A "Hint" about Camp Surveys from Joanna Warren Smith

Summer Camp Client Input Motivates Good Decision Making

True summer camp review at Pearce Williams Christian Centre

True summer camp review at Pearce Williams Christian Centre

Just this spring, a well-respected camp assured me that it wasn't necessary to do camper and parent surveys 'because it only makes people focus on the bad parts of camp'.

Needless to say, that is not the current thinking of businesses that plan to thrive in a very competitive environment. Certainly retention rates reflect satisfaction levels, but they are not the immediate feedback that can improve your program session after session.

Plan for age-appropriate on-site camper surveys and let parents know that at the end of their child's last session, you will be requesting that they complete a short survey to help you in your 'ongoing quest for excellence' or 'efforts to make the camp experience even better.'

You can also give parents an incentive to complete the survey by a specific date with an entry into a drawing for a free session of camp, a camp store gift certificate or a myriad of other options. Larger incentives usually increase the number of responses.


  • Treat the Camper Survey with Respect.  Set aside a time for the business to be done usually around lunch on the day BEFORE kids are going home.  Have a BRIEF introduction by a respected staff member in a conducive environment for writing.  Tell kids how important their input is and ask questions for which you really want the answers.   Two critical questions ... 'Do you want to come back to camp next year?' and 'What would make camp even better?'. Collect surveys by groups, review immediately and take action.
  • Evaluate the Parent Experience.  Certainly, parents can tell you if they have seen growth in their child's swimming ability, responsibility or social skills; however, they should not be asked to interpret their camper's experience because they will skew the input. Critical questions for parents include ... 'Did the camp experience benefit your child?', 'Do you want your child to return to camp next year?', 'Will you refer us to other parents?' and 'Were we responsive to you during the summer?'.  Allow for only YES or NO answers. 

Scrutinize the survey results, prioritize issues that will improve your program and then market those changes to parents.  They will appreciate the fact that you listened and more important, the action you've taken.


Need an objective perspective on any aspect of camp?  Give me a call at 310-451-1876 or email campconsulting@verizon.net

(Note from Travis:   We are so thrilled to be posting the always brilliant HINTS from camp consultant Joanna Warren Smith!  If you don't already you should sign up to receive theses HINTS in your email - in the right-hand column of Joanna's website: http://camp-consulting.com/)

Summer Camp Favourites: Hearty & Simple Black Bean Casserole

A Camp Recipe to Please the Masses

photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/greg_myers/14385614051/  CC NC SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/

photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/greg_myers/14385614051/  CC NC SA http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/

Here’s a recipe to feed 100 people, so you’ll need to find 99 friends or campers if you want to experience this flavor fiesta. It freezes well, so if you can’t muster up a crowd there’s no need to miss out on the party. Unless you have almost no freezer space because you sometimes hoard over-ripe bananas (...guilty); in that case, you should stick with the crowd option and consider some muffin recipes.

This vegetarian casserole is a favorite of mine for a few reasons. First – it's delicious. I hear this is an important factor in good recipes. Second – it’s outrageously quick and easy to put together. It's also flavorful, crispy around the edges, and a great use of cornmeal. I like to think cornmeal is an indicator that whatever you're making will be delicious. Oh, and it's cheesy – that’s a good sign, too. 

The downside is that I hate the word 'casserole'. It makes me think of gloopy, grey fat-free mushroom soup mix and dishes that are way too hard to scrub clean. Don't get me wrong - I don't actually hate casserole, not even mushroom-soup filled casseroles. I just hate the idea of a casserole. The only reason I ever ventured to make this myself was because it doesn't include mushroom soup, frozen peas, or cornflakes. (It does contain frozen corn though...)

Anyway, now that you know about my banana problem and word association issues, I present the finest black bean casserole recipe I have ever made. Which is one.

