Jack's Kookie Take on Professional Development

This is an adapted email I sent to our team at Stomping Ground as we build a professional development plan for our small team. For context, Stomping Ground is a sleepaway camp Laura and I founded in 2015 with 4 of us on the year round team and no history of a concrete professional development plan. In 2019 we added two year round employees, both recent college grads that had worked with us at camp.  


Pictured above

Thinking about professional development today. Here is an article I found after I googled professional development

First, I don't think I have ever really thought about how to run Stomping Ground as a person in charge of handling other people’s professional development. I love learning things in a very Jack way and am constantly listening to podcasts, trying to make new things, and do things that seem stupid to other people. 

I am a huge believer in talking to other people and learning from random conversations because I think a huge part of learning a job or an industry is about the language people use. Not for nothing, this is why Kurtz and I started The Summer Camp Society a few years ago. With the idea that building community across camps is the single best professional development most of us can do. (Kurtz, did you see that? Not even 4 paragraphs in already shameless and honestly plugging The Summer Camp society)


With all that in mind, Laura and I have not really paid for classic professional development in the past, but I think we have been very professional development focused. First we went out and met a million camps. Then we started speaking about camps. We read and listen to a lot of books. The last one I just finished was all about negotiation techniques, now I am listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s new book “Talking to Strangers”. I go back and forth from listening to books for a few months and then not and just doing podcasts. 

Laura and I on the road in 2012…

I subscribe to a bunch of not for profit and marketing facebook groups just to read what other people are thinking about. I signed up for the free trial to Fizzle, a website for helping entrepreneurs bootstrap businesses, and watched all their videos and then canceled, probably 10 times.

I spend a decent amount of time every day reading articles that sometimes are super related to camp and sometimes aren’t. Watch a lot of youtube videos about starting businesses or making videos or whatever I am into at the time. 

I do The Summer Camp Society to make sure I am talking with camp directors about what they are doing and sharing ideas. (Kurtz! AGAIN! I am getting good at this.)

We have also been to 1,000 camp conferences.

I also talk to Kurtz and Syl almost every day and hear about their projects so I can steal more of their ideas. As I write this I am realizing the three ways I love learning are

What is The Summer Camp Society?

  1. Consuming fire hoses of information mostly through audio and video

  2. Trying to do things I don’t know how to do and scrambling to figure them out

  3. Talking with people doing cool stuff

Laura is in grad school right now, at Columbia for Social Work. By far our biggest commitment to traditional professional development to date. She can describe more what that is like, but to quickly summarize, it is a very different take on professional development than I described and a much more tried and true method. 

Oh! the other thing I think that fits into my professional development is always having to publish something. A video, a blog post, whatever. 

Laura right now is doing a lot of traditional professional development, but she also taught herself illustrator, how to be a boss, everything she knows about restorative justice. I guess a lot of the restorative justice stuff was half and half. She went to a bunch of random PIRI things and other trainings. 


Anyway, I wrote that whole thing out describing the way Laura and I have learned in the past to say that there is no right way to do this, but I find it both very important and very interesting to learn new things, both tangible, web design, video editing, etc and intangible, what are other people doing for capital campaigns, marketing from a why perspective and more.

What I want to do is start the conversation about how do we, as Stomping Ground, and then as individuals, want to think about professional development?

This is not an email to say you aren’t learning, but an email to say I think there are very few things we all can’t do and can’t learn together so let’s make sure we are all thinking and talking about that. 

What are you hoping to learn? What kinds of things have you learned lately? How do you like to learn? How are we all growing our professional and personal networks? What can we all do to do more of that? What are you interested in? 

These are all big questions that all have a weird pressure of “What do you want to be doing in 10 years?” Or that’s what it can seem like. But I want to take the pressure off and say let’s learn some cool stuff together. 


The Fizzle guys (mentioned above) have this idea of being a Leading Learner, where they say go learn shit and as you go write about it, make videos, a podcast, whatever but don’t be afraid of not being an expert admit that and then talk about the process of learning. Gary Vee calls this document don’t create or basically just show people what you are doing online. This is definitely the attitude we have taken as a camp and has been my style for this, as you all know, but not exactly Laura’s style. 

ANY WAY! My long ass writing is to say let’s start the conversation of what kinds of things everyone is interested in and then figure out how we all want to learn new things and how all this learning can be good for camp and each other. 

A lot of places just put together a budget and say spend it and just get each thing approved. I am happy to find money to pay for things like conferences or online classes if when we find cool stuff, but I want to start by figuring out what we want first and then work backward from there. 

Just a few things I have thought about signing up or going to as professional development but haven’t yet.


OK THAT’S ENOUGH. I would love to hear what you all are thinking about this. LOVE YOU ALL!

Schott Jack.jpg


Camp Kiko Crisis Challenge: A Simulation Activity for Camp Leaders

Camp Kiko Crisis Challenge: A Simulation Activity for Camp Leaders

For this reason, I have developed a new simulation activity that camp leaders can use for an in-service training: The Camp Kiko Crisis Challenge. In this challenge, you will pretend you run a camp where four campers have gone missing on a field trip. Allegations of drug use swirl and transportation to the field trip location (a remote island) make things even worse. What will you do in the face of these issues? Test your skills by trying out our new exercise

What Do You Do The Rest Of The Year? - Staff Narrative & Social Pressure

What Do You Do The Rest Of The Year? - Staff Narrative & Social Pressure

I wonder how many great camp directors have left the camp world because they didn’t feel like constantly answering that question. “What do you do the rest of the year?” Or how many potential great camp directors go become teachers, nurses, or lawyers because they don’t think camp is valued in their community.

25 Ways to Make More Impact this Summer

Photo by Roderick Cooney, www.thecampphotographer.com

By Jack Schott

Simple tips for counselors to make your job a little easier and make sure the kids have an even better time this summer. When you are at your best the campers are having a great time, learning, connecting, and ready to take on the world. You are the unfair advantage summer camp has to make more impact this summer.












12)  1 ON 1 EVERY DAY














DOWNLOAD THIS in a FLYER FORMAT to give to your staff!

Online Web Tools! To Make Your Life Easier and Better

One thing I found to be true when working at a camp: so many camps work manually when they can get the internet to do the hard, tedious work for them.

