Camp Representatives Part 1: Turning Viral Moms into New Camper Applications

Developing a Camp Ambassador Program for Your Summer Camp

[Note from Travis: I talked a lot on our Summer Camp Marketing Wall Calendar about developing a Camp Ambassador program.  A couple of camps asked for some more clarification and ideas.   Instead of making up some stuff off the top of my head I figured I'd reach out to the woman who's taught me everything about Camp Ambassadors - what Green River Preserve calls Camp Representatives - one of our Camp Code Podcast co-hosts: Ruby Compton!  Part II coming next week]

This morning I logged into CampMinder and was delighted to see the pink notification in the upper right hand corner. Tadaah! Another camper application and it is one of those golden ones that all directors are excited to see. It was a new camper application. Naturally, I peeked at the hometown of the child and it was from a market that we hope to grow into further and have had campers from in the past but do not currently have a strong camper population. How did this camper, who seems to be handing me an in to a relatively untapped market, find out about us?

“Lead Source: Camper Parent”

My next thought: “VICTORY. The system is working!” Over the past couple of years, our focus on word of mouth marketing has ramped up and accounts for half of our 180-200 new camper applications we see on average each year. One component of that is our Camp Representative program.

On Closing Days during the summer, parents have the opportunity to sign up to become a Camp Representative. In the fall, camp sends them a Camp Representative Handbook and some promotional materials.

In the Handbook, it sums up the role when it states, “You are the camp advocate in your community.”

In August and September, my co-director calls the folks that have signed up to be Camp Representatives and asks them two questions. First, “do you have people in your network who are interested in learning more about summer camp?” If their answer is no, then she asks if they have any questions about spreading the word about camp and lets them know we are happy to support the Rep as he or she shares about camp.

Offers of phone calls and videoconferences are presented if the Rep does end up with a family who has some questions. However, we always point out, the word of a current camper family is far more powerful than anything our camp directors will ever say. After all, it is my job to sell camp. In contrast, it is a parent’s reputation and friendship on the line if they recommend an experience for another person’s child that does not go well.

If a parent does have prospective families, then my co-director moves to the second question, “We plan to be in your area on these dates. Do you want to schedule an event?” Note that the question is not the open-ended “When do you want to host a party?” After coordinating with dozens of Reps over the past four years, I have learned that schedules are tough and families are busy. Unless you come to the table with some concrete dates, it can be very difficult to settle on a time for your event. Check out this follow up post for a common agenda for what a Home Show looks like.

Why should the parent bother with the trouble of hosting their child’s summer camp for what essentially boils down to a sales pitch? Many parents feel such gratitude for the experience their children have had that they want to help and are not seeking specific financial gain. However, most camps do offer some sort of referral incentive to their Reps. The most common amount I have heard in our area is offering $100 tuition credit per new camper that is referred. My camp offers that credit as a refund at the end of the summer or as a tuition credit towards the next summer to ensure that the referred child actually comes to camp (no Ponzi schemes here!). Another camp in my area offers a 10% discount per new camper referral. Basically, refer ten campers and your child’s tuition is free.

Ways to utilize this group of people who want to help camp

1. Every other fall, my co-director and I call our entire list of current Camp Reps and ask if they want to continue to be Camp Reps. Then we ask some specific questions about the community where they are including events, publications, or other organizations where our camp would be well-served to have a presence. This generally provides some key marketing and demographic information and is worth the time as well as generating a personal connection with the Reps themselves.

2. Send an exclusive periodic email newsletter to your Camp Representatives or have them join a unique Camp Representative Facebook group. At GRP, I send a monthly email newsletter during the off-season. During January-March, the newsletter is sent weekly with updates from travels, suggestions on how to talk about camp, information about which staff are returning, and other pertinent info that helps these families feel like they are getting the inside look into camp.

3. Did you see this post from Sarah Kurtz McKinnon on the Summer Camp Professionals page? It is brilliant.

4. Ask your Camp Representatives to send out invitations for any camp events to their networks, whether the Rep is hosting or not. Any camp event is a great way to inspire discussion about camp. Your Reps can help you generate a buzz about camp even if the prospective families don’t attend the event.

5. My Reps are the network of people I turn to when a prospective parent calls camp to ask for parent references.

6. Get them on video talking about why they chose your camp for their children and why your camp is different. This is amazing content that can be recorded at home and shared with you or more professionally done when they come to pick up or drop off their campers.

7. Encourage them to contact relatives in other cities. Their ability to share camp is not limited by geographic boundaries.

Other best practices for getting the most out of your Camp Representatives

1. Provide them with information on how to talk about camp. It’s their personal experience that will be most impactful but it doesn’t hurt for them to know what your camper to staff ratio is.

