4 things any camp can do from March to June to boost its enrollment

Marketing summer camp the old fashioned (and new fashioned) way

Well, it's that time of year. The clocks spring forward, birds are chirping outside your window, and you're (hopefully) close to having your camp staffed for the summer.

But, hold on a second.

It's SPRING? *scrambles to go check summer camp enrollment numbers*


Yep, It's almost Spring, and most camps (mine included!) are wishing that enrollment could be just a little bit better. Now, I've always been a proponent of setting goals based on what you hope to do, not on hoping what result you want to achieve. To that end, I'm going to share with you five things we're doing to market our new camp, Camp Stomping Ground, as we dive into the home stretch of camper recruitment for 2015.

Giving camp away for private school auctions

SG flyer
SG flyer

"Hold on," you might be thinking, "Your big secret is to give away weeks of camp?"

Well, yes. We're not just giving away camp to anyone. We're targeting schools that appear to have students who could otherwise pay for camp, and donating a week of camp to their fund-raising auctions/events. And before you draw ethical concerns, please know that we have a firm belief in helping kids who can't afford to come as well - what we're doing in giving away camp to kids who can afford it is a business decision.

Here's the math.

A week of camp has certain fixed costs associated to it. Say you run a camp that costs you $100 per camper to bring a new child to camp for a week. In theory, giving away a week of camp has just cost you $100.

But now let's have a look at the other side of the scale. If your camp profits ~$300 for each camper that has paid in full, and has a 70% retention rate, you'll make $210 ($300 times 70%) on this camper in the following year. So, by giving away a week of camp up front, you've actually made a $110 profit (spread over 2 years) on this individual camper, to say nothing of the times where you retain this camper into the future as well.

Then, there are other likely scenarios. If a school auctions off a week of camp, chances are good that other people in the audience will at least consider whether your camp might be right for their family as well. The losing bidder, in particular, will likely be very interested. You could tell the school, privately, that you'd also be willing to bring on additional campers at some reduced rate (that still made sense for you) that they could pass along to the losing parties.

In addition, most kids who would consider coming to camp in this day and age will want a friend to go with them. After a family wins a week of camp, they'll likely become your heaviest recruiter until they find someone to go with their child. And this new person? They'll be paying the full amount, and they're likely to be able to afford to pay the full amount, since they attend an expensive school.

So, this technique has the chance to pay off this year, and is an almost surefire bet to pay off in the not too distant future. We'll get our weeks of camps in as many auctions as possible this year.

Classic "home parties," with a twist

house meetup
house meetup

I first heard the idea of reaching out to camper families to throw a promotional event for your camp years ago, but never saw it in full effect until my business partners (and pals) Jack and Laura ran one for a group of kids in Philadelphia this year.

If you're unfamiliar with the concept of "home parties," the general thrust is this: You reach out to a die-hard supporter of your camp, and ask them to throw a get together that you and your staff will attend. At the get-together, it's common for some younger staff to do programming (read: fun) with the kids while the more directorly type meets with the grown-ups to try and persuade them to come to camp. Often times, the host family will be given some other incentive as well (camp merchandise, free week of camp, a monetary recruitment bonus based on the number of sign-ups, etc).

Well, since our camp is founded on the principle that we'll do pretty much anything to get kids to come to camp, Laura did a little graphical recording session (much like our camp video, here - and Laura will make these for your summer camp, too, by the way) where she wrote down the kids' wildest and craziest dreams for camp this summer. And then? She told them that, if they come to camp, we'll do any of the things they listed on the page. As you can imagine, kids were delighted, and rushed to their parents to find out about enrolling for this summer.

Throwing a family fun day

Okay, this one has a slightly higher investment bar than the other two, but the rewards could be that much higher, as well. We reached out to one of our biggest friends and supporters, Sabrina Norrie of the blog Family and Footprints, and solicited her help in gathering her network of homeschooling parents in New Jersey for a day of unadulterated fun this Spring. Homeschooling families are ALWAYS looking for stuff to do with their kids, so this is a great way to give them something they value in exchange for something you value (namely, to get to talk to them about camp!).

You can see the FaceBook event page here. We're going to invite kids out, play one of our fantastic large-group games (many of which are available inside of Go Camp Pro Membership, and talk to parents about why we run camp the way we do.

We'll provide an incentive to sign up for camp on the spot, and like the home party meetup, our guess is that the kids will be our best salespeople. We've never done this one before, though, so we'll report back as to how it goes in May :)

Working with a local library to help them with programming

If you're not aware, libraries are constantly throwing little micro-events to serve the families in their areas. When Laura reached out to one library in Philadelphia, the librarian's jaw dropped at the idea that someone would want to come in and just give kids a great time - for free! I am not sure what Laura's plans are, but I know that our local library has rotating crafts & story-times every single week. People with kids are in libraries, so we want to be in libraries, too.

Be the Circus that comes to town

Here's the thing - many families want to find a camp to send their kids to. Many people who are currently parents have fond memories of camps growing up. But the prospect of finding and choosing a camp is daunting. That's why we want to go to them.

I'll leave you with a quote from Seth Godin's fantastic business blog:

"Too often, we wait. We wait to get the gig, or to make the complex sale, or to find the approval we seek. Then we decide it's time to get to work and put on our show.

The circus doesn't work that way. They don't wait to be called. They show up. They show up and sell tickets.

When you transform the order of things, the power shifts. "The circus is going to be here tomorrow, are you going?" That's a very different question than, "are you willing to go out on a limb and book the circus? If you are, we'll come to town...""

Let's come to town, and connect families with what we know they need - a session of camp this summer.