So you want to get a job listed on the ACA Jobs Email

As someone who has been involved in hiring a new director at a couple of different camps, my natural instinct in both cases was to turn to the ACA Year Round Jobs email. I still cite this as the first place any person trying to find year round jobs at camp should look - after all, it was the first place I turned when I tried to find a job working at summer camp full time! It really is a phenomenal resource. Thousands of would-be candidates can view your position, and in many cases dozens of them will reach out with the sincere desire to work at your camp someday. 

Great for camps, great for candidates, so what's not to love?

Well, as someone who has been through both sides of the process, there can often be heartache on all sides involved. I've heard many people complain that they weren't even responded to when applying for a job (this happened to me as well), and as someone who has also done the hiring, I'll say that the quality of applications is all over the map as well.

I figured I'd write something up to give candidates a better sense of what people like me are looking for when hiring out a position, so you can give the camps you hope to work for the best possible picture of who you are, and why you'll fit in. I also hope to share some of the things that worked for me in actually getting a job at a place that didn't know me or my references at all, as well as the things I've seen that have caused me to hire complete strangers and put them in charge of really important things. Let's dive in.

Mastering the Application Process Part 1: The Initial Email

Of the 73 candidates that reached out to us about working at Longacre, fewer than 10 of them included any real understanding of our programming in their initial email. Every single person who reached out and demonstrated any understanding at all as to what we do was invited to take part in the next step in our hiring process. This isn't to say we dismissed the generic "To Whom it May Concern" emails out of hand, but it was pretty hard not to. My name was on the job listing, as was the name of the camp, as was a lot of information about who we are and what we are looking for. Skipping to the end for the contact email and sending a generic email just feels like cutting corners, to be honest, and it's painfully obvious to the people reading your initial emails.

From the perspective of the person doing the hiring, we were scared as heck that we wouldn't find a passionate and qualified candidate. Here's the thing, we know that many people responding to these emails are just sending out the same email to a dozen different camps in a given geographic region. It's hard to get excited when you get what amounts to a generic inquiry email.

Here's an example of an email that was amazing, and eye-catching:

"Dear James,
Wow! What a cool program you all are running over at Longacre! I've always been passionate about teen leadership, and love that it all takes place in a farm setting. I've always loved working with animals, and to be honest, I've even pictured myself having a farm of my own some day! I'd love to take a look at a formal job description, and know more about the application process!


Site unseen, this person has communicated that she A) understands my program, B) is an effective communicator, and C) is taking my time seriously in this application process. She didn't even wind up pursuing an interview when she learned about the exact details of the job, which was actually amazing. From start to finish she approached the whole interaction with integrity - learning as much about us as possible before reaching out, and being honest with herself about her interest in working the job we had put forth. Thanks to you, if you're reading this, for being an A+ person!

Mastering the Application Process Part 2: The Purpose of Your Cover Letter

So you already reached out and let me know that you know about my camp. I've given you a job description, and asked you to pass along a resume and cover letter. What am I looking for?

Let's start with the cover letter. First of all, and this probably goes without saying, but make sure you pay very close attention to detail here. I literally had someone claim to be huge on paying attention to detail who then went ahead and didn't put a period at the end of multiple paragraphs. This may seem harsh, but it almost doesn't matter what your resume says if you don't take the time to make sure you can put together 3 professional paragraphs. I recognize that writing isn't everybody's favorite thing, but in the world of modern camping, writing is still the number 1 way we are going to communicate with our camp families.

If your writing skills aren't stellar, that's okay. Just call your friend who is always saying things like, "I can't help but correct your grammar - I'm an English major, after all!" and have them look over your cover letter. Tell them to be mean. Tell them to let you know what doesn't make sense, and to explain the difference between passive and active voice. Just trust me on this one.

Once the mechanics of your writing are attended to, it's time to think about the content. You will instantly separate yourself from the field by not just using a form cover letter format.  

I had multiple applicants submit a cover letter that contained almost this identical word for word opening paragraph:

"I think the opportunity of working as a Camp Director at Longacre Leadership Camp would be an amazing and exciting one. I have provided my resume to show my ability to succeed in the position of Camp Director."

Unfortunately, the main skill demonstrated by this paragraph is the ability to Google around for cover letter formats. 

Here's the thing, once you're a camp director, you will not be able to perform in your role by Googling for form emails. Don't be afraid to sound convesational and go off the beaten path. No one is comparing your cover letter against some International Standard of Cover Letters. We just want to get to know you. We want to know what makes you tick, and why this position feels just right.

Instead of using a form letter, why not just conversationally talk about why you think you are a good fit for the position? Here are some questions I'd ask and things I'd include if I were helping someone write a camp cover letter.

1) Do you have specific experience in the exact type of camp I'm hiring for? For example, did you used to work at a farm camp, and now you're applying to my farm camp? Did you grow up in the Methodist Church, and you're applying to work at my Methodist Camp? This type of connection really matters. It's not necessary, but communicating that you speak the language of and know the culture of the organization to which you're applying can make a difference.