The camp industry is awesome because it (generally) takes a step back from the fast-paced world of technology. But whether camps see the Internet as an exciting world to explore or a nuisance, being ~online~ can greatly help your team year-round. Here are some tools to tame the Meme Machine:

Make your website better

Hire pros to get your website working // Lorem -- Lorem has a list of developers available to make changes, update your site, perform maintenance, or repair bugs for hourly rates. If you don’t have a working knowledge of back-end code (*raises hand*), this is a lifesaver to keep your site running smoothly.
Make really fun surveys and quizzes // Typeform -- GSuite is great for a number of things, but the forms can feel a bit stale after your thirtieth time trying to make it look customizable and intuitive. Typeform’s user interface is beautiful and super easy, lending your organization more credibility than sending out yet another Google form.

Work smarter with your tech

Automate absolutely everything // If This Then That -- You can automate pretty much anything. For example: anytime you post on Instagram, it will post on Twitter, or every time you get an email with the subject "New Camper," it can add basic information to a Google Sheet.

Tools for your full-time team

Get your projects in order // Trello -- Trello is essentially a giant to-do list for professional orgs to figure out their pipeline. You could use it individually, or your camp could use it as a whole to manage projects. This can help teams feel less siloed!
Quickly share your screen // Join.Me -- In a room with someone and need to share your screen quickly? On a conference call and trying to get some visuals in there? Zoom/Google Hangouts farting out on you? This is so easy, fast, and reliable.
Get your team talking // Slack -- Get rid of those dumb short emails in your inbox and integrate all your fun internet apps to work together in one place. Great for collaboration and information sharing.
Inspect your team’s effectiveness // Team Playbook -- What if, after every initiative, you ran a mini project retrospective? Looking at your full-time team from a project management perspective can help figure out pain points in collaboration.

Recruitment, marketing, and content tools

Track your emails // Mailtrack.io -- Tracks emails sent from Gmail (free) so you know if they've been opened. Really helpful for lead follow-up if you do it outside of CampMinder.
Compare email copy // Just Good Copy -- Writing a good email takes loads of skill and inspiration. Take a gander at some of the best emails in all sorts of industries to gain inspiration for tone, wording, and more.
Templatize your marketing // PressKite -- Use marketing and content calendars that you can customize for your own camp without building one from scratch.
Get some nifty stock photos // Unsplash + Pexels -- Sometimes, you just need a solid photo of nature that you can’t find in your thousands of photos from the summer. A quick search in one of these creative commons sites will save you from copyright issues while also saving your sanity.
Free music for your videos // Icons8 Music -- No more Apple iMovie stock music for your 30-second summer videos. Time to switch it up.

There’s a great big world of really amazing tools out there. Looking for something that solves a tech or business problem? There’s a good chance something exists you haven’t even heard about yet. For everything that’s not on this list, Product Hunt is a great resource; just search your problem (collaboration, time-tracking, etc.) and PH will give you approximately 40 options with reviews from users. It’s also a great way to kill time for fellow tech nerds.

Hannah Weiner
Formerly: Assistant Director at 
Fleur de Lis Camp 
Currently: Marketing Director at 
Sprout Studios

Kurtz's favorite icebreaker questions

By Sarah Kurtz McKinnon


Friends! Throughout the years, I have collected some favorite icebreaker questions. I have picked all of these up along the way, and I am hesitant to post because I don’t have citations. If you know the origins of any of these questions, please post in the comments! Until then, here is a <<partial>> list for your use just in time for summer camp staff training! Enjoy.

  1. What is something people don’t know about you?

  2. What is your favorite t-shirt, and why?

  3. Name the most famous person you have ever had a face-to-face encounter with. Explain.

  4. What is the most outdated piece of technology that you own and actually use?

  5. Describe the most memorable meal you have eaten.

  6. What was the first thing you learned to cook?

  7. What is the most interesting “ice breaker” question you have ever been asked?

  8. What is your most frequently-used emoji?

  9. What was your personality like in junior high school?

  10. What is the most artistic thing you have done lately?

  11. What was the first musical album you bought?

  12. What do you like best about your hometown?

  13. What is the oldest piece of clothing you own and still wear?

  14. Who was your best friend growing up?

  15. Name one of your favorite things about a family member or friend.

  16. What was your first email address or screen name?

  17. Have you ever ridden on a motorcycle? Explain.

  18. What is a song for which you thought you knew the words but later found out that you had them wrong?

  19. If a movie was being made of your life, which actor/actress would you want to play you?

  20. What was the first concert you attended?

  21. Who was your favorite teacher, and why?

  22. What is the most interesting place that you have been to wearing the shoes that you’re wearing now?

  23. If you were in the Miss America competition, what would your talent be and why?

  24. What was your favorite childhood toy?

  25. What is the “wall-paper” background on your phone or computer?

  26. What is one thing you really like about yourself?

  27. If given the chance, would you skydive? Why or why not?

  28. What movie have you seen multiple times?

  29. What is the strangest food you have ever eaten?

  30. If you could participate in one Olympic sport, what sport would you choose, and why?

  31. Have you ever been on TV or in the newspaper? Explain.

  32. What was the best costume you’ve ever worn?

  33. What is a unique talent you have?

  34. What is your full name? How did you get that name?

  35. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

  36. What is a tradition that you have?

  37. How long was your longest car trip? How did it go?

  38. What is your earliest memory?

  39. Do you or did you ever play a musical instrument?

  40. If you could win a “life supply” of anything, what would it be and why? Don’t say money.

  41. If you were an animal, what would you be and why?

  42. When you are stressed, what do you do to relax?

  43. How would your friends describe you?

  44. What do you like to do on Saturdays?

  45. What is the dorkiest thing about you?

  46. What record in the Guinness Book of World Records would you be most likely to achieve, if you have not yet already?

  47. What is the best thing that you cook?

  48. What was your worst travel experience, ever?

  49. What was the last movie you watched? What did you think?

  50. If you had $1 million and you had to donate it to a charity, where would you donate it, and why?

Article photo by Roderick Cooney, www.thecampphotographer.com

Like what you read?

Join our 90-minute course for seasonal camp supervisors

Thursday, May 16

7:30 p.m. Eastern


Sarah Kurtz McKinnon is a camp director, consultant and trainer. She's also one of the co-founders and co-facilitators of The Summer Camp Society! Reach her at kurtz@thesummercampsociety.com

What is the Hidden Curriculum?