2. Join’s email list for fantastic tips on getting your customers to talk about what you do. {Travis' add: and their sister email Damn, I Wish I Thought of That)

3. Be patient. Understand that a family starting to look at camps this year may not actually be ready to sign up for camp for another year or two. It may take a couple of years for a Rep to feel comfortable or ready to share about camp. They need to know that you will be there to support them when they are ready.

4. Know your Camp Representatives and their children. One of their benefits of being a Camp Representative is really getting to know some of the camp directors. Be prepared on closing day to tell a story about their child and reach out throughout the year to check up on their lives. In my experience, your commitment to a personal relationship and interest in their family will benefit camp (and, perhaps, you as a professional) in the long run.

5. Encourage your Reps to communicate with their networks via text. Also encourage them to consider the time of day your Reps are communicating with the prospective families. When does a mom start thinking about what she is going to serve for dinner the next night? That's when she needs to get your Rep's text message reminding her friend about coming over for pizza tomorrow night (when the camp director will happen to be there to share about camp too!).

What are some of your best practices for working with your Camp Representatives?

[Travis' Note:  Check out Part II: What is a Home Show and Learn From My Mistakes]

What Lady Gaga Can Teach You About Marketing Summer Camp

Little Monsters - one thing camp people have in common with Lady Gaga. No, I'm not referring to our campers, I mean that we have affectionate nicknames for the important people in our life.

Lady Gaga is a top-selling music artist because she is amazing at building and looking after her community (whom she calls her Little Monsters).   Camp Leaders can learn a lot (and will in this session) from how Lady Gaga's treats her True Fans.

What you will learn in this presentation
1. an understanding of the commitment Gaga makes to her True Fans and how easy it is to do with your camp families
2. a focussed plan to build an intensive two-way relationship with the campers and staff who LIVE to return to your camp.
3. specific actions you can take to build word of mouth referrals from your "Little Monsters"

This interactive presentation (strong visuals and videos) will show camps how to Lady Gaga has become an international sensation and how these lessons can work for camps.   
Your take home strategy: Focus on Your One Percenters, Lead with Values, Build Community, Make Them Feel Like Rock Stars and more.
We will break down each of these strategies and show how other camps are using them currently to fill their bunks.

Bringing Camp into the Kitchen: Making the Kitchen a Programming Area

Cooking at Summer Camp Can Be Fun!

Food brings people together - we celebrate birthdays with cake, we reconnect with old friends over coffee, we teach children precision and patience while baking cookies. None of this is new, we’ve been breaking bread together since, well, since before sliced bread!

I have always loved cooking and baking. I love making a perfect meal or treat, visually appealing, delicious and creative. But let’s face it - when you are making meals for a hundred or so folks in a sweltering, bustling kitchen, 3 times a day, every day, some of the joy ebbs. On some days, there is no joy at all. There are aprons that used to have clever puns on them before they became battered and buttered, there is a pressing sense of urgency, and sweat. Unimaginable, I-didn’t-know-I-could-sweat-that-much amounts of sweat. Hot yoga amounts of sweat.

I think it can be hard for non-kitchen staff to understand how separate the kitchen can sometimes feel from the rest of camp. We get all the exhaustion without the rewards of seeing campers grow and giggle. On those days, we have to remember that we are a part of camp - we are a part of life-changing and magic-making. One way to remind ourselves of this is to bring programming to the kitchen.

The camp kitchen presents an untapped oasis of all the good things camp stands for - connection, learning, whole-person nourishment, wonder, and joy. Not only do camp kitchens offer a programming area that already exists, but bringing camp into the kitchen has all kinds of benefits for kitchen staff, too.

Programming in the kitchen takes a little planning and maybe even menu-tweaking, but if done well, it can help camp staff connect with campers, and can even reduce the workload. Not only does kitchen programming benefit staff, but all of camp. Campers gain a sense of pride and responsibility as they help feed camp, get to interact with the mysterious kitchen staff, and foster life-skills that will benefit them into adulthood. Below is a guide to developing the kitchen as a programming area, adaptable to any kitchen.

Time, Space, and Staff
Before developing your program, you’ll have to seriously consider these three things: time, space, and staff involvement. How much time can you dedicate, what kind of space is there to accommodate campers, and who will be running the programming?

First, you’ll need to consider how much time you can dedicate to kitchen programming. Maybe you’ll decide to open up to programming as a rainy-day backup plan, or maybe you’ll strive to get campers in the kitchen every day! Be realistic with your time - ease into programming with a few trial runs to get a grasp of time commitment.

Next, you’ll need to think about space. Is there enough space in your kitchen to accommodate a group of campers? Is there space for campers to work without interrupting other meal preparation? If your kitchen is too small, is there a clean space close-by to work in, such as a dining hall? Mixing bowls and ingredients can always be portable, even if the oven isn’t.

Finally, think about staff involvement. You may want low-involvement programming, like providing a recipe and instructions to a counselor and making yourself available for questions. Or, you may want higher involvement, working side-by-side with campers and counsellors.