Black Bean Casserole


1 C olive oil

16C onions, diced

14C yellow cornmeal

20C skim Milk

15C black beans, rinsed and drained

15C canned or frozen corn, drained

15C stewed tomatoes

16C shredded cheddar cheese


  1. Don sombrero and spray sixteen 8’’x8’’ baking pans.
  2. In several large bowls, combine all ingredients except cheese. Mix well and pour into prepared pans.
  3. Top with cheddar cheese, and bake uncovered at 350F for 45 - 60 minutes, until firm and crisp around the edges.

This recipe is from the 3 Week Summer Camp Menu put together by CamphackerTV, which you can find here.

Winner! Our #TwitPitch2014 Contest Has a Winner

Congratulations Camp Wightman!

CampHacker #twitpitch Contest 2014

This spring we announced a contest for the best #TwitPitch. We were looking for camps who could give parents enough information in 120 characters that they would take the next step: reach out for more info, click to see the website, request a brochure, etc.

The winning pitch was: We're not all bugs and dirt. Camp Wightman: where faith, friends, and fun collide. Building disciples since 1956.

Judging the Contest

I found a panel of experts (parents with kids that are the right age for summer camp) and asked them to rank the anonymized submissions.  These rankings were tabulated and Camp Wightman (in Connecticut) came out on top.

The judges came from lots of interesting professions (PR professional, insurance broker, banker, camp director who didn't submit for the contest) and life experiences.

What's this?

I must say #1 and #2 were very close! 

So close that we're going to offer a $750 CampHacker Playbook to the second place pitch: Your kid needs to be a kid. With role models, outdoors, growth, friends, and memories. Camp can help. This entry came from Camp Kitaki in Nebraska.

The next 3 pitches in ranking's were

  • S'mores, canoeing, swimming, and archery anyone?  Come on down to Camp Kateri, where memories are made one week at a time! 
  • Want the best for your child? So do we. Ask how Camp Takodah can set your child on a course for happiness and success.
  • Every boy is entitled to an experience that is magic. Camp Nebagamon.

It's interesting to me (a lesson that we'll be applying to CampHacker clients this winter!) that all of the top picks were about "kids being kids".  The middle picks seem to be ones that had a play on words and the ones that were ranked lowest seem to talk about a future state of the campers - what they will grow up to become.

This ranking is hardly statistically significant but it's fun to look for patterns. 

We had a lot of great entries - thank you to all the camps that submitted!   We look forward to seeing what you can come up with for #twitpitch2015

What do you think of the way things ranked?  Leave us your opinion in the comments!

Asking for 100%

Hey all! James Davis here! Hope summer is going terrifically for you. We're in the throes of summer camp ourselves, but there's been something exciting going on here that I just had to share! 

It's an approach we've adopted from the magical Camp Augusta - so hopefully someone there will chime in if we are using it in a way that's drastically different from them :)

As a staff living in close community, figuring out what everyone needs can be hard. Really hard. And frequently, in our effort to be considerate of others, many of us have the tendency to not ask for the things we really want from others. 

"I really wish Sasha would help clean the lodge, but I know she's busy. I guess I'll just do it again this time."

We all know how the story ends: a staff member in our office 3 weeks later who is unhappy with how the situation is resolving itself. Perhaps Sasha finds out and is self conscious that people have been talking about how she won't clean for 3 weeks. Or maybe the counselor who was annoyed finally bubbles over and storms in saying how Sasha hasn't done any cleaning all summer. What a mess.

The idea is simple. When we are living in close community, we absolutely need to communicate to others what our needs are. ALL of our needs. But everyone sort of knows this, so how do we get staff to buy in?

It's actually an easier sell than you might think. 

We have agreed as a community that we will always ask for 100% of what we want from others, and have agreed that while living in a community that asks for 100%, we'll be totally honest with others when we can't meet 100% of what they are asking for. When we ask for 100%, we'll prepare to hear "no," and be ready to find a way to do our best to meet everyone's needs as best we can.

