/20 Vision is a commitment to serve 20 million children in camps by the year 2020. Today, 10 million children and youth go to camp annually. By 2020, we want no fewer than 20 million children going to camp annually, with the American Camp Association community directly impacting the lives of those 20 mil-lion children. Strategies for implementation of the 20/20 Vision include increasing outreach to camper participants, including those from populations who have not traditionally been served in the camp marketplace, and reaching out to the broader public and communities.
Diane Tyrrell is the director of Camp Motorsport in Clover, Virginia and serves as the Camping Magazine 20/20 Toolbox Series Editor.
Originally published in the 2013 September/October Camping Magazine.