2) Do you have an example of something that happened in your life that shows that we share the same values? Say you were applying to work at Camp Stomping Ground. You'd read the website, and find out that we seem to care a whole lot about empathy and communication. You're excited, because you really think the world needs more empathy. 

You think of a time when you were at camp, and there was a kid who showed up from the inner city who seemed to be struggling with a lot. You became friends, and started to think about what it might be like to live in her shoes. After seeing the power of summer camp in that experience, you've been dead set on creating diverse environments where kids from all number of backgrounds can get together and learn to love one another. If you communicate this in a future job opening for Stomping Ground, you'll get an interview - I promise. 

But here's the thing, stories work a lot better than claims. Everyone can claim to love diversity and empathy (and in fact, who wouldn't claim to love such things?), but showing that you've thought about it enough to recall a specific instance in your life where these values really solidified will separate you from other candidates who make more generic claims.

3) Do you have a few specific dreams that you'd like to see come to life at my camp? I remember applying to work at my first year round job, and at the time I was all about what I called "land justice." This is the idea that summer camps own tons of land, but often times don't even use half of it. I wanted to find a camp that would let me turn some portion of the property into an organic garden to feed the campers and donate some to local people in need. I'm sure many camps thought this was a pretty uninteresting idea, but the camp that hired me was REALLY excited about the idea, and elected to interview me even though my resume was pretty crappy at the time. You've got some big dream bottled up inside of you (hopefully). Feel free to share it in some fashion like this:

"I've always dreamed about working at a camp like Stomping Ground that seems to share my vision to make the world a more empathetic place. I'd love to chat with you about how I can help Stomping Ground fulfill its mission, and would also love to talk about some ideas I have to help Stomping Ground fulfill its mission in other ways. For a long time I've dreamed about setting up a community garden where people could come work the soil, grow healthy food for kids, and give back to the community at the same time. Stomping Ground seems so full of possibility, and the perfect place to try something like this."

Sharing your vision can be a risk, but it's also honest. Think about finding a job like finding a life partner. You might be able to get by at first on niceties and fluff, but ultimately you're going to be doing hard and important work together. Might as well bare yourself as quickly as possible to make sure that you're a fit to the organization where you're applying, as this will lead to the highest chance of a good long term fit.

4) And lastly, you can keep things open ended. Don't feel the need to list ALL of your experience. Your resume is a better place to go deep on that. Feel free to offer one idea, and then say something like, "My mind is spinning on a number of different ideas on how to help Longacre grow. I'd love talk about them at your convenience!" 

Think about your cover letter as a conversation starter rather than a complete picture of yourself. If you keep me wanting more when I'm reading through your cover letter, you've done a wonderful thing. 

Mastering the Application Process Part 3: The Resume

One quick nuts and bolts recommendation to start: save your resume in some format that isn't editable. If you save it in a PDF, for instance, you will know the exact formatting of the document you're sending along. You'll see if your columns line up, if your pictures show up in the right spot, and so on. There are so many different versions of Microsoft Word alone that formatting can get really distorted from one to the other. While I understand that this is not on most people's radar, some percentage of hiring committees will just think that you didn't take the time to make the thing look good.

And to that point, looks DO matter. You don't need to have the same form resume that everyone uses, but do your best to make things look professional. Now that might mean different things to different people. If you're applying to a camp that seems funky and off-beat, lots of colors and images are probably a good thing. If you're applying to a 120 year old camp that has a bunch of lawyers sitting on its hiring committee, maybe you want to go more formal. But, as always, just do what feels natural to you. If nothing feels natural, just do what makes you feel most confident. 

And then, what to include? Well, lead with whatever your camp experience is, of course. Specifics are great here. Did you help with ACA Accreditation? How many staff were you in charge of? How many kids? Did you launch any new programs? Design staff training? 

Do you have any other relevant camp experience, like being a part of some continuing education program? This can include things like Go Camp Pro or the Summer Camp Society, but can also include simply attending camp conferences and reading blogs. Showing that you have taken time to perfect your craft outside of the usual channels communicates that you're the type of person that takes this really seriously. Again, this will separate you from a huge percentage of the would-be candidates.

As for your other experience, it matters, but most of it will seem like white noise unless it's really unusual for some reason. Prioritize including times when you were in charge of something (i.e., include being a manager of a McDonalds before you include being a bartender at a local restaurant that I've never heard of), as well as unusual life experiences. I love to hear that you were a part of the Peace Corp., or that you traveled for 2 years after college, and so on. 

There isn't a lot you can do to change your resume for the better besides not mess it up and get more experience. To that end, seeking an entry level seasonal or shoulder season position is a great start. I know Jack Schott also wrote a great piece about trying to find your first camp job out of college, and he relays how he and Laura broke into the camp world with the same level of experience that the rest of us had coming out of college.

Mastering the Application Process Part 4: The Best Possible References

Probably the most common (and accurate) criticism of getting a job in camping is that it's more "who you know" than "what you've done." The second most common (and accurate) criticism is something like "how do I get experience working year round in camping when I don't have any experience working year round in camping when all of the year round jobs require year round experience in camping?"