This arrangement makes it so no one has to guess what anyone else is thinking, or has to wonder if Sasha is ever going to pick up a darn vacuum. If someone decides to clean the lodge instead of bother Sasha, she does so because she really wants Sasha to focus on her other work, not because she secretly hopes Sasha will read her mind and change her behavior as a result.

It's been really interesting to watch summer staff start using this kind of language with each other ("I'm going to ask you for 100% here - I could really use a break during the 3rd activity period, do you think you could cover Sports for me?"), and watching the resulting honesty and clean communication. We've been working for a long time at untying this specific knot, and the language around asking for 100% appears to have been a significant break through for us.

What's something new that's working for you this summer? We'd love it if you'd take a moment to share!

The Referral Engine by John Jantsch - Camp Leaders MBA

The next book in our curriculum is The Referral Engine by John Jantsch.  Some may have heard of Jantsch before because of his previous book, Duct Tape Marketing and he is a frequent contributor to television news and business shows.  He is a great writer with an easy-to-read style that keeps the reader engaged.

Well, engaged might be too simple.  I was DRIVEN to read this book.  I made the mistake of reading this book one night before bed and I was up an extra two hours absorbing the ideas and scribbling notes in the margins. 

This book connects so strongly to camp because we are a business that relies heavily on word-of-mouth referrals.  

Would you send your child away to a place that you hadn't heard great things about?   Exactly.  

What John does in this book is help us create a system that will make it easier and better for our families to recommend us to their friends.

Important Lessons from Referral Engine

  • Camps must be able to define & tell their "core talkable difference" - your Why Statement.  Why you do what you do and why that is different than any other camp.
  • A business needs to define their ideal customer.  Not just "people willing to give us money".  Look to find your best camp family.  Do they: already recommend you to others?  Donate time & money?  Bring kids to camp that don't even belong to them?  That is your ideal client.  From now on... only talk to them with your marketing.   That way you'll be sure to get more of them.
  • Focus your marketing efforts on your existing customers.  Set up a system that makes it easy for them to recommend you.
  • Look for businesses that also sell to your clients and partner with them.  Think of ways that you both can market together (children's clothing stores, outdoor retailers, etc.).

What comes out of John's book is a system of marketing - a way of setting out strategies that everyone involved can understand the process.   He makes it easy for us to get things started and keep them going from year to year.

One of the best things about The Referral Engine is the examples section at the back.  He has solicited real-word examples of people using great word-of-mouth marketing.  You'd be hard pressed to read this and not find things that would work for your camp.

5 Things to Add to Your Camp Marketing To Do List

1.    Define your "Why".  Make sure everyone that ever answers the phone or talks to parents at a camp fair believes it and can articulate it.
2.    Create turnkey tools.  Put something in the hands of every family that will help them talk to others about your camp.
3.    Create separate website landing pages for every marketing venue (links from OCA, other online listings, links you hand out to referring families) so you can measure how effect is each source.
4.    Commit to video.   Teaching is an incredibly powerful marketing tool (way better than shouting into open space) and we are very good at that.   Use YouTube and Facebook to show off your skills.
5.    Create a survey to send out to last summer's families.  Ask for some feedback on a few specific elements of the camp experience but focus on positives.  Send this out one month before your due date to remind families of the great things that they get from your camp.

What is on your Camp Marketing To Do List this year?

In Good Hands: Caring for Campers (and Staff) with Special Diets + Bonus Recipe

elana's pantry via photopin cc" >
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/elanaspantry/2631765638/

photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/elanaspantry/2631765638/

Before I let you in on my system of dietary care, I’d like to get a little story off my chest. I once had a counsellor on staff that was allergic to sulfates and sulfites. This was my first year as kitchen head-honcho and while I totally had the headscarf down pat, I had no idea what those were. The counsellor explained casually that they were ingredients in some processed foods. Well, I thought, you’re in luck! I’m banning processed foods!

I did not end up banning processed foods. Professionals, kind grandmothers, and angels may be capable of avoiding processed foods altogether, but I was none of these. I eliminated where I could, and humbly accepted that the occasional chicken nugget was a-ok if everyone had full bellies.