What is the Hidden Curriculum?

The term ‘Hidden Curriculum’ refers to all of the unspoken expectations in a specific place or for a group of people. Humans are complicated behavioral beings, and we use our behavior to communicate with and evaluate each other. We somehow know that we can behave differently in different places, such as a library or a party or a church. We know without being taught that we can make loud jokes and give big bear hugs at a party, but if we try that at a library we get shushed or frowned at. We can often tell who we will be friends with – just by watching them.

Why does this matter? Well, hidden curriculum can make people feel really uncomfortable if it is unfamiliar and they don’t know how to behave. If people are using a different set of unspoken rules than we are, it is all too easy to misjudge them. Many aspects of the hidden curriculum are sourced in demographic identity like class and race, other aspects can be age-based or location-based.

When we interact in spaces where we are a different race, class, or age from the majority of the other people, we usually feel more uncomfortable, because we aren’t quite sure what behavior will be acceptable. We might not know how exactly how to connect because people are behaving in ways that are surprising to us. Most people instinctually trust other people who behave in predictable ways, but this can get in our way when we try to build trust with people who are demographically different from us, or who grew up learning a different code for how to behave.   

Let’s look at some examples of Hidden Curriculum.

If you grew up in a city like New York and you walk down the sidewalk, you know that most people will not make eye contact or greet one another. However, if you grew up in a suburban town in the Midwest, you know that most people smile and say hello, even if they don’t know each other at all. If you go to New York on a trip, nobody tells you when you arrive at the airport, that you should walk fast, and greet nobody except your actual friends. It’s hidden curriculum.

If you go to an ICP (Insane Clown Posse) or a Beyonce concert or if you go see the Rocky Horror Picture Show or if you attend a summer camp, you know that there are clear ways that people behave and don’t behave. At most summer camps, for example, the staff usually act over-the-top happy and goofy. If someone is attending camp for the first time, as a camper or a staff member, they might not instinctually see this behavior as welcoming or trustworthy or comfortable.

If you frequently go to regattas or golf tournaments, then you know what to expect. You know how to dress and what to pack and how to translate the behavior of others at those events. Every culture and subculture has hidden curriculum that is mysterious to people who aren’t familiar with it.

To make things even more complicated, each person has some of their own personal hidden curriculum. Some of us feel comfortable at a big sit-down family dinner at a table and we know how to ask for the potatoes or the chicken. Others of us feel comfortable a a big family dinner where everyone fills a plate and sits on couches and chairs and watches the game together.

Regardless of how we feel comfortable eating our meals, or whether we are familiar with golf or Beyonce, it costs each of us more effort to exist in an environment or a routine that isn’t familiar for us. When we try to diversify our schools, camps, workplaces or friend groups, the people who join us in our comfort zone won’t necessarily feel comfortable right away, because they might not understand the hidden curriculum.

The Hidden Curriculum can actually prevent people from behaving how we expect, simply because they don’t know what to do, and we don’t know how to explain our subculture in a workplace or a friend-group. Most of us have very little practice talking about the hidden curriculum or even noticing what it is. When we pay closer attention to the unspoken rules in our lives, we can illuminate the hidden curriculum and do a better job explaining our standards. This can increase the diversity in our workplaces and make more people feel comfortable near us personally.

Join us in PA this month!



What is a security plan, and why you should have one.

A security plan is the policies and procedures outlining your strategies to prevent and respond to crime at camp. 

What is Your Plan?

Do you have emergency procedures at your camp? Do you know what to do in case of a fire, flood, medical trauma, or tornado? Do you know some preventative measures to keep campers from hurting themselves or camp property? If you answered yes, (and goodness let’s hope you did), then you should have a security plan at your camp. Just like any other procedure at camp, a security plan helps you react to unforeseeable events. Our camper parents trust us to care for and protect their children, our owners trust us to care for and protect camp property, and our staff trust us to care for and protect them. So, let’s make that happen.

So, what should your plan look like? Well, for starters, it doesn’t have to be complicated like the plans to the Death Star. You simply need to answer two questions: What are you protecting? How are you going to protect it?

What are you protecting?

There are 3 types of assets you should consider when creating a security plan. The first is people (obviously, but let’s be more specific). This can include campers, staff members, visitors - at my camp we include animals. The second is facilities: buildings, equipment, nature, etc. Third is information: records, files, confidential information, passwords, etc. I encourage you to go into great detail when listing your assets, the more you know about what you’re protecting, the better you can figure out how.

How are you going to protect it?

Okay, now that we’ve decided (and prioritized) the things that need guarding, we can determine how we’re going to do so. With people, you may consider communication techniques (walkie talkies), visitor check-in, staff trainings, safety drills, etc. For facilities, think of locking doors, lighting dark paths, managing equipment logs, signing responsibility waivers. Lastly, for information a simple lock or password will do but maybe you can develop ways to train staff about confidentiality in the workplace. 

More Than Just Words on Paper

Sometimes, security plans are more than just words on paper. We must extract these meanings and put them into action: share your plans with staff, share it with your camper parents, get input from other camps and experts. One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give is to take a member of your local law enforcement agency to lunch. Have a discussion about your plan, ask for advice, and give them a tour of camp (I cannot express how important this last one is). 

When creating a security plan, one thing is for sure: something is better than nothing! Don’t worry about creating the most crime-proof camp possible, just worry about getting started to protect what you love most <3


Katie Dougherty
Program Director
Heart O' the Hills Camp

Criminal Justice has been a passion my whole life! My dad was a military police officer in investigations, so I was always surrounded by cop shows and police life. I have a Criminal Justice Degree from the University of Central Florida with two certificates: Crime Scene Investigation & Criminal Profiling. At UCF I was a member of Alpha Phi Sigma (Criminal Justice Honor Society) as well as Lambda Alpha Epsilon (National Criminal Justice Fraternity). During college I was a 911 Operator for the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office and involved in many volunteer programs for the local Orlando police & fire departments.

I am currently the Program Director at Heart O’ the Hills camp for girls. I spent every summer between 2003 – 2013 at this beautiful place. In January 2018, I moved to Texas from Florida to begin my position as a full-time staff member here at The Heart.

