Setting camp marketing goals we know we can reach

Setting camp marketing goals for 2015 and beyond

Hello, Camp Pros!

Your old pal James Davis, here, and I'm excited to share how we set marketing and camper week goals from year to year - I hope you find these ideas as useful as I did when I first learned them!

As we all transition out of summer camp season, close down our program areas, break down those last camper and parent evaluations, and reflect on the summer’s great successes and failures, we all know that we’ll be faced with an altogether different challenge come the Fall.

That challenge? Getting more kids to camp next year than we had this year.

Now, a lot of us report directly to a board of trustees, or perhaps a senior staff person, who will come to us and ask something to the tune of: “How many camper weeks do you think we’ll have next summer?”

And we’ll laugh nervously and change the subject.

Well, we’ll actually probably answer the question. But I think we can answer a little bit more accurately than we usually do. I’ll explain.

The problem with results-oriented goal setting

You see, the goal setting stage for marketing season is absolutely critical. But setting goals around acquiring certain numbers of campers often times isn’t very helpful.

Setting goals around acquiring a certain number of campers is a results-oriented goal, and not a process-oriented goal, and it has a number of different pitfalls.

               1.   Our goals will be largely arbitrary.

We have no idea how the economy will change in the next year, what new summer camp options might come up, or if Oprah will come out and say that every single kid needs to go to camp THIS SUMMER! (emphasis hers). Given how little we can project about larger demographic trends, sticking our finger in the air and guessing at a number can be extremely difficult. Even the biggest businesses in the world come in ahead of or behind their guidance, and they are paying out an incredible amount of money each year for accurate forecasts. What makes us think we can guess any better than they can?

      2.   Reaching our goals can make us get complacent.

Say you’re at a camp that did 500 camper weeks last summer, and your goal is to do 550 camper weeks next summer. You’re rolling out your marketing campaign, and notice that with 2 months to go to before camp, you’re already at 550 weeks. Everyone around the office is happy about hitting this goal, and the natural inclination will be to be just a little bit less hungry in the pursuit of that next group of 50 campers.

      3.    Missing our goals can make us feel lousy for no reason.

Even worse, say you’re 2 days away from the beginning of staff training and you’ve booked 510 camper weeks. You’re scrambling, knowing that the goal was supposed to be 550 weeks, and know that you’re going to have some explaining to do as to why you didn’t hit your goal. You know – that same goal that was basically pulled out of thin air with no real data to support it.

      4.   Results-based goals don’t tell us how to get where we’re going.

The idea here is simple – if my marketing director comes to me and says, “My goal is 550 camper weeks next year,” there isn’t a lot of conversation to be had. Am I to assume she was a failure if she missed her goal? A huge success if she hits her goal? How will I know if she missed her goal as a result of her doing, or external factors?

And this is the problem with targeting a certain result.

This isn't to say that looking at results after the fact shouldn't happen. Examining our results is an important part of evaluating the effectiveness of our processes. It's targeting specific arbitrary results and getting disappointed when we don't hit them that causes stagnation.

So what does lead to the best results AND processes? 

Process-Oriented Goal Setting

The concept of process-oriented goal setting is also an easy one. Instead of saying "I will receive X result," we say instead, "I will complete X process."

For an example of some process-based goals, here you go:

  1. Do all of the things suggested in the marketing calendar.
  2. Have our summer camp brochure for next year done by Nov. 1st.
  3. Try 2 new forms of online paid advertising, and track the results.
  4. Study local demographics, and get flyers into at least 2 new school districts this year.
  5. Plan 5 home parties with camper families from last year.
  6. Speak in 25 churches between now and next year (if one was running a religious camp).
  7. Write 2 blog posts a month to help with Search Engine Optimization.
  8. Implement 2 ideas from Travis and Blake’s webinar on filling your camper slots at the last minute.

Etcetera, etcetera.

When we worked with process-oriented goals during my first marketing season here, we blew past our board’s results-oriented goal by more than 100 camper weeks. When we worked with them this last year, we missed the board’s results-oriented goal, but still felt great about the process. 