Fair criticisms, both. But there is actually a way to use this for your advantage. If you're reading this, chances are great you are really interested in working at camp for a reason. Likely, that reason is that you've worked at some other camp in the past. If you're a great candidate for a job like this, chances are you've impressed the heck out of some person you've worked for in the past, but your camp is simply out of full time jobs. If that's you, you have an incredible resource at your fingertips: the people you've worked for. They love you,right? They want to see you succeed. And chances are, if they have worked full time at camp for a while, they know people at other camps.

Go talk to them. Ask them if THEY know anyone who is currently hiring out a full time position. Go one step further - ask them to reach out in advance of you passing along your introductory email to give people a positive expectation of you. 

The secret to me landing my first year round camping job is that my old director reached out to the hiring committee at the camp where I applied and told them that they at least needed to interview me. He didn't even know them personally, and did this without my even asking. And you know what? It was so unusual that it made a HUGE impression on that committee. They gave me a chance they certainly wouldn't have given my resume at the time (which included no year round experience, of course). As someone who has hired these types of jobs twice, I will let you know that not a single person has ever reached out to me preemptively to get me excited about a candidate. If you can find a reference willing to do this for you, it will make an enormous difference. It doesn't have to be much, either. Just an email like:

"Hey Jackie! Hope all's well at Your Camp USA!

James Davis here! We met at the ACA National Conference a couple of years ago. I just wanted to let you know that Jack Schott, whom I worked with at Stomping Ground, is thinking about applying for your Camp Director position. Jack is the actual best - he worked with me for a couple of years at a couple of different camps. If he does apply I'd absolutely interview him. I'd love to have hired him here, but we simply ran out of room to promote him given the people we already have in place! Best of luck in your hiring process either way!"

The woman we wound up hiring at Longacre came with a 10/10 reference from someone we knew personally and respected. I only knew him from camp conferences, but that made him the most trusted reference I spoke to of any candidate by far. We had never worked with her, but that level of reference means so much more than talking to an old employer I've never met. Everyone can find 3 people to say nice things about them, so try and separate yourself by making your references stand out.

In summary, don't wait until you've already basically gotten the job to tap into your references - use them as a resource to get you in the door in the first place.

Mastering the Application Process: Concluding Thoughts

So there you have it. Looking for camp jobs can be really hard. We did get 73 resumes for our one job at a small camp in Western Pennsylvania, and I can imagine that the bigger and better known camps get many times that. By taking a little extra care at every step along the way, you absolutely can get your resume moved to the top of the pile. We wound up interviewing several stone cold strangers, some with very little experience, just based on the fact that they actually seemed to know about our camp and took the time to demonstrate it. 

Being intentional has a cost, for sure. It might mean applying to fewer camps. This is probably a good thing. Remember that you don't need to get a job offer from EVERY camp, just from the one you really want to work at. And to be honest, you won't get serious consideration from the camps that are a bad fit for you anyway. Instead of applying to 5 camps, 4 of which are realistically outside of your interest level, skills, or experience, why not go all out applying to the 1 that seems like the perfect fit? 

And listen, I know this process can be painful. These jobs are hard to get for a reason - precious few people get to blend business with pleasure the way full time camp pros do. Hard? Yes. Possible? Definitely. If you follow Jack's advice on improving the level of candidate you are, and then approach applying to one job at a time as seriously as you approached rocking the camp where you grew up, the dream is absolutely within reach. Best of luck to you on your journey!

James Davis
Longacre Leadership Camp

Being a Camp Counselor Isn't Complicated

Being a summer camp counselor  is the best job you can get. It means spending your summer playing in the lake, getting covered in slop, reenacting early 2000s teenage angst, wrestling whales, learning and living restorative justice, making art, connecting with kids, making the best friends you can imagine, going above and beyond, working harder than you ever have before, and making a real impact on a diverse group of young people. It is equal parts being a parent, club promoter, plumber, actor, and teacher. It is awesome. Plus, the truth is being a camp counselor isn't that complicated. It can be hard, but not complicated.

To be honest, there are just four keys to being a good camp counselor. As you get better at each one, you develop more tools, tactics, and skills that can help you make more impact, but it all comes back to these four:


1) Show up

Just show up. When you are scheduled to lifeguard, be there. When you are supposed to take out the trash, do it. Just be where you are scheduled to be when you are scheduled to be there. Then level up. Be present. Think about ways to make the situation better. My old program director used to always say “Hold a plunger and wear a wig.” Things are funnier in costume. So just show up. Show up mentally and physically and bring the fun.

2) Talk WITH kids

So you showed up. Great. Now let’s talk to some kids. Most kids at camp will think you are way cooler than you are. They will think that backwards hat and tie dye shirt combo is LIT! So talk with them. Just ask them how they are doing. What do they like? Where are they from? Do they want to play a game? As you walk from the dining hall to the cabin, be a person and talk with them. You wouldn't walk silently with your friends. Make jokes. Tell a story. Teach some kids how to tie a knot, make a bracelet, or play mafia. Show up and then just talk to kids.