What Teens Really Want... Trust

I wrote this as I was prepping for camp with our teen leadership counselors who will be working with the teen campers this summer at Stomping Ground. I realized we hadn’t spent much time formalizing our philosophy for working with teens and wanted to have some common language to get started. We are facilitating a Teen Leadership Workshop starting April 9th for 4 weeks, all online, all for staff working with teens. Check it out. CIT/LIT Leaders Workshop. - Jack

What Teens really want…

To feel trusted.


Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, the founders of Self Determination Theory, posit that people are happiest and motivated when their three psychological needs are met. They define those needs as autonomy, belonging, and competence, the ABCs.

Quick aside, when we can get our staff to think about behavior from a “What needs aren’t being met?” perspective it is a game changer. Instead of “That kid is a bad kid.” we can reframe to a “Does Sarah not feel connected? How can I help?” mentality. This is way more effective and way more human.

OK BACK TO TEENS. For teens at camp, think about the three psychological needs.

Self Determination Theory


They spend almost the whole time trying to figure out how to build stronger connections. One of the big tools for connection is “just hanging out”. That is what most grownups do and that is a huge part of what teens are looking for. I think we do a pretty awesome job of helping teens and campers find belonging and connection.


This one is harder. How can we create autonomous, supportive spaces at camp while also making sure teens are safe and not hurting others? What about SEX?!


In Self-Determination Theory, they define competence as the ability to impact the world around you. This one is also hard at camp. Typically teens come for only some portion of the summer. Also, they claim they want more responsibility, but then, let’s be honest, they don’t always really follow through…


My take, Competence and Autonomy are really about feeling trusted. I don’t think our teens are looking for that much, they just want us to treat them like adults. We can’t just turn over the keys to camp, but luckily for us, the bar for this is so low because the message most teens get from the rest of the world is that they aren’t worthy of trust.  This provides us with a huge opportunity to connect with them, starting with reasonable trust.


5 Ways to Build Trust With Teens

(And let’s be honest… PEOPLE)

1) Tell them that you want to build trust with them.

This is the easiest one. On the first night of camp instead of starting with all the rules do a quick recap about how the world seems to tell them that they aren’t worthy of trust and that at camp you want to reverse that. You want to start with trust and realize that we will all mess up, but that you know they are worth trusting and you are excited to build trust with them.

2) Explain why things are the way they are at camp.


This part is a little harder. Now you have explained that you want to build trust, but you still need to set limits and boundaries. You still are the one who will “make” them do things all week. So explain why. Don’t just have an arbitrary bedtime. Have a bedtime and explain why they need to be quiet for the younger kids. Explain that you have to supervise them because it is the law and because that is the promise we made with their parents. Why can’t they talk about sex or curse? TELL THEM! Connect it to why camp exists and why they are here. If you can’t explain that then stop here and figure out why. Then practice explaining it.

3) Change something about camp when they ask.

Show the teens you value their input. No matter how well you explain your policies and try to make sense they will poke holes. Listen to them and try to change something to be better with their thoughts and ideas. When they push back on bedtime, see if you can do a couple of late nights further from the younger kids or a couple of sleep in days. By listening and then working with them to make a change at camp you are showing that they matter.

4) Ask them for help and share some of your mistakes

Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection. We are going to make mistakes with our teens and we are going to need their help. Instead of waiting for it to happen by accident let’s own it. A lot of times I tell our teens this story about how we tried camp with no bedtimes and what a disaster it was and then ask for some times they have messed up. To wrap it up, I let them know we will all make mistakes this session and it isn’t about the mistakes but how we all work through them together. Sometimes we end with a group pinky swear to have each other’s backs. It is camp after all.

5) Explain why you are at camp and ask them why they are here

This last one might be the most important and can be the easiest to forget. My friend, longtime The Summer Camp Society Member, director of YMCA Camp Minikani, and all around amazing guy, Peter Drews, once said


He was talking about working with staff improvement, but the idea is the same with teens and maybe just everything. This starts with getting on the same page with our teens about what they want from camp. Why are they here? What are they hoping for?

On the first day of camp just ask them. Start by sharing why you are at camp and what you are hoping for and then let them share. At first, my guess is you will get relatively superficial answers like “Make friends” “Do new stuff” “Because I loved last year.” That’s ok. Those are a great start. If you are successful, a huge part of your job will be better understanding the teens you are working with so you can better understand what they are wanting out of camp and struggling with in life. With that understanding, it becomes your job to partner with them to get more of what they are wanting while living in a complex camp community.


“I think it’s wild when people say ‘teens’ like they’re some big mysterious being we couldn’t possibly understand instead of just like humans?” - Tursh

As I talked more and more with Tursh, one of our teen leadership staff, she said the quote above. In the end, that is the mentality I hope we can get to at camp. Teens are just people. Each one is an individual with individual wants and needs. Certainly there are some different skills or techniques for working with teens than working with 6-year-olds, but we spend too much time labeling teens as teens and not enough time getting to know each individual.

Don’t forget to check out our teen leadership workshop designed for staff leading teens this summer.


Some Articles I Sent to Our Teen Leaders to Start the Conversation



Kurtz’s Communication Tips for New Seasonal Leaders

Communication Tips for New Summer Camp Seasonal Leaders

As a seasonal leader, communication becomes even more important. In fact, in my experience, most of the most annoying or pointless problems at camp (*ahem* drama!!) happen because there has been a failure in communication—either sharing too much or sharing too little. Here are three techniques I have seen successful seasonal camp leaders use to communicate effectively:

If you like this check out our Seasonal Leadership Training. All all online. $149. Learn More. Heck, use the promo code 50OFF and get $50 off. For now.

1.     Understanding Confidentiality

Seasonal Camp Leaders.JPG

In a leadership role, you may have access to (and actually need access to) heaps of confidential information. From health forms to staff evaluations or the “real” scoop on why someone was fired, you may be tempted to share this information with others. Most of the time, it is inappropriate to share confidential information. However, you will have to make a decision whether or not to share it every time you are asked or feel the need to share. This challenge brings me to my first tip: Only share confidential information with someone who can help.

