Strive for Five: A New Blog Series for Early September

Photo: Roderick Cooney,

Our Favorite camp staff retention ideas that you can do asap

By Jack Schott & Sarah Kurtz McKinnon

It’s a weird time of year for us summer camp administrators. Some of us have hardly had a chance to catch our breath before jumping into shoulder season responsibilities like outdoor education or retreats. Even if you don’t have those additional responsibilities, it can be tough to come off of Summer 2018 and start immediately working on Summer 2019. There is a lot to do--but where to start?

So, we decided to create this quick blog series of five easy and fun things you can do each day to help make your life a little easier in the Spring and Summer of 2019. If you’re not sure what to do today in the office, want to be productive, but also feel like your brain needs a break, we are here to help.

Today’s featured Strive for Five is Staff Retention.

1) Text all the staff you want back.

You can even divide up your staff and text 10 of them a day. Ask a quick question or start with an easy opener like:

  • “How is school?! Thanks for such an awesome summer. Wishing we were back at Camp X!”

  • “Hey! I am working on our budget for next year. What do you think about requesting this new toy for the waterfront?” -- and then send a link to that product.

  • “Look at this hilarious picture I just found of your cabin from the Mario Brothers evening activity. Hope your fall semester is off to a great start.”

2) Snail mail all the staff you want back.

Print a picture of each of your staff members from the summer doing something fun. Write a quick note on the back and send it to them via regular mail. To make it even easier, you can use an app like Ink Cards.

If you don’t have their new school addresses don’t worry, they will be home for Thanksgiving break, and that’s a perfectly fine time for them to get the photo. You can also text them to get their school address, combining tips #1 and #2 (so good!).

3) Look through the leftovers from the camp store, or, even better, find some old camp swag and send everyone on your leadership team a gift.

This will costs a minimal amount of money and can be super-heartwarming for the leadership staff, who often spent the last few weeks recognizing others and having little time being recognized themselves. To make this even more powerful, include a little note with each gift that says “Three Things I Appreciate About You.”

4) Meet up in person.

Do you have local staff? Take them out for ice cream, Wendy’s, or to the local amusement park. It doesn’t have to be everyone, but whoever can make it. Talk about camp but also talk about their lives and how things are going for them. A lot of our young adult staff really appreciate having an adult mentor in their camp director. This is a great time to do that.

If your staff do not live locally, you can do a couple of things. If many of them go to a particular university, take a trip there yourself. Offer to meet up for pizza and have small group or 1on1 coffee meetings to discuss some ideas for next year and just to catch up. It might take a day or so of your time, and maybe a little gas or hotel money, but meeting them in their space is powerful. As an added bonus, you can tell them they are welcome to bring a friend to the pizza dinner--names you can add as potential recruits when it’s time to start hiring.

Finally, if your staff live all over the place and an in-person meetup is impossible, consider coordinating Zoom sessions where your staff can meet up in a video chat room. Maybe you want to hire a staff member to coordinate and run these for you--you don’t even have to be on the call.  

No matter how you do it, a time to meet up and reminisce just as the semester is starting to get difficult is a great time to remind the staff about the magic of camp.  

5) Multitask! (In a good way)

Combine any and all of these ideas with calling families. Hopefully you have done an online survey to gather quantitative and some qualitative data about the experience at your camp. Consider calling 3-4 families each day to talk with them more specifically about their child’s experience. This is a great camper retention tool and will likely give you some great information as you plan for the year ahead.

This is also where the multitasking comes in! As you call all your camper families, ask about the counselors. Every time you hear something awesome about someone specific, write it down and text them or send it to them in an email. Even better if you can include a photo of that counselor with that camper’s cabin or with that camper.  Even if they don’t mention a counselor by name, but tell a funny story, text that story to their counselor.

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