3) Use judgment

To be fair this one is a little harder. I originally called it use good judgment, but then what does good mean? It can be complicated. The key here is just be a person. When you show up and are talking to kids and they tell you they are lonely, ask them more. Try to help. Tell your boss (at Stomping Ground that is your Panda). If a kid pees the bed one night, check the next morning if he did it again. When kids are being mean ask them to stop. If you start a hike with 8 kids, finish the hike with 8 kids. I am being a little crass here, but seriously think to yourself, is this safe? If you aren't sure ask your boss.

4) Don’t be a jerk

This one might be the most important part. Kids are plenty used to adults being rude, condescending, or making up rules that don’t make sense. Just be nice. If a kid is doing something unsafe and you need to step in, use judgment, be NICE, don’t be mean about it. Just ask them, “what’s up?” Talk to them like people. Ask them what they think is the best way to move forward. If you disagree with other staff, AWESOME, don’t be mean about it. Just talk to them!

Ok jokes aside! Being a camp counselor is challenging, and sometimes you won’t know what to do. If you show up, talk to kids, use judgment, and try not to be a jerk you are 80% of the way there. During staff orientation you will learn all kinds of strategies for risk management, conflict resolution, how to lead games, how to help kids get through the showers, and so much more. The key, the real key, is just engage in the job. Focus on how to help each kid you are with have a better time than before they were with you and smile. If nothing is on fire life is good.

Remember, hold a plunger and wear a wig!

Looking for a job this summer? Send me a quick text/email and let's figure out if we can make that happen or check out our camp, Camp Stomping Ground

Schott Jack.jpg


Selling Camp Online is About Giving Not Taking

Social Media Marketing in 2018 is All About Content

Your phone is the new TV and Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter are ABC, NBC, CBS, and HBO.

Recruiting campers through social media, the slang term for the current state of the internet, is about networking, not yelling. We need to stop thinking about ourselves and start figuring out how to connect and provide value, then ASK if folks would be interested in learning more. If you showed up to a party and only talked about yourself no one would like you. Facebook, Insta, Snapchat, Twitter, Linkedin, they are all just different parties. It doesn’t make them a bad place to sell camp. It just changes the conversation.

The TV Industrial Complex

“TV and stuff like TV made it really easy to spread ideas in a certain way.”

- Seth Godin 

Seth Godin has been talking about this for almost 20 years. The old way of marketing is that things like TV commercials, newspaper and magazine ads, and bill boards are built on the idea that if we know where people are paying attention and then interrupt that TV show or magazine with a little ad people will see it and then buy our stuff. It worked for a long time.

The problem now, is that people have way more choice about where to spend their attention. Instead of choosing between 3 channels, ABC, NBC, and CBS, or even 57 channels with nothing on we all have access to nearly infinite channels to give our attention to.

Think about it like this. If your phone is the new TV and Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter are the new ABC, NBC, CBS, and MTV but instead of airing Senfeld at 8:00 Monday nights and Friends at 9:00 PM Tuesday each of those “channels” are airing 1000s of Senfelds, Friends, and SportsCenters for people to choose from every minute of every day.

How do you like it when an ad interrupts your screen? You get annoyed. Think about it. We hecking hate when we have to watch a 30 second Youtube preroll that we can’t skip. I have absolutely stopped visiting because of their obnoxious ads. A 15 second ad before a 30 second clip, are you kidding me!?

So if we hate it, don’t you think our camper parents hate it as well?

Let’s look at what most camps’, really most business’s, Facebooks or Instagrams look like. We post pretty pictures of kids having fun, maybe a nice video of how awesome camp is, even cool cover videos of drones looking down at the beautiful landscape that is camp.  They look nice, but if I am a busy mom or dad why do I care? All those posts say to me, if I see them, which I won’t unless you pay to interrupt my newsfeed, is “Look at me look at me we have cool stuff.”

We get lucky here because some parents are already looking for our camps, and our current parents go out and sell camp for us through word of mouth marketing, but all these posts about how pretty our waterfront is don’t help new parents fall in love with us. The best case scenario for all these campsentric posts is that our current campers and alumni see them and are reminded of their camp memories. This isn’t bad, but I think we can do better.

I am not interested in just keeping my current families happy. I want my current families to be able to use my content to sell camp for me. I want them to be so proud and excited about how useful I am to them that they yell from the mountain tops about how great we are. So how do we use social media to do that?

We partnered with Peter Gray to share learning fundementals. Something our parents could share and be proud of. 

Let’s mix some metaphors

If all people in general, and our current and potential camper parents in particular, have infinite choices in what to look at on their new TVs, their phones, how do we get them to want to choose us?

When we are at a party and instead of Gary, the new guy, talking about how great his law firm is, he is telling a compelling story about this new local restaurant or sharing an interesting new idea about education, we pause. We listen, and a lot of the time we chime in or make a comment.

We tell our story about a new restaurant and then we tell our friends about this new restaurant we heard about from Gary at the party. The next time we see Gary we are excited to hear from him. We ask him about other restaurants, but then something magic starts to happen. Because we know Gary is a person, we start to ask him about other things. We build a connection and learn about his kids, his job, his history.

If he had lead with all that stuff about him we would have thought he was weird, but by acting like a human and just chatting, telling stories, and sharing cool ideas, we slowly get to know, like, and trust him. If we ever need a lawyer, of course we are going to ask Gary. He is a great guy and that restaurant he recommended was tremendous. Plus our friend Pam hired him a few years ago and things seemed fine.