For instance, you may learn from a camper’s confidential health form that she is recovering from an eating disorder. You may decide that it would be appropriate to discuss this information with the camp nurse in order to develop a safe environment and/or learn about considerations you need to make. You may decide that it would be inappropriate to share the information with the arts and crafts instructor—if he knows about this camper’s past eating disorder, it would not necessarily serve to help her.

2.     Communicating Up

Summer Camp Fun.jpg

When you have a problem, it is always a good idea to communicate it to your boss. However, what you don’t want to do is make yourself obsolete by always asking your boss for solutions. Plus, in her eyes, it may seem that you are not doing your job. So, when you are faced with a problem, summarize it for your boss, and then tell her your proposed solution or solutions, asking her to weigh in. (Shoutout to my first boss when I was a camp director, Josh Humbel, for giving me this sage advice!)

Even if you have sufficiently solved a problem on your own, it’s always a good idea to fill your boss in. The best technique I have found is a quick summarization email that I would send to her almost immediately after solving the issue. This way, she can point out anything you missed or any required follow-up—and be prepared if she gets a call about the issue.

3.     Soliciting Feedback

Summer Camp Marshmellow.jpg

Many seasonal leaders struggle with one of two things: They either try to be the “cool boss” and become too lenient with their staff, or they try to demonstrate their newfound power and become too strict. Both of these traps happen because new bosses are attempting to earn respect, but neither of them work. One of the best ways that I have found to earn the respect of your staff is to ask for their feedback. You can do it in one-on-one conversations pretty easily:

-    “Hey, Jahri, how did check-in go for you yesterday at the Health Hut? Is there anything you think we should consider changing in terms of our health check procedures?”

-    “Elle, you know I am new to this leadership position and I really respect your opinion. What do you think I could try doing differently? I’d love any advice you have for me.”

-    “Sofia, I’m headed to the store to buy some snacks for the staff meeting tonight. What should I get??”

You can also do this in a group setting. For example, before a big staff meeting, tell your staff that you are putting together the agenda and you would love to hear any agenda items that they have. Or, announce to your staff that you will be hanging out in a particular area of camp during free time tonight, and that they are welcome to come chat with you if they have feedback about programming (office hours style). Another way to do this in a group is to use a technique like “fist of five” to see how a certain event went, such as last night’s cookout.


-    Only share confidential information with those who can help
-    Always present problems to your boss with your proposed solutions
-    Summarize problems after they are handled by emailing your boss
-    Solicit feedback from individuals on your staff by asking specific questions
-    Incorporate feedback techniques into your day-to-day activities

Let’s get real. When our seasonal leadership team is incredible the summer goes much better. They may be the single most important way to keep camp directors sane and make sure the summer is a success. When my seasonal leadership/admin/core/middle managers are performing well camp just seems to work. Invest in them. Send them to our online training. The best $99 you can spend.

Learn more


Sarah Kurtz McKinnon is a camp director, consultant and trainer. She's also one of the co-founders and co-facilitators of The Summer Camp Society! Reach her at kurtz@thesummercampsociety.com

Why every summer camp should be running Facebook Ads

Is your camp using Facebook ads? If the answer to this question is no, ask yourself why. Go another level down and look at your own marketing plan and budget. Most summer camps I talk to have the same answer, which is: “We have the same marketing plan and budget that we did last year.” Simply put, change for camps is a hard thing. There are many reasons for this but in the area of marketing budgets, it’s usually because camp directors are not a marketing professionals and do not have the time and resources to invest too much time into this area. Hopefully this blog post will share some knowledge of how you should be looking at your marketing budget and the benefits to putting more $$$ into digital and social media marketing.

The global digital advertising market grew 21% to $88 billion in 2017. Year after year, digital advertising has been growing, especially with the boom of changing medias such as social media and even on-demand TV. Look at your own media consumption. How long do you spend on Instagram vs. sitting down and watching cable television? How much time do you watch cable TV vs Netflix? How long do you spend reaching a print magazine vs reading that Buzzfeed article you saw on Facebook? Review how you and your camp’s parents are viewing media content and get your camps advertising in front of them there. The easier, impactful and measurable way to do this is running Facebook ads!

Unlike print marketing, digital marketing provides clear data for you to see what is working and what is not working with your marketing efforts. With print marketing, you might be doing something like putting up posters around your YMCA or community center and hoping that people see it and contact you for more information. That is just not how the world works anymore...Sadly, people sit on their sofa watching Netflix whilst they scroll on Facebook. This is where you ads need to be placed. With this you can see how many people saw you ad on their social media feed, how many times they clicked on it, and how much it cost you per a click.

When I run ads for camps, I send a report at the end of the ad’s duration informing the camp director of what they are getting for their money. I also look at the data and suggest some changes for the next ad. In reviewing many of these reports, I have made some observations. For instance, I have found that 30-45 second videos have a much higher click through then still photos. By making the small change of changing the media with a post from photo to video, you can make sure you are getting the most for your money. I normally say camps should try it and look at the results and data in order to make decisions going forward. But being able to see where and how your money is going is powerful and an important distinction between print and online advertising.

If you haven’t used Facebook business before, just log in with your Facebook login and start playing around. When I first started to learn, I just watched YouTube videos for a day and then ran some ads and learnt from there.

One of the other great things with running Facebook ads is being able to target your audience in many different ways. Let me explain with an example of a high end music summer camp. Part of the marketing plan is running weekly ads during high times of registration. I worked with them to define a perfect target audience. First, we considered the physical location of the audience members. You may be a small camp which pulls campers all from the same city or you might pull camps from all over the country or even world. This music camp pulls campers from all over the country. So I targeted 10 of the largest cities in the states as the location. Then, we considered the fact that their camper program age is 9 years old to 18 years old. You are able to target JUST parents in Facebook Ads, but also further define your target audience is parents with kids within an age group. Ultimately, I targeted parents who have kids aged 9 to 18 years old within 10 of the largest cities in the States.

Within this group I also targeted parents who have a BA or higher. Okay, so I have targeted highly-educated, parents but I want to target parents who have an interest in my music summer camp. So, for our final criteria, we targeted parents with an interest or hobbies and activities in the following: arts, music, drums, performance arts or singing.

The power of having all of Facebook’s data to target your audience is crazy, and you should 100% be using it.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post and got some ideas about your camp’s marketing plan and using Facebook ads. If your camp is interested in running social media ads and would like TSCS to help, send me an email to setup a time to talk.

