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 The problem is most camp websites are out of date and aren’t building trust.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: 

https://campstompingground.com/
http://www.campingcoasttocoast.org/
https://www.camphighlight.com/

BUT I THOUGHT WORDPRESS WAS THE BEST!?

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 - campingcoasttocoast@gmail.com

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… becomingacampdirector.com. 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. 

Volunteer

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. 

Conclusion

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.

-Jack

 

Are you looking a new year round job at camp?

DON'T FORGET TO FILL OUT THIS QUICK FORM

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. 
https://campstompingground.com/staff/

Camp Tall Tree
Michigan
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. 
http://www.camptalltree.com/2join-our-team/

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
http://frostvalley.org/about-us/employment/

Camp Augusta
California
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. 
http://campaugusta.org/staff/staff-app/

Camp Granite Lake
Colorado
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. 
http://campgranitelake.com/join-our-staff/

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. 
campingcoasttocoast@gmail.com 

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,
Jack

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!
Jack

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.