When we show up to the Facebook party we need to provide value. A video series about parenting from experts, an interview with farm to table restaurants in our town, a funny video about cats. On social media people are just getting to know us and we are just getting to know them. What we are hoping for is that some folks, some small percentage of the people on Facebook, fall in love with our take on parenting or the way we think about nature. It connects with them the way Gary’s story about the restaurant did and they want to tell their friends.

The difference is when they “tell their friends” all they have to do is click share and hundreds of people that trust them see that they trust us. If they trust our take on parenting, is it so big of a stretch that they might trust us as a camp? Maybe, but with each engaging and valuable blog post we write, video we edit, or meme we create, we slowly earn their trust. Then after spending the time to get them to trust us, earning their attention with each carefully crafted post, we ask:

“Hey if you are looking for a summer camp for your kids I hope you choose us. Look at all these other people that have loved our camp. You can register here. Thank you!”

We need to get away from marketing that is about us and focus on marketing that is about the people we serve. This takes tons of time and we aren’t perfect at it, but you can see us stumbling through this process here

Jack Schott Stomping Ground.jpg

Jack Schott
Camp Director
Camp Stomping Ground

Why We Bought a Camp by James Davis

A guest post by our good friend James Davis. James is a former professional poker player, camp director, and founding partner at GoCampPro. He is a board member at Stomping Ground, founder and CEO of, and a badass dad.


Leading into every summer, the founders of Stomping Ground and I find ourselves inevitably drawn to the ACA “camps for sale” forum, since we are interested in buying a facility. We’ll typically kick the tires on a few listings to little or no results, but in reaching out to a few listings this year, something unexpected happened.

We got an email back that indicated that a camp that was for sale was Camp Longacre in Newport, PA. I had been a big fan of Longacre for quite some time after it came on my radar for its forward thinking technology policy and its unique take on campers and staff taking responsibility for everything from maintenance of the site to the care of its animals. As someone who has attended uncountable camp conferences, met even more summer camp directors, consulted for many camps, and worked at a few myself – it takes a lot for a camp that I have no affiliation with to catch my eye. Longacre did just that.

While the facility wasn’t right for Stomping Ground due to its location, I had to know more. I visited with two of my best friends (and camp folks) Jack Schott and Doug Norrie during one of Longacre’s last sessions of the 2017 camping year to see if my impression of the camp matched the reality. Sure enough, it did – the camp was a vibrant, unique place with ambitious plans and a rich history. Young people were not only taking goats for walks as though they were dogs, they were discussing their feelings and emotions better than people twice their age. They were taking ownership over helping with the thankless tasks that made the camp tick, and gushing with enthusiasm about what it meant to them to be a part of that community.

We went ahead and took a step I never imagined we’d take: we bought the thing. Our team has had success in starting camps from scratch, in helping camps turn around, and even working as consultants and trainers for others. While we haven’t bought someone’s camp from them and tried to help it grow, we’re damned excited to try.

So we’re ready for step 1: Finding someone to run it for us.

While I’m excited to get back in the trenches of helping a camp thrive, none of our team is interested in directing the camp on a day to day basis. That’s where you come in.

Maybe you’ve seen one of us talk at a conference. Maybe you’re a fan of what we’ve done with Camp Stomping Ground, or read our posts on Go Camp Pro, or maybe you followed Jack and Laura’s tremendous journey with Camping Coast to Coast. Or maybe you’ve never heard of us, but this post has you intrigued for some reason.

A long story short – we want to add someone to our camp family. We’re hiring a person to be the Camp Director of Camp Longacre. This person will work directly with us to help Longacre catapult into the next phase of its existence. We’ll serve as teammates and mentors, but ultimately camp’s success will be up to you. You won’t have to do everything, but you’ll have to make sure it gets done. Our success will be your success as we grow Longacre to the point where the business is successful as the mission already is. 


As someone who’s been on both sides of the table when it comes to hiring camp directors, I’ve given a lot of thought as to what the ideal candidate looks like, and it turns out that I’m often looking for something different than most people are.

We don’t care about your age. We don’t care about your education. Even camp experience isn’t a must.


We want someone who wakes up every day and thinks about the things they are passionate about. We want people who sometimes have trouble falling asleep because they are so excited about some project they are working on. We want someone who sometimes hops out of bed – just for a second! – to write down an idea they just don’t want to get away from them.
We want someone who is willing to do whatever it takes, but wise enough to know what they are best at. We want someone who isn’t afraid of dreaming huge, but is practical enough to do every last little thing necessary to make this thing a success.

We want someone as fiercely dedicated to improving how the world interacts with kids as we are. We want someone confident enough to tell us when they disagree with us, but humble enough to accept direction when necessary. We want someone who understands that they’ll be a lot better at running camp a year from now than they are today because of how much work they’ll put in. 

Interested in learning more, or applying? Shoot me an email at Looking forward to hearing from you. 