20 Things You Can Do This Month To Recruit Male Staff

Recruiting male staff can be incredibly challenging. For whatever reason men are not becoming teachers, nurses, camp counselors or engaging in other helping professions as much as women are. Below are 25 ideas to try to help you get a jump start for recruiting a couple male staff.

I don’t think there is a silver bullet for this. No one of these will net everyone a bunch of staff, but by starting with these and continuing to work on camp culture, living wages, and personal connections you can begin to add up to a camp that doesn’t struggle to for male staff every year. Some camps have plenty of male staff, and there are plenty of college age males out there. What can we do to connect with them and create a space where they want to work? Let’s do it!

1) Call every one of your current male staff and ask them if they know anyone
2) Email coaches for mens college sports teams and ask for a meeting
3) Email current registered families and ask for help
4) Set up a focus group with current male staff
5) Ask one of your seasonal staff to make a video like the one below focused on male staff

6) Get an alumni male staff to write a blog post about how he is a better dad/teacher/etc because of camp. Then send it to local teachers colleges or whatever the topic of his article is.  
7) Call all of last year’s male staff that aren’t returning and ask for feedback. Then beg them to come back.
8) Create a referral system for recruiting staff. You get $100 per staff that finishes the summer.
9) Talk with the people at the front desk at your local Y about who the nicest guys that come in are. Meet them. (When you get desperate…)
10) Is there an all boys high school in your town? Connect with their leadership council.


11) What is special about your camp? Very outdoors focused? Soccer camp? Liberal values? Make a list of what is different about your camp and another list about what college clubs have similar interests or values. Contact all those clubs at your local colleges.
12) Run targeted Facebook/Instagram ads at men ages 18-22 with those same interests in your area. Make sure the creative (what the ad says) confirms something you already know about who you are targeting. IE: target men interested in social justice with an ad that says: DO YOU BELIEVE IN SOCIAL JUSTICE? WANT TO MAKE AN IMPACT THIS SUMMER? Work at Camp Compassion this summer. Picture of a male staff connecting with a kid.
13) Print you should work at camp business cards and hand them out to all your supporters to share with all the nicest young men they meet.
14) Get all your current local staff to come to a big and simple kickball tournament on a Saturday. Tell them to bring as many friends as they can and supply food, maybe free t-shirts.
15) Send all your current staff posters that say “Great Men Work At Camp (yourcamphere).” To hang in their dorms/houses and ask them to put them up. Maybe include a t-shirt.
16) Run a staff appreciation week on social media with daily memes asking for referrals to male staff
17) Write up a quick blog post to be shared on how to help convince your parents you want to work at camp. Like this https://campstompingground.org/blog/2017/2/7/convincing-your-parents-that-working-at-summer-camp-is-good-for-your-career
Instagram/ Facebook Live with a male staff member about his summer at camp and why he loved working at camp. Share.
20) Actively get your male campers to join your CIT program! (This won’t get you male staff for summer 2019. But will get you male staff for summer 2022.)

Many of these ideas were shared by The Summer Camp Society Members in our community forums. Where conversations and ideas like this build on each other and develop long term friendships and connections. Learn more about our semester long programs and lifelong friendships below.


A list of commonly forgotten footage & photos that you need to remember to capture this summer

We all know the feeling: It’s time to make your marketing materials for next summer, and you just don’t have the photos or videos that you need--and won’t be able to capture them for several more months. Unless you want to use that photo from 2009 that has already been on the brochure (we all know the one!), or cross your fingers that no-one recognizes some corny stock images, you’re stuck.

Knowing what marketing images and videos to get can be hard, especially if you try to make a list during the throes of staff training. Don’t worry. In my 5 years overseeing the media team of Camp Echo, I learned a couple of key things for our team to capture. The rest of this blog post is my guide of what to get and how to get it. Getting this footage and these photos can be key to getting some great content for marketing (including for social media) during the off season!

Getting quality b-roll footage

High-quality video is taking over social media. I say the ratio of social media content should be to have 1 video for every 4 photos, which will keep your content fresh and engaging. All most all DSLR cameras have the ability to record HD or even 4K video now. This is a simply add on to your photographer’s role--put capturing this footage into the job description or a make it a mid-summer task for your photographer. Give them a shot lot of 20-40 second clips you want, which will give them a hit list so there are not just taking random footage. It will also be helpful if the photographer has access to a tripod to use for some of these shots. Some footage ideas could be:

  • Camper water skiing

  • High ropes shot from on top of the course

  • Panning shot of campers on a horseback ride

  • Panning shot of the dinning hall in full action

  • Close up of a campfire (make sure to include audio!)

  • Winning the end of session awards

Ask them to give you an update and show you some examples mid-summer. Another tip is have them edit the clips down to 20-40 seconds so it’s easy in the off season to post right on Instagram or use as b-roll footage for your annual campaign.

Countdown to summer

Scrolling through another camp’s social media in the dead of winter, have you seen their sunny photos of a camper holding up a cute chalkboard saying ‘100 days until camp starts!’? Countdown photos are super cool and a good reminder to parents to get their kids signed up for camp. So again with the video, give this task to your media team or photographer in the summer. Give them some ideas of shots:

  • Classic 100/75/50/25 days until camp shots

  • Happy Valentine’s Days shot

  • Happy New Year shot

You get the idea. Make sure you also give them a list of different people to hold the signs. Have a diverse range of campers and staff, any alums who come by camp or, for extra points, the camp director whilst wakerskiing. Keep the ideas fresh and different. Schedule these posts in the right part of the off season. Using software like Hootsuite can be super easy for this. Once, I even got the summer photographer  to schedule them out in the off season. You can also use these countdown photos for off season events/information sessions and more. Think outside the box.


Camper and counselor shots

Having great camper and counselor shots are fantastic content for recruiting staff and also for your print marketing and more. Shots that show staff engaging in role model behaviour have always been my favorite. Some shots could be:

  • Staff member helping a camper carry his luggage, with the staff member holding one side & camper holding other

  • Staff member checking if life jacket fits right

  • Staff member teaching camper how to swim whilst in water or supporting their back as they do backstroke

  • Staff member teaching camper a new sport like archery or tennis

  • Staff member teaching camper how to make a campfire

You see the theme here--teaching or showing campers how to do a new skill or sport. Essentially, teaching them the values of camp. These photos are great for new staff to show them the impact there will have on a campers life and for parents who want to see staff being safe and showing their campers how to do new things. Planning these shots are key to creating the perfect image which will be used a couple of times in the off season!

