Why I don’t have to recruit summer staff

Using your current staff as advocates

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The end of summer is here, which means you are starting your preparations for next year. You know that if you want to bring your best staff back next year, the seeds need to be planted as soon as possible.  Hopefully, before the summer ends.

And then you need to remind them throughout the school year of why they want to return. This task alone is a challenge. But it isn’t enough to bring back your best staff; you also need to recruit new fantastic staff members. And plan for summer. And run fall and winter and spring programs. And. And. And.

But in this one area, staff recruitment and retention, you can delegate a great deal of the work to other people if you are smart about it. The key is to turn your best staff, the ones you are trying hard to retain, into advocates for your camp. You find ways to get those individuals to not only stay connected themselves, but to also bring their friends with them.

Here are a few possibilities for doing just that; some may work for you, some may not. As always, take what is useful and leave the rest for others.

Staff and Friends Retreat

One of the best ways to keep staff connected to your camp is to bring them back to camp for an overnight experience. This will remind them of all their favorite parts of camp, reconnect them with people they enjoyed in the summer, and give you plenty of time to figure out who needs the most encouragement to return. Many camps do this, and it is a solid way to improve retention numbers.

By either creating a second experience, or expanding that same experience to include friends of staff members, you are given an opportunity to share the camp with a new set of individuals who are likely to be interested in becoming staff. They already have a connection to your camp - their friend - and if they agreed to come out, already are interested in the camping experience. The chance to get them on-site and in-person makes vetting them easier and the connection stronger.

Minimize the work for yourself by asking a current summer staff member you trust to be in charge of all the programming.

Personalized Letters

This can be challenging, especially for larger camps, but sending out personalized letters a month or two after summer is over can make a huge difference in retention. Even if you decide to only send letters to your top 15-20 staff members, these individuals will feel valued and desired and camp will be front and center in their minds. If you include a personal request to refer their friends who are a good fit, they also realize you respect their judgement and consider them allies. This trust can have huge benefits.

Make this easier on yourself by putting post-its up somewhere reminding you of key points you want to make about people later when you write them.

Mentoring Opportunities

Your best staff members are also the people you are likely considering for increased responsibility. These individuals will become lead staff and be in charge of new staff members. Have conversations with these staff members about your hopes to promote them and talk to them about the opportunity to mentor new staff members. Especially if you encourage them to think about individuals they would like to bring to camp and mentor, this provides the camp with new staff as well as your best staff members with very desirable development experience.

Volunteer Days

Overnight experiences cannot be beat, but day-long opportunities at camp are also incredibly valuable. Invite your staff members back for fun events as well as volunteer events, and encourage them to bring friends. Make these days engaging, useful, and a bit nostalgic. Once again, this simple idea helps make former and future staff feel valued, needed, and connected.

Enlist the help of a summer staff member to market the event to everyone so you don’t have to!

Social Media Groups

Many camp staffs have their own groups on social media for connecting during the summer and after. I belong to one from several summers ago that still connects people multiple times throughout the year. Leverage these groups however you can. This may include providing space at camp for events, encouraging individuals to invite new group members, or adding camp updates to the group feed.

Christmas present

We don’t have budgets for this. I get it. I do. But if you can in any way prove the value to the powers-that-be, sending out Christmas presents (or winter presents) is just plain smart. Choose something your staff will value that also promotes your camp, like a sweater or mug or hat, and remind your summer staff that they are valued. Advertising for you (targeted advertising, I might add) and a wise retention strategy as well.

Add this as an expense to your staff recruitment budget. If you don’t have a staff recruitment budget…that’s another issue altogether.

[Note from Travis: We're really pleased to offer this great article today from Lanet Hane of Workforce Satisfaction Solutions. Lanet is the best kind of camp alumni - one who is teaching the business world how to be campy in they way they treat their staff]

What do you do at your camp to be active in recruiting staff? 


Travis Allison