At some point, sulfates (or was it sulfites?) made their way to the table. I will never forget the moment our director came into the kitchen and asked “Were sulfates served at dinner?”. In the end, the counsellor was fine but I learned my lesson: I was responsible for people’s health, and I did not want to be responsible for anyone’s ill-health.

Now. You may ask “Why am I taking advice from a near-MURDERER!?”. While I ask you to recall she was fine, I should also tell you that this incident helped shape my fool-proof ‘keep people alive and let their parents know it’ system. The tricks are as follows:

Opening Day

Make yourself available opening day to meet with parents of campers with special diets. Be prepared to listen attentively and write things down, even if mama bear is describing to you in detail (with actions) the digestive disaster a slip-up might cause. If possible, it’s best to have the camper there, too. This helps you remember who’s who, and might make the camper a little more comfortable with you.

During this meeting ask:

  •  What their restrictions/allergies are, and how they usually manage them at home. Knowing how they manage them at home might give you a good indicator of how to manage them at camp.
  •  How the camper wants to interact with the kitchen. Are they willing and able to check in with the kitchen at meal times and get their special food if required?
  •  Did they bring their own replacement foods? If so, USE THEM. Nothing worries a parent more than picking their kid up at the end of the week and getting all their replacement foods back. (“Did little Phoebe eat cheese all week?!”). Keep this food separate and labeled.
  •  Be prepared to show them your menu for the week and answer a vast array of questions.

During the Week 

Have a whiteboard that you update each week with camper food needs, and include their name, cabin, and a counsellor from that cabin. Unless you have a rotating staff, you can usually make a staff needs list at the beginning of the season and keep it posted as well. While preparing every meal, go through the lists and make sure everyone has something safe and satisfying to eat. Don’t wait until just before the meal, you don’t want to draw attention to a camper because their meal wasn’t ready on time.

Depending on your staff and the number of special diets to account for, sometimes the easiest thing is to designate a competent staff member to be on top of special diet needs. Don’t forget that sometimes you can create one alternative meal that covers a variety of needs – rice pasta with a rich tomato sauce full of veggies can replace mac n’ cheese for vegans and those with a lactose or gluten intolerance.

Finally, check in with both the camper and their counsellor during the week to make sure your system is working and that the camper is being well-fed.

Closing Day

homemade sorbet at summer camp

Have all leftover replacement foods and the containers they came in together and labeled. When you see parents, unless you are absolutely sure you know who their child is and what cabin they’re in, do not wing it.  There’s no harm in asking for a reminder, but you can’t take back mixing up Dairy-Free-Alana with Gluten-Free-Maxine.

Finally, and I cannot stress this enough: thank them for their children! Parents and campers alike are aware of the potential burden of special diets. Even if little Phoebe had ferocious feedback about your homemade (undeniably delicious) sorbet, sincerely ensure each parent that it was no problem to accommodate their child and that you were honoured to make their experience at camp special.

Bonus Recipe: Homemade Sorbet

Forget ferocious Phoebe. This easy, refreshing recipe can be rapidly accommodated to serve any group size. Just remember to double the ingredients in this order:  sugar, water, fruit.  For citrus sorbet, double the sugar.  In the non-processed spirit, I’ve used turbinado, which can be replaced 1-1 with white sugar.


  • 2 C Turbinado
  • 4 C Boiling Water
  • 8 C Peeled, Chopped, Seeded Fruit – any variety.


  1.  Completely dissolve turbinado in the water, remove from heat and stir in fruit.
  2. Ladle mixture into several baking dishes filled no more than 1 inch. Freeze.
  3.  Cut frozen mixture into chunks and puree thoroughly in food processor. Serve immediately. 

[Note from Travis: If you like Meghan's summer camp recipes you'll LOVE her 3 Week Summer Camp Menu! Purchase it from our site for $49.95]