I would love if you would share in the comment section below photos or videos you like to plan out before the summer. Above are just some of ones I have developed over my time. Feel free to email me for more ideas!



6 Ways To Have a Killer Camp Instagram Feed

1) Create a great bio

When people are choosing to follow your camp, they will head to your profile to check out your feed and also view your bio. Having a great, eye-catching bio could make the difference between them following you or not following you. Bios are important, but you only have 150 characters.

Start off with something descriptive yet to the point, like ‘We are a music summer camp.’ Then, follow with something fun. One idea is to throw some emojis in for your camp’s personality and then have some type of CTA (call to action), like ‘Click below to start the best summer of your life.’ Check out The Walden Schools for a great example. Feel free to follow them, too!

2) Setup Instagram Business

If you don’t use Instagram Business, DO IT NOW. There’s no need to download a new app or anything; just head to your settings then tap ‘Switch to Business Profile.’ The advantage to having Instagram Business is that it opens all kinds of great data to you. This data will be helpful to see what posts are doing well and what you should keep doing or maybe change.

It will tell you when your audience is using Instagram and what days and times you should be posting. This is helpful to get to your audience when they are on the app.

You can also create CTA button on your profiles, which is great for SEO for your website. If you are doing an event or selling a product, you can create buttons right on your profile now! There are so many reasons to get Instagram Business.  

3) Develop a strategy and goals

Many of us are posting on Instagram just to post on Instagram, but there are huge advantages to setting some goals and strategy. You know us camp people...we love goals!

Setting goals can be super easy. For instance, a goal could be to schedule 5 posts for this week or get 10 followers a week. These goals can be tracked and reported. I would suggest creating more impact-oriented goals such as getting 50 people to your website from Instagram or engaging with followers 6 times a week. Set goals, report them and evaluate often.

Creating a strategy can be a bit harder and I suggest doing this as a comprehensive marketing exercise including print, digital and social mediums. Each medium should have a different strategy as your audience is different on each one.

Posting the same content on Facebook and Instagram is a start, but if you want to have a killer presence, this content should be different and each platform have a different strategy. For Instagram, your strategy should be created around your audience which is typically campers, staff and young alumni. Be visual and have a solid feed for people to follow. Also post! There’s nothing I hate more than going to a profile and seeing 6 photos from the past 6 months--there’s no way I am going to follow that account. I need to reason to follow.

4) Know your audience

Carrying on from creating your strategy is knowing your audience. As I mentioned previously, your Instagram audience is going to be campers, staff and young alum. With that build your Instagram calendar around that. Have posts directed at those audiences specifically and seek engagement. Ideas for this might look like this:


  • Post a group shot and ask them to comment what session they are coming this summer and who they are coming with.

  • Post a photo of a cabin and ask them what cabin they were in last summer.


  • Share memory highlight posts from last summer that only staff is know like some themed event during staff training, or the end of year banquet.

  • Ask them questions about the best night out they had last summer, etc.

Young Alum

  • Highlight them in more recent TBT from the past 10-15 years. Say something like ‘Check out the Coroado Backpacking trip from 2006, spot anyone you know? If so comment them below.’

  • Highlight a popular staff member from back in the day and have a quick Q&A with them as a video or a photo and in the caption section.

5) Share high-quality photos

Most camps will have media staff during the summer who use a DSLR. I encourage camps to only post high-quality photos and videos on Instagram. Yes, iPhone photos are getting somewhat amazing but I can still tell the difference between a high-quality photo and a bad iPhone photo. If you have the photos, use them.

Having organized digital files to key to this success for social media in the of session. You can make digital organization a required component of your media staff members’s jobs. Check out McGaw YMCA Camp Echo’s feed for an example of high-quality photos; there are very few phone photos on this feed.

6) Share high-quality videos

To have a killer Instagram feed you will also need video! I like the ratio of 3 photos for every video. Having them mixed in your feed is key to have audiences engaged and your feed looking fresh. If you have a camp photographer or media staff during the summer set a goal with them to have 100 videos by the end of the summer edited down to 15-45 seconds. Having these ready to post and scheduled for the off season will be a game changer. Don’t over think it: it doesn’t have to be anything amazing; just a stable shot of something at camp which is shot on a DSLR. These small clips also help for b-roll in larger videos like your annual campaign or informational videos.

Having a great camp Instagram should be on your marketing hit list! I truly believe in the impact this social media platform can have on your community--it can influence staff culture even bring new campers to camp. I check my Instagram maybe 100 times a day (seriously!) and, anytime I see something from my home camp on my feed, I like it and it brings a smile to my face.

If you are interested in having a review of your Instagram and giving you some free trips, send me an email! I am happy to help.



Squeaky Wheel Diversity from Sylvia van Meerten

I run an overnight camp for kids with autism and about 5 years ago, we had our first autistic transgender camper. We got a call from this camper’s mom who said, my kid was in a female cabin last year, but now she says she is a boy and wants to be called a boy name and live in a boy cabin. We said “OK” and had a few subsequent conversations about bathrooms and bathing suits and that was that.  We were happy about how this situation turned out. We are glad to see so many camps accept transgender campers and make changes that are specifically intended to make transgender campers feel more welcome. But. If we have to learn to welcome diverse camper populations ONE POPULATION at a time, it’s going to take us forever and that’s not fast enough for me.

I’m not at all blameless here. Part of my job is go around speaking about autism to other summer camp staff, so I’m definitely guilty of spending my air-time focusing on just one population that has been left out of the summer camp party. I regret that, and I’m now working from a new theory. What if the basic principles of diversity and inclusion are the same, no matter what kinds of people you are trying to include?  If this is true, and I think it is, we could all make way more kids (and staff!) feel welcome at our camps in 2019. 

The basic level one diversity principles according to Syl:

  1. Staffing. Your camp is going to need enough counselors to have some long-ish interactions at least on the first day of camp when everyone new is like “Wait, WHAT did I get myself into??” If we can’t hook up new people with a patient staff member, we might be doing this wrong. 

