My daughter was born three weeks ago. This is the first child for my wife and I, and I already feel part of this new parent club that I have heard so much about. No longer do I have to worry about the question, “Do you have kids,” from parents of campers who think I’m an idiot because I hadn’t reproduced yet.
Of course, having kids does give you a new perspective on things for sure. It doesn’t mean if you are childless that you can’t be an amazing Camp Director, but it does give you a slightly different outlook since you now have the opportunity to do the same things other parents have done.
Like taking tours of childcare facilities. I did that yesterday.
I will admit that I hated giving tours to prospective camp parents. It took too long, they always had a hundred questions that could have easily been answered by a flier or our website, and they always asked me if I had kids myself (I really hated this question.)
Yesterday the tables were turned as my wife Molly, and our 3-week-old daughter Olive went to three different childcare facilities. All three are within five miles of our house, all three are similar in price, and all three had similar hours and quality standards. I went into all three with what I thought was an open mind, but of course this was tainted by what I saw on their websites and what Molly told me about her phone conversations when scheduling the tour.
Here’s what I learned from our tours, and things I would change when giving a tour of a camp if I was still in a position to do this.
Time of Tour
On our first tour, the kids were having naptime. The place seemed like a library — especially since a number of the staff members were reading books while the kids slept. On our second tour, most of the rooms were having some kind of activity or the kids were eating. All the kids seemed well behaved and happy to be eating or playing. The third tour was during “rides-out.” There were lots of parents picking up, the caregivers seemed exhausted and stressed out, and it was extremely overwhelming.
As someone who has worked with camps and afterschool programs for more than a decade, I know that getting a glimpse into the common day of a facility only tells a little bit of the full story. It just so happened that we scheduled the tours for when we did. Tour #2 was the absolute best because there was so much to see because kids were engaged in activities, we got to see the staff at work, and there weren’t any parents there to make it seem more overwhelming than it actually was.
Do you schedule your tours to take place when activities are going on? Most parents only see the rides-in and rides-out process, so why would you ever allow a tour to happen during the most hectic part of the day? Same with naptime. Even as a first-time parent, I know that kids spend most of their day sleeping or crying. It’s a risk to tour prospective parents during the actual activity day, but not if you have a competent staff that does a great job. We were super impressed that all the kids were wide-awake and seemed happy to be there on Tour #2.
Know your stuff
Tour #2 got this one right too. You can tell that she gives a bunch of tours and never once had to look at any of their documentation to know things like times, activity schedules, or the ages of each room. On our first tour, which has by far the best credentials and fanciest website, the tour guide actually said, “I just forgot something about our safety procedures that I was going to tell you.” What? I know that it’s hard to remember everything, but why would you tell us you actually forgot to tell us something? We would not know you forgot to tell us something if you didn’t tell us you forgot to tell us something. He never did tell us what he forgot.
Interaction with other staff
Tour #2 also got an A+ here. Nothing was fake about the staff here. On Tour #1, we had staff members ask us if we had any questions, but did not converse with us in any other way (we didn’t have any specific questions for the staff so the conversation was very short.) On Tour #3, other staff members said hello but did not interact with us at all. On Tour #2 however, we were asked a bunch of questions from the other staff members.
“How did you choose the name Olive?”
“Have you all lived in Charlotte for long?”
And to my wife, “There’s no way you gave birth three weeks ago. You look amazing.”
She really liked that one.
We also had a lengthy conversation with our tour guide and one of the other staff members about a local pizza place that we all really like. The interactions you have with parents do not have to just be about your camp or your facility.
• The tour guide on Tour #2 interacted with other staff, parents and kids while simultaneously continuing the tour. She did not ignore kids when they asked for a hug and she knew everyone’s name. And, this facility had the most kids and the most staff. She was a real pro.
• Don’t automatically tell people everything. Ask them questions and actually listen to what they are saying. Cater your tour to the conversation.
• Don’t squeeze in a tour just to get someone in before a meeting or before the end of the day. Most likely, parents have been to more than one place and they will automatically compare their experience on the tour.
• When things are mostly the same: price, location, accreditations, etc. the people that work at your camp are the absolute most important thing. Even if your facility isn’t the best around, you can impress prospective parents by being genuine, knowing your stuff and having them experience great interactions with you and your team.
The one other thing that I want to note is that I was completely wrong about the idea of daycare. When I was a Day Camp Director, I heard the following phrase a number of times from other Camp Directors:
“We are a Day Camp, not a Day Care. We don’t just babysit.”
This is false statement — especially for the “day cares” we toured. Their schedules are filled with enrichment activities and the staff is teaching the kids whenever they are awake. Even in the infant rooms. They have full day schedules and they start teaching them sign language at 6-weeks-old. I watched as a 9-month-old politely asked his “teacher” for some more milk using the sign for “more.”