A New Website Doesn't Need to Be Expensive, but You Do Need One

Every Parent Sees It

Every parent that sends their kid to Stomping Ground looks at our website. I don’t think we have had one parent not look at our website before sending their child to camp. We find lots of new families through word of mouth, Facebook (the new word of mouth), camper outreach, partnerships, and a million other channels, but they all end up on our website. My guess is the same is true for you. The problem is most camp websites are out of date and aren’t building trust.

Websites Can Be Expensive

Websites can be expensive. Camps regularly spend over 40 grand on a new website. Then they have to keep paying monthly fees so some developer can update it, change it, adjust it, or just upload a blog post. I don’t think that’s worth it for most camps. Plus the internet changes so fast that to stay current you will just need a new design in two or three years.

Your website doesn’t need to be fancy

What is the point of a camp website? It isn’t to be the coolest sleekest thing on the internet. It is to simply get a parent to call camp or sign up. Quick aside that I learned from Tommy Feldman at Camp Granite Lake. You are going to be better at talking to a parent about the story of camp and the impact it will have and ultimately getting them to register than you will be at building a website that does it for you. The first goal of your website should be to get a parent to call you so you can build a relationship.

The new problem for your website then becomes: how do we make it as likely and easy as possible for the right parents to call camp? That is a problem about storytelling and design not about fancy graphics or incredible software engineering. There are tons of great simple website building software platforms out there that get you most of the way there. They do all the engineering so you can focus on the design and copy or pay someone to get you setup. 

Quick thoughts about the platforms

Wordpress, Squarespace, Wix, Weebly… There are a million great platforms to build a website. For most camps I would go with Squarespace or Wix. In a lot of ways they are interchangeable, but I like Squarespace the best. More on that in another post. Squarespace and Wix are both drag and drop editors and they both are all in one one stop shops. They cost about $10 a month and will let you move your current domain and blog posts over and then you don't have to worry. They will take care of everything except the content. It is basically like a more customizable Facebook or Instagram. You can’t change everything, but you know it will work. Here are some examples:


With Wordpress you can do more, but you have to do more work and more maintenance. Wordpress can let you setup forums, paywalls, and customize every single aspect of the website. BUT YOU DON’T NEED THAT. You just need a website with great photos and engaging copy. So don’t bother worrying about it.

Where to go from here…

Get your website up to date. You are throwing money away if your website isn't super mobile friendly, has an out of date design, or isn't telling your story. Tons of parents will just move on to the next camp. You have three options. 

One, pay a lot of money for a hard to edit, but developer customized site. I don’t think this makes sense even if you have the money to spend.

Two, make the site yourself on Squarespace or Wix. This makes sense if you have a lot more time than money or love the idea of learning more about web design. I will write more about effective web design soon. 

Three, pay someone like me between $2,000 and $8,000 to get you all setup and ready to go. This makes sense if you have a little bit of money in the budget, not a lot of time, and want a great site that doesn’t need to be super customized.

I am happy to help you get you camp website looking great 

Send me an email and let's get to work -

Here is a list of other Squarespace developers if you want to compare prices or take a look at some other folks style. 

What I Would Do If I Were A College Student Today

If I were in college right now and I wanted to be a camp director here is what I would do. 

Change My Major

First I would change my major to graphic design and minor in computer science or the other way around. Almost every camp director I know went to school for nothing that has to do with being a camp director. So I would major in a couple of subjects that I think are interesting and would both be useful as a camp director and different from what most other wannabe camp directors are doing. Graphic design and computer science are both super useful for creating marketing materials and projects for camp along with a million other things.

Make a Quick Website

Next I would make a super simple website called… To start I would simply set the home page to the blog and create an about page for who I am. Then each month I would read a book and type up a simple synopsis on how I think it applies to camp. Each month I would also do the same with between 1 and 10 Youtube videos. Here is a list of some of the books videos that I would start with. 

Talk to My Current Director

Third, I would send a short email to my current director explaining that I want to become a camp director and ask them if they had any advice. Then I would decide if I wanted to go back to my home camp. This is a tough one. I love Camp Stella Maris where I grew up and worked for eight summers, and I learned a ton working there. My gut tells me the best way to set yourself up for a director job would be to work at your home camp until you get a leadership position and spend one summer in a seasonal director type role before applying at other camps. Unless for some reason your current camp doesn’t have a seasonal leadership position available to you for whatever reason. 

Find The Next Camp

Fourth, I would start looking for another camp. I would be super honest with my home camp director about what I was doing. Let them know you love your camp and to maximize the chance of being a great camp director you need to build a larger network and see how other people run camp. Next, I would apply at a handful of camps. Knowing the camps that I know and who I am I would apply at, Stomping Ground, Frost Valley, Sanborn Western Camps, and Augusta. Sanborn and Augusta are both super well established amazing programs that I think you could learn a lot from and I would think hard about Frost Valley if I really wanted to work in the Y. Then I would go work at Stomping Ground! ;) I am biased of course, butI would choose Stomping Ground because I know the directors are well connected. It is a new camp so there will be tons of opportunity to make changes and try new things. Stomping Ground serves a diverse population and does a lot of new and interesting things on a small budget, and because its fun to work there. After choosing to work at Stomping Ground, or another great camp, I would plan on spending two summers there. One to get to know the place and show the directors what I can do as a counselor and one as a seasonal director or leadership staff member of some kind. This way by the end of my time at college I will have two sets of directors that can vouch for me and two experiences as a leadership staff member at two separate camps. 