If you're into results-oriented goal setting - keep it. But think about tying in some process-oriented goal setting as well. I think you'll find that, in the end, focusing on processes is what puts more bodies in more beds, allowing you to change more lives in the process. And that, my friends, is what it's all about.

A brand new (to me!) take on evaluations - 360 degree feedback

Hey all! It's James Davis here, from Summer Camp Revolution. I wanted to share what I thought was an exciting take on (for me!) a pretty tedious aspect of being a camp director: evaluations.

Confession: throughout my camping career, I've hated basically everything about evaluations.

I have resented being evaluated by people above me (who in many cases "observed me" a small fraction of the time I actually spent working at camp. I felt awkward giving others formal evaluations, stiffly offering them insight into their own "strengths and weaknesses." I felt awkward seeking evaluation from others. This past summer, I actually experimented with forgoing formal evaluations for my staff in lieu of evaluating them casually on a single particular thing every day (or every other day, cough). 

Then, I had the pleasure of learning about 360 degree evaluations and feedback from new friends Penny and Bill James. For the first time, I heard a case for evaluations that made sense.

The premise is simple. Instead of a top-down evaluation from on high, each person on staff (including the boss-man or boss-woman) is evaluated by... wait for it... everyone else. That's right. A counselor will be evaluated by her director, and her campers, and her co-counselors, and herself. The evaluation meeting that follows is a cross referencing of one evaluation to another.

Patterns will quickly emerge, and real insights are possible. A counselor can easily reject feedback from her boss as "picking on her," but when her campers and co-counselors agree, it has to be taken a lot more seriously. Likewise, counselors who constantly beat themselves up can see that there are areas of strength that they never knew about.

According to Bill, who has implemented this at the University level, self-evaluations transition from being totally unlike those offered by others to closely mirroring them. Staff members learn to see themselves more clearly by seeing how everyone else sees them.

So, what do you think? I might be late to the party on this one, but I know I'm going to try this evaluation system the next  time I get a chance.

And I'm curious. Have any of you tried the 360 degree feedback model? And if so, how'd it go? 

Thanks, and here's to being lifelong learners!

Camp Recipes for In-Season Vegetables – Corn Pancakes

As bright yellow cobs of corn weigh down their sturdy stalks in Ontario, I write this blog from a place of near-hallucinating exhaustion. I am longing for the days when I had time to make delicious hearty breakfasts before I decided I was woman enough for two jobs. Which I totally still am, by the way. 

The recipe below, for Corn Pancakes, is a great use of in-season fresh corn on the cob (or leftovers), but can be made from canned corn if no fresh corn is available. By the way, as the partner of a former corn-farmer, I am obligated to insert here that there is no such thing as peaches and cream corn and something about brainwashing, and that the all-yellow stuff is way better than bi-color. (Happy?) 

As a Dutch girl, Im supposed to dine on chocolate sprinkle sandwiches and thin crepe-like pancakes filled with all things sugary and sweet for breakfast. I know this, yet I yearn for savoury. Dont get me wrong – I make a mean pumpkin Chai pancake, but given the choice, most mornings Ill pick bacon n eggs over waffles.

This recipe soothes my savoury cravings, my corn-farming prince charming, and the grumblings of my ancestors (Be still, you gorgeous blonde giants! It says pancakes!). With the perfect amount of sweetness from the corn, these little beauties are great topped with sweet-chilli sauce, as a substitute for hashbrowns with bacon and eggs, or even as a bun for egg sandwiches. 

Corn Pancakes – Serves 60 (as a side)


30 eggs

4 2/3 C milk

1 3/4 C butter, melted

10 C flour

5 tbsp baking powder

5 tbsp onion powder (option to use green onions)

Corn from 2 dozen cobs of corn


1.     Combine eggs, milk, and butter.

2.     Whisk in flour, baking powder, and onion powder.

3.     Stir in corn

4.     Drop by large spoonfuls onto medium-heat flat top grill.

5.     Flip once until golden on both sides

 If you like what you see, and want to see more, check out our 3-Week Summer Camp Menu!

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

(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:

Summer Camp Favourites: Hearty & Simple Black Bean Casserole

A Camp Recipe to Please the Masses

photo credit:  CC NC SA

photo credit:  CC 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!