I quickly went from thinking Olive needed daycare as a necessity due to the fact that Molly and I both work, to thinking that Olive needed daycare to help her develop into a well adjusted child who knows how to socialize with others and can tell me when she is hungry without the need to cry.
And this is the goal of all childcare, especially summer camps. We need to convince parents that summer camp is not just something they need, but something their child needs as well.
If you have been paying attention to the news — or if you have actually talked to someone or seen the Internet this week — you are probably aware of the Penn State University and Joe Paterno scandal. I won’t bore you with the details since we all know them, but I will give a quick synopsis of what’s going on in Happy Valley, PA.
Allegations that a long-term assistant coach and friend to Penn State University — someone who ran football camps for youth — has been charged with several counts of sexual abuse over the course of many years. Reports have now surfaced that coach Joe Paterno knew about these allegations after they originally happened and reported them to the Athletic Director — who in turn handled the situation internally. JoePa has now been fired and people are questioning whether or not he deserved to be fired. Did he do enough by reporting it to his boss, or should he have gone to the authorities?
This is not a moral issue; it’s a legal one. Joe Paterno should have done everything in his power to make sure this man was arrested, charged with a crime, and no longer allowed to be in the presence of children. There is no way Penn State University should have tried to handle this internally. It was a crime and is perhaps the worst type of crime that can be committed.
Society differs with their opinions about a lot of things. Politics, religion, abortion. The sexual abuse of a child is not one of those things that divides people. Everyone agrees that the sexual abuse of children is horrible and that people who commit these heinous crimes should be in prison.
So, what can you as a Camp Director learn from this situation? I will put it in very simple terms that anyone can understand.
AS A CAMP DIRECTOR, YOU CANNOT DEAL WITH ILLEGAL ACTS AGAINST CHILDREN INTERNALLY. YOU NEED TO CONTACT AUTHORITITES IMMEDIATELY.
You, as a Camp Director, are not an expert in criminal investigation. Call the police.
You, as a Camp Director, are not an expert in child psychology. Call the Department of Social Services.
You, as a Camp Director, are not an expert on the legal ramifications that could be put on the camp. Call an attorney.
You need help to navigate this minefield and you and your camp will not come out unscathed. But, covering it up will only make it worse. Everyone who is involved in a cover up will be fired and/or arrested.
If you are worried about how bad your camp will look in the media when the news breaks that there was sexual abuse at your camp, you should not be a Camp Director. You should not be worried about your camper numbers going down or your donations from alumni drying up. You should only be concerned with reporting this to the appropriate authorities, keeping the child in question safe, and making sure it never happens again.
Most of you will never be in this situation because you already have proper training put in place to make sure your counselors know what type of behavior is inappropriate and how to report it. If you do not have some type of Child Abuse Prevention training as part of your staff training you need to get off the Internet right now and implement one. Every single counselor needs to go through proper Child Abuse Prevention training before they ever come in contact with a child at your camp. They then need to be re-trained on these practices again and again.
If for some reason you do not know how to implement a Child Abuse Prevention training into your camp, please email me immediately. I will point you in the right direction to make sure you have the proper trainings put in place to make sure what happened at Penn State University will never happen again.
If you are like many Camp Directors, the summer turns into a black hole of busy-ness. From the first week of staff training through the final camp staff banquet the Camp Director is involved in many (all) aspects of the day-to-day of running a small company or small country (depends on your perspective). Now that the staff have left and the customers have checked out, you have an opportunity to exhale; it is now what I like to call “investment time”.
The next few months on your calendar will do much for the long-term success of yourself and your camp if you take advantage of the opportunity. The summer camp world can seem like a race at times: sometimes it’s a sprint and sometimes it’s a marathon. Here are a few reminders to make us successful in this R.A.C.E.:
Read – The summer season at camp isn’t always the best time to do heavy reading on leading staff, board development, budget management and new marketing ideas, but as a professional we cannot put off this investment in ourselves. If you don’t know where to start, I recommend looking on Amazon.com to see what the top selling leadership, business or management books are. Ask a friend or get on Linkedin.com and see what other professionals have on their reading list as well. If you need someone to hold you accountable set up a book club with other camp professionals, staff or board members.
Ask – I think the most powerful tool we have at our disposal is the ability to ask questions of those around us. With the power of social media we have the ability to connect and engage with professionals around the world and ask questions. Twitter and Linkedin are great tools where hundreds or even thousands of summer camp and non-profit professionals are at our finger tips ready to answer questions that we have.
Connect – My hope is that you took the opportunity of the summer camp season to invite out board members, donors and stakeholders to visit camp, but if you missed that window it is not too late to connect. Be intentional about connecting with your board members on a regular basis whether it is in person, by email, phone or hand written letter. They want to hear from you more often than just when it is time for your annual fundraising campaign. Invite them into discussions about the future of camp and the challenges you face. If you are not a member of a civic organization this would also be a great opportunity to visit a couple and consider joining. Raising the profile of your camp in the community is always a good thing.