The next step is meeting as many people as possible. I would send an email to all the camps I could find that are with in a two to three hour drive from my school and try to setup a day where I could volunteer, get a tour, and meet the director. I would write about this on my blog after each trip and ask the director at each camp for recommendations for the next place to visit. After each visit I would also make each camp 4 or 5 sharable memes and send them over in an email thanking them for their time. I would gladly skip class to get a day with a camp director. 

Go to a couple Conferences

I would go to my local ACA regional conference, again, gladly skipping class, and after accepting the job at Stomping Ground I would ask to join them at the ACA Tristate Conference. At each of these I would try to meet as many people as I could and send great to meet you emails after the fact. Being a camp director means sending a shit load of emails. 


That is where I would start toward setting myself up to be the most likely to land a camp director job, but after graduating from college I wouldn't want to jump right into a full time job. More on that later, but I’d start with a couple of short term outdoor ed jobs combined with something like Camping Coast to Coast. Then it doesn’t become how can I get a job, but rather what job do I want?

If you are looking for a new job in summer camp I would love to hear what you have been up to. The struggles, ideas, and what you are hoping for. Fill out the quick form below and let's chat.



Are you looking a new year round job at camp?


My Job Search Thesis

Getting your first year round job at camp seems daunting. Where do you even start? How do you prepare? What will it be like?

Most people think looking for a job starts when you scroll through the ACA Job Listing, the process starts much earlier. The choices we make years before applying for our first job can make the biggest difference. That doesn’t mean you need to know exactly what you want to do in 10 years. It means you can set yourself up for the best possible range of outcomes in the future by making a few intentional decisions now. Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, outlines this idea best in The Startup of You. It is a great book to read or you can get the gist of it in about an hour below. In many ways this article is trying to apply the ideas outlined in The Startup of You to getting a job at summer camp specifically. To do this let’s work backwards.

When a camp board, owner, or executive director posts a job they get hundreds of responses. They are making a huge decision. Who will run or help run this place that means the world to them and their campers. In many ways camps are a direct reflections of their director team. Great camps have great leaders and hiring a new director is a huge decision. When the person doing the hiring gets flooded with all these resumes and cover letters they are looking for reasons to narrow the pile. Most of the time this starts by throwing away resumes that they think aren’t qualified for the job. Maybe they don’t think they have enough experience, there are misspellings, maybe they are looking for a college degree you don’t have, or the resume wasn't personalized for the specific job. What you are trying to do in this stage is give the person in charge of hiring a reason to move you from the stack of faceless resumes that end up in the trash to a new stack of resumes they are going to look into more thoroughly. In other words you are trying to be remarkable in someway.

Some people try to be remarkable by having some form of flashing resume that simply looks different from other resumes. Maybe you make a website or video for the hiring manager to look at and that might work. Maybe by sending a great video along you get the extra 30 seconds of attention that lets you more thoroughly tell your story and that leads the person doing the hiring to give you a call. It might work and it is worth a try, but it isn't where I would start. 

My experience with most people hiring camp directors is that they are nervous and looking for help. Most camp people got into camp because they love people and I think the best way to move the trash pile to the possible hire pile is to know people. The old addage, “it’s not what you know but who you know” is especially true at camp because summer camp is all about relationships. 

Now we have a new problem. The problem isn’t how can we have the flashiest resume, but rather how can we know the right people? Not only that, but how can we know the right people and have them want to go to bat for us. How can we know the right people and have the right people think we would be a great camp director? Focusing on this problem long before you are ready to start applying for camp director jobs is a lot different from focusing on having a good looking resume. 

Building Relationships

When most millennials hear anything about networking we want to throw up. Networking sounds slimy, gross, and dishonest. Building relationships sounds great. So let’s build relationships. Let’s build as many authentic relationships as we can with as many camp directors as we can. The more people you know and know you the better chance when a job is posted that you will know someone who knows the person in charge of hiring. In the next section I will talk a little about strategies and tactics toward building authentic relationships with camp directors. But first, I think you can do better than just taking a scattershot approach. You should connect with as many people as possible, and you should be intentional about setting yourself up to meet more of the right people.

What do I mean the right people? The right people are the people who will have the highest chance of being influential with camps that are hiring year round staff and who would be willing to vouch for you during the hiring process. These are people who know a lot of camp directors in the types of camps you are interested in working for. Long time Y folks, consultants, owners of prestigious camps, camp vendors, and more. The next step is identifying a few of these great people and starting to build relationships with them. 

Don't Be an Asshole

A quick aside, don’t be a slimy asshole about this. Don’t ignore people because you don’t think they are influential, and don’t use people just for your own good. When I say connect with the right people, I mean push yourself out of your comfort zone to bring value to people you don’t know. This whole relationship building approach to the job search only works if you are authentic and helpful. If you are constantly stepping on people instead of building them up it will be obvious. The next section is about building connections and bringing value to influential people in the camp world. Remember that you are doing all of this because you care about the power of camp and that everyone involved is doing the same. These are people not stepping stones.