  2. Facilitated conversations about diversity during staff orientation and the first day campers are on site. We can’t get better at this by not talking about it. 

  3. Illuminate and explain your Hidden Curriculum. All camps have expectations for kids and staff that we do not explicitly teach. Instead, we start to distance ourselves from people who are getting it wrong (think: that person who ‘overshares’, the camper who can’t ‘stay with the group’ even though you can’t define exactly what that means).

  4. Multi-Level programming. Kids should be able to access the game or activity in different ways. If all your programming requires the kids to all do the same thing at the same time, then some kids are going to fail at your version of ‘having fun’ at your camp, which is not what you want at all.

  5. Designated Inclusion Specialist: Ideally, it would be amazing if all your staff were up to snuff on some autism inclusion, and some transgender inclusion, and some inclusions for campers with mental health concerns and some best practices for racial diversity, but if you can’t train them all, why not at least train one? You can send them to our workshop and we will return them to you with more skills! 

Do you care about this?
Feel like your camp could do more?

Check out Syl’s Inclusion Specialist Training for camps


Sylvia van Meerten
Inclusion Trainer, Camp Director, YPO Facilitator

3 Things To Ask When Interviewing a Camp Photographer

3 things to ask when interviewing a camp photographer

Hiring photographers, videographers, and media staff for your camp can be challenging. How do you know what questions to ask? Don’t worry, I have you covered. I started my career as a camp photographer back in 2011, and since have mentored, hired, and trained some great photographers for McGaw YMCA Camp Echo. Below I will explain three things you should ask every photographer who applies for a role at your camp. These same questions can be asked to other media staff like videographers, social media staff, and general media staff.


When first reaching out to set up an interview, ask them to send you a portfolio. Request to see the photos that most represent the images they will create this summer. It doesn’t have to be a fancy website. I normally just ask them to share a Google Drive of photos. This is a great way for you to see a few critical things:

  1. What photos they think represent camp. When I look at these portfolios, I’m hoping for outside portraits that include candid shots of people.

  2. What type of camera is used. If they are using a DSLR, this is a good sign that they have made the investment into photography.

  3. The quality of photos and if you like their style and framing. This will help in the interview process.

If the portfolio is not what you are looking for, this is also a good time to filter your applications and not move forward in the interviewing process.


Being able to take photos is one part of being the camp photographer. Knowing who the audience is and how to take photos for that audience is key. In the interview, ask the candidate, “Who do you think the audience of your photos will be this summer?” Hopefully this will tell you a lot about what type of photos they think they will be taking this summer. The answer you are looking for is parents! Bonus points if they talk about safety as well. You are looking for a candidate who understands the importance of their role as camp photographer and how they are representing camp to the outside world--and how their photography can help support the mission of the camp.


A great camp photographer will look to go above and beyond in their role. They can do this in many ways. During the interview process, ask them about ways they could go above and beyond in their role this summer. Positive answers could include:

  1. Social Media: creating content, making a social media calendar for the summer, and posting photos. Push them to think of new ways to engage with followers like asking questions on Instagram stories, or making a poll on Facebook, or vlogging on YouTube.

  2. Video work: video is key to create engaging social media content, b-roll for your annual campaign video or interviews with campers and staff. If you can find a candidate with a good background in video, this is great!

  3. Year-round projects - It is hugely beneficial to have a photographer who can create materials that can be used for year-round communications and promotions. Some ideas are Valentine’s Day messages from campers, interviews with staff and campers about why you should sign up for camp to post when registration opens up, or asking donors to give around giving season.

If you can find a candidate who can talk about going above and beyond in their interview in any of these ways, then they are definitely worth your consideration!

I hope these tips help you on your quest to finding a great camp photographer. I feel this is one of the most important roles you will hire this summer. The photographer gives your parents an eye into what is happening at camp. A great camp photographer will provide visual memories for campers to hold onto for a lifetime. Alternatively, a poor hire will lead to lots of angry parent phone calls. Enough said!

If you would like any other advice or support with this process feel free to email me (Gavin)! Good luck!

Gavin watson
Social media strategist 

4 ways your summer camp can benefit from drone videography

Have you seen summer camps with awesome drone footage? Drone footage is becoming a key part of summer camps’ marketing plans as camps adapt to create new, visual content that will stop people from scrolling on their phones. This is an especially important type of footage to capture in our industry, as most summer camps have beautiful landscapes that look even better from a drone! Here are the top four ways that you can utilize drone footage to benefit your camp.


Let’s face it: It is hard to get customers to stop scroll on their phone when they see a basic post about your camp on their social media feed. As social media becomes more visual, you have to keep up. Having some beautiful drone footage set to some relaxing music on your Instagram, for example, will do that.

Click here to view one example of how awesome this looks! Once, I interviewed a potential international staff member. He had applied for our camp after seeing some cool drone footage on our Instagram account.


Drone videography is a great way to do a tour of your camp for new families. You can put footage over a voiceover narration, pointing out key buildings and areas of camp. This can be a great resource to have--imaging sharing a quick YouTube link with a prospective parent via email after you talk with him or her on the phone or at a camp fair about your program.  It’s an excuse to reach out and keep the conversation going, and helps seal the deal on enrollment as they get a visual perspective of what your gorgeous camp is like. This type of video can also help new campers who are nervous about coming to camp, turning their nervous anticipation and excitement.


Almost all camps leaders have information sessions with parents, go to job fairs or do in-house parties for prospective parents. Having a reel of drone footage of your camp to play on a screen before or during your event is a great conversation starter and enhances your camp’s professionalism. Check out this 30 minute reel I made for McGaw YMCA Camp Echo.


Drone footage can be used in almost any piece of marketing material you are making for your camp. The breathtaking aerial photos can be used on print advertising, and the video footage can be used for b-roll on anything from your annual campaign video to your end-of-session slideshow or the cover on your Facebook page. This type of content will elevate your marketing to a whole new level.

Thank you for reading. This was written by me, Gavin Watson, here at The Summer Camp Society. I have now had my FAA pilot license (drone license) for more than 2 years and have logged almost 100 hours of flying. If you are interested in having drone videographer at your camp this summer, click here to send me an email and start the conversation.

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Gavin watson
Social media strategist