Evolve – Over the last few years I have evolved from a program-focused camp leader to a process-focused camp leader. Camp should be fun and we can’t lose sight of that expectation, but my focus is no longer learning the 10 new camp songs a year or the greatest all camp game. I have program staff that are specialist in these areas. My focus now is on streamlining our processes so we can better serve our customers, be better stewards of our resources and develop higher level staff. This evolution has occurred from the books I have read and the interactions I have with other business professionals. I run better camps today than I did five years ago because I knew that I needed to change. I look at camp through a different filter now. How will you evolve over the next few months?
Take a couple of days to re-energize and then begin the investment time in yourself. You will benefit, your camp will benefit, your staff will benefit and your community will benefit from the investment you make over the next few months. It’s a R.A.C.E. – ready, set, go!
On August 1, 2011, I packed up my car with my belongings and my dog and left Charlotte, NC and Mike D’Avria in my rearview mirror. After 40 years on the East Coast, it was time to take my talents to the Great Northwest and the YMCA of Greater Seattle.
In less than two years what had started out as an idea discussed over a couple of beverages at Dilworth Grill in Charlotte, — to create a website to share videos of camp songs and games — had turned into CampLeadership.org. We started to upload these videos to the site and quickly added podcasts and blog posts, and started attending camp conferences and leading summer camp trainings all along the east coast.
Some people have asked — since I left my position with the Charlotte YMCA — would moving 3,000 miles away cause CampLeadership.org to close up shop? To us, it seems like a silly question because although Mike and I were in the same city we did not see each other that often outside of our trainings (unless I was bored at work). We handled most of what we did through text messages, emails and phone conversations prior to connecting at an airport when we were off for another training event. It’s odd that even though we would fly out of the same airport, we didn’t travel to the airport together because Mike likes to get there on time while I like to wait until the absolute last second before the airplane’s door closes. (Editor’s note: Mike wrote this last sentence.)
We see my move to the west coast as an opportunity to connect with camp professionals that otherwise we would have missed. Change is a good thing and Mike and I agree that this change with CampLeadership.org is not an exit strategy, but more like an expansion strategy to connect with more camp professionals and share our knowledge and passion with camps across the country.
In fact, due to the change, we now have new titles. I was the Chief Visionary Officer and I am now Head of West Coast Operations. Mike used to be the Executive Editor, and now he is the Head of East Coast Operations.
Thanks for following along with us so far and we look forward to many more years of summer camp impact through CampLeadership.org
Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit opening day of 5 day camps in the Charlotte, NC area. It was great to see the energy and excitement of the directors and staff, to see the fresh coats of paint on the benches and tables and to see the new songs and skits during assembly time.
Wouldn’t it be great if we were able to carry the energy of opening day throughout the summer?
The campers who will be attending camp week 7 have paid the same amount for camp and the parents have the same expectations on the experience at camp as the parents and campers from week 1. What if we delivered all summer at the level we delivered on opening day?
It is okay to have a mid-summer training to re-energize our staff and to re-focus on the work we do, or to have a mid-summer work day to re-paint benches and tables to make camp look its best. Every day we should take the opportunity to look at our camp through the eyes of our customers (parents and campers).
Here are some tips to make sure the whole summer is as great as opening day
1. Don’t forget what opening day feels like
2. Set high expectations for yourself and staff
3. Follow up, follow up, follow up
The co-founders of CampLeadership.org were in Memphis, Tenn. this past weekend to lead training for more than 150 camp counselors. Dave and I were the only presenters from 9 a.m. to about 5 p.m., and we spoke about group control, program quality, the habits of effective camp counselors, the five things a counselor needs to do everyday, and the importance of both work and play in a summer camp job.
It went very well in our opinion, and we heard some very kind words from both the senior staff in Memphis who hired us for the training and the front-line counselors who had sat through past all-staff trainings.
The senior staff were thankful that they did not need to lead the training once again. The counselors were thankful that they did not have to hear from the senior staff like they have year after year in the past. After the training, Dave and I joked with the senior staff that our CampLeadership.org training slogan should be “CampLeadership.org: We’re Not You.”
Everyone thought this was pretty funny, but in actuality it’s very true. Part of the reason that we made such an impact on this staff was because we were not the people they hear from all the time. Sure, Dave and I know a lot about camp, but a major reason that people like hearing us speak — or reading our posts — is because we are breath of fresh air to the regular people who give presentations and write about camp. We might not be better than the senior staff at your camp or at your association, but we can assure you that we are different.
It might not be the best analogy, but here it goes. People like pizza. Even when it’s not the best pizza in the world, it’s still pretty good. People could eat pizza all the time and not get tired of it. But, even the biggest fans of pizza will soon enough get tired of cheese, sauce and crust. You could spice it up by putting different toppings on it, but in the end it’s still just pizza.