Some Ideas to Connect with People

You are betting on yourself here. If you are awesome and people spend authentic time with you they will like you. Then we just need to make sure you are awesome and you get some time. To make sure you are awesome, I suggest being ready to speak the language camp directors are used to speaking. That means spending a lot of time listening to camp directors and picking up on cues. Here are some online resources or books that I think can help. The next step is spending time with camp directors. Below are some ideas.

Work for them 

Spend next summer working at a camp run by a well connected director that runs a camp where you can learn a ton. In my opinion this is the best way to build trust and prove to the right people that you are worth sticking their neck out for. Plus it is super fun. You get to spend a summer learning a different way of doing things and doing the thing you love. Plus it doubles as the best networking. Be smart about it. Some camps I would suggest because they are awesome and the directors care about their staff and know a lot of people.

Stomping Ground
New York
Come work with me!

I am super biased here because this is the camp I founded with Laura, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Laura and I spend two years visiting camps all across the country and know tons of camp directors. We get emails all the time from directors looking to fill year round positions. Plus we do weird stuff and you will learn a lot. We are a small camp, 100 or so campers and 50 staff at a time, and a new camp, started in 2015.

Camp Tall Tree
Scott Arizala and Sylvia van Meerten

Scott and Syl love their staff and Scott is one of the most connected people working in camp. Plus because this is just a one week camp for kids with autism you can work for them after spending a summer working some where else. This one is a no brainer to add on to the end of working some where else all summer. Not to mention you will learn some incredible new skills for working with challenging campers.

Frost Valley YMCA
New York
Dan Weir

Dan is passionate, committed, and one of the most respected directors in the Y. Where Stomping Ground is a small camp Frost Valley is a HUGE camp. They have around a 1000 campers on site and have been around for over 100 years. Dan is a master of working with in large organizations and Frost Valley has a great reputation around the Y. Dan is also the chair of the Tristate Conference

Camp Augusta
Randy Grayson

Augusta is a little different. They aren’t as well connected in the camp world, but lots of people know of them. They run 3 full weeks of staff orientation, have over 90% retention, and do the weirdest coolest activities. We have adopted a ton of their ideas. Working here would be less about the networking and more about the learning experience of a very different camp. That being said having Augusta on your resume, similar to Frost Valley, does hold some gravitas with some people.

Camp Granite Lake
Tommy Feldman

Tommy started Granite Lake 15 or so years ago and is super well connected in the for profit camp world out west. He is a great person to learn more of the business of camp from and a different type of thinker.

There are a million great camp directors and camps to work for. These are just a few that I wish I could work with. I would be happy to chat with you if you are looking for just the right camp to fit what you are looking for. I promise I will only try to get you to come work at Stomping Ground a little! Send me an email with what you are hoping to do and I will wrack my brain for some camps that might make sense. 

Volunteer your skills

Are you a web developer, photographer, author, graphic designer, painter? Find a camp near you and volunteer some of your services. A small camp would probably love a free Wordpress web design. Camp directors are always looking for more social media content. Make a few memes with their photos, their logo, and their core values. Offer to come take headshots of their year round staff for them. Paint a mural at camp for them. Think about what you are good at and then think about how it could help their camp. With this technique, I would start with small camps that are strapped for resources. They often would love some free expertise. I would send an email like this…

Hi Gary!

I was looking at the website for Camp So Much Fun and it looks incredible. My name is Jack and I am a photographer and wanna be camp director. I am trying to meet as many people as possible working at camp and learn what it is like to be a camp director. 

I will be in your area next week and would love a tour of camp and a chance to pick your brain. Also, I would be super happy to take some headshots of you and the year round staff or maybe just some great photos around camp that you can use. Really I just want to learn about camp and be has helpful as possible, maybe just do some cleaning or any volunteering that might be helpful. 

Thanks! I can’t wait to meet you,

Volunteer your time

This is similar to what I said above except you don’t have to have a special skill. Just volunteer to help pick up trash, clean toilets, move bunks, or whatever needs to be done. There are almost certainly more than 10 camps with in three hours of where you are right now. If you just made it a habit to find a camp to help with every Saturday during the school year you could get to know a dozen or so camps really well this year. 

Hi Gary!

My name is Jack I go to the University of Pittsburgh and I really want to be a camp director after I graduate. I am wondering if there is any volunteer work I can do on a Saturday in the next few weeks so I can get a better understanding of what working at camp year round is like. The best case scenario would be if I could rake leaves, clean toilets, or whatever in the morning and maybe get a tour and a chance to pick your brain in the afternoon. 

Thanks for your time and I can’t wait to meet you!

The key with all of these techniques is to be authentic and genuinely helpful then follow up with nice thank you emails. The more you get to know folks the more helpful you will be able to be and the better you will start to understand the camp industry outside of just your small bubble. If you are ever near Rochester NY send me a quick email and I will happily buy you a beer, give you a place to crash, and talk camp. 

All of these ideas can be overwhelming. Check out exactly what I would do if I were in college right now.