Considering these factors will help you get a firm idea of how much you are able and willing to dedicate to programming - your schedule may seem full, but with planning, programming is possible in most kitchens.

Another factor to consider is coordinating with the rest of camp. How can the kitchen fit into the existing camp schedule? This is a great time to get creative, as camp doesn’t often run on the same schedule as the kitchen. Many camps have schedules that they strongly adhere to and have done so for ages. A new program area may challenge this schedule, but be sure to vocalize the benefits to campers and staff when pitching the idea.

The kitchen may be the only place at your camp that could truly pass as ‘clean’. Its important to plan to keep the kitchen clean for food safety, but there are other risks in the kitchen to consider, as well. Knives, meat slicers, and even an industrial mixer can be a real risk to camper safety.

Think about how you can protect campers from safety risks. Perhaps consider a staff-only zone where dangerous equipment is kept, and tailor your activities to the ages of campers. A teen camper can probably handle a knife with supervision, but a pre-schooler is probably better suited to a wooden spoon. Diligent supervision and encouraging risk awareness are two great ways to ensure kitchen safety.

The programming activities in the kitchen can encompass any part of your job you wish to share with campers. Keep in mind that what may seem mundane to you can be exciting for campers - even an industrial dishwasher can be fun with a great playlist and timed challenges. How many plates can you effectively fit on a rack? How fast can you conquer this dish mountain?

Below are a few ways you can involve campers in the kitchen - but don’t let it limit you. Get creative!

  • Setting Tables
  • Preparing/Cooking a Meal- instructions, recipes, and guidance provided
  • Baking/Preparing a part of a meal - i.e. baking cornbread to go with chili
  • Baking/Preparing Snack for all of camp
  • Baking/Preparing Dessert for all of camp
  • Baking/Preparing a treat for their own cabin - think cookies and story-time
  • Birthday Baking - preparing a treat for someone with a birthday
  • Surprise baked goods for other cabins - have campers prepare a batch of cookies for another cabin and make a secret mission out of anonymously delivering them
  • Preparing the Salad Bar
  • Costumed Menu Announcements - picture campers dressed as chickens and corn on the cob
  • Illustrated Menus (Reusable Whiteboard)
  • Dish Duties
  • Garbage and Recycling Duties
  • Serving - either delivering food to tables or dishing out refills if appropriate
  • Meal cleanup

Like any new program area, its important to set up avenues for feedback and be prepared to use it. Find ways of communicating with campers and staff about their kitchen experiences or open yourself to suggestions for new activities.

[Note from Travis: If you like Meghan's summer camp recipes you'll LOVE her 3 Week Summer Camp Menu! Purchase it right now]

3 Week Summer Camp Menu - On Sale Now

Welcome to my camp menu guide! 

Camp Menu for Sale

Camp Menu for Sale

Purchase the menu now

Having filled every role in the kitchen, I have had the opportunity to observe what makes a great dish washing team, a valuable helper, and a strong kitchen manager. I hope that this menu helps ease some of the great responsibility that you have so bravely accepted. Below are a few simple insights that developed during my years in the kitchen, particularly as kitchen manager. I hope they inspire you to take this opportunity as more than fulfilling the necessities of nutrition.

My Camp Kitchen Philosophy 

The kitchen should be a place for learning - For you, the kitchen staff, and the campers. Encourage staff to take on recipes they haven’t before. Schedule a time for campers to help cook!

The kitchen should be colourful - Colourful food is healthy food, and colourful people make the hot, hectic space bearable. People should leave every meal feeling recharged and content. There should not only be enough food, there should be nutritious, balanced, and varied food.

The kitchen is an integral part of every camp - a happy kitchen is a happy camp. Remember that just because you may not work with the campers regularly, you have a huge impact on the way camp runs. Choose to make that impact noteworthy.

Camp Kitchen Staff's Responsibility 

CampHacker's Meghan Morrison

CampHacker's Meghan Morrison

Running a kitchen is a daunting, stressful, and often overwhelming task. With this is mind, remember that it is our responsibility as Spoon Weilders and Taste Testers to also be Laugh Laughers and Sneak Snackers. We must provide healthy, satisfying food that appeals to as many people as we can. We can not always cater to individual desires or aversions, be we can cater to ideals of variety, care, and home cooking.

The menus and recipes in this cookbook have been developed with love and care, and a healthy dose of trial and error. I have provided recipes I used for many things that are available pre-made, but I am sure you will find more satisfaction with homemade recipes and a remarkable decrease in spending. The savings you will have from making things from scratch helps make buying fruits and vegetables more manageable, and you might even have some left over to splurge on special occasions.

Good luck, happy cooking, 

Meghan ‘Fhyllja’ Morrison 

(CampHacker & Cairn Family of Camps Kitchen Manager 2010-2011)

Purchase the 3 Week Summer Camp Menu