Sometimes people want Chinese food. We are Chinese food.
Not everyone likes Chinese food, but we bet that people will love Chinese food if the only thing they have eaten year after year is pizza. Like your senior staff, pizza is the thing that you can always turn to and it will get the job done. You don’t want Chinese food every day, but it will surely hit the spot when you have it.
I am not saying that CampLeadership.org is the only Chinese food out there. All I am saying is that your staff training needs a little Chinese food to spice things up and to grab your staff’s attention. Whether this is from other trainers in the area, volunteers that can donate some time speaking about leadership or working with kids, or camping experts you might have to hire and fly in; your camp will benefit from not just hearing from you and your senior staff.
The nuts and bolts will need to be done by you. That’s a must. Outside trainers will not know the specifics about your camp in order to train staff on emergency procedures or proper cabin/group programming, but outside trainers will know a lot about camp philosophy in general, and your counselors are more apt to pay attention if you hire experts they don’t get to hear from all of the time.
You don’t want your counselors not paying attention when you are paying them a lot of money to go through training. For instance, if you pay staff $7.50 an hour for training, and you expect them to do a full day of eight hours of training (during an All-Camp or Association-wide training), it equals $60 per counselor. If you have 100 counselors it’s $6,000 for them to sit through a full day of training. Many associations will have trainings with nearly 300 counselors in them, which will cost an association $18,000 for one day of training. That’s a lot of money being spent, so you need to make sure the content you’re delivering is worth it.
This is not a sales pitch for your camp to hire CampLeadership.org to come train your staff — and then again it’s not not a sales pitch — but it’s more of a sales pitch in general about how counselors may be more apt to listen to those people they do not get to hear from all the time. It’s not like Dave and I had the attention of every single counselor who worked for us in the past, but for some reason other counselors listen to — and respect us — much more than most of the counselors who actually reported to us in the past. It’s something that amazes us, but it’s just human nature. We all want to listen to new people speak, especially when the only thing we’ve heard is you speak.
I am not a social media expert, but more like a social media pragmatist. I stay fairly up to date on what is going on in the social media world, but I only use a few of the social media tools that are out there and the only ones I do use are the ones that work for me. I was recently leading a workshop on the effective use of social media in the non-profit world, and how to effectively connect, engage and communicate with staff, volunteers and customers through various mediums. I know that many people are using social media for their organization, but I still think there is room for improvement in how we communicate.
I primarily use Twitter, Facebook and YouTube for social media interactions. I find these tools best meet my needs and help me better communicate with other leaders in the summer camp and non-profit world. I started using Facebook soon after they lifted the .edu email requirement for members as a way to stay connected with my camp staff members. They were not checking their email, and Facebook was the best place to leave them a message to make sure they saw it. I found Twitter useful as a way to give real time updates on weather emergencies during camp. We offered “how to use Twitter” classes at check-in so parents left with the ability to follow along with what was going on at camp. Outside of the summer season Twitter became a great tool to share meaningful articles or websites that parents would find useful. YouTube was used as a way to build trust with parents and campers. We would shoot short videos introducing our staff so the parents got to know a before they ever got to camp, and also as a way to highlight new offerings to the camp facility or program.
4 Tips for Social Media Success:
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should — there are a lot of options out there in the social media world, and many people and organizations (me included) jumped on the bandwagon and signed up for every social media outlet they could find and then realized they either couldn’t do it all or shouldn’t do it all. Just because there is a tool out there doesn’t mean you have to use it. Make sure it meets you and your customers needs.
Success begins with a stated goal — I think of social media as a race and the starting gun went off and we all took off running in various directions and then after a little while of running we looked around and noticed we don’t know where the finish line was and we happened to be running in different directions (that sentence also felt this way). How are we going to know if we are successful in the social media world if we don’t have a goal we are striving toward?
Plans are worthless, but planning is priceless — we all have plans on our shelf that we have worked on, but failed to follow through on, but just because we didn’t follow the plan doesn’t mean that we should stop planning. In order for our social media strategy to work we have to have a plan in place of who is going to be speaking for our organization, what is our schedule for communicating and what social media tools are we going to utilize. A plan works best when used, so get a team together to construct the plan and then follow it.
If I’m talking and no one is listening does it matter what I say? — I think one of the biggest issues facing summer camps and non-profits with social media is that no one is listening to what we are saying. Take a moment to look at your followers on Twitter and your fans on Facebook and see if what you are saying is matching up with your followers.
I will wrap up with some do’s and don’ts of social media:
Do be engaging
Do be a resource
Do be informative
Don’t be a running commercial
If you are reading this then you are probably not a social media expert either and that is great! Be a pragmatist and find out what works for you and share your successes with others.