Illuminating the Hidden Curriculum. Good for Mission. Good for Money.

Illuminating the Hidden Curriculum. Good for Mission. Good for Money.

There are two things every camp director talks about when it comes to camper recruitment:

  1. Word of mouth is the best and most effective marketing. I agree. Whether we mean face to face talking, or online discussions, people find it easier to take a risk on a camp that other people say is good. 

  2. Retention is better than marketing. People say this because it is way cheaper to retain a current camper than go find a new one. I also agree with this. 

I want to talk about number 2 here, Retention. Specifically retention of first year campers. First year campers and their families are deciding if your camp is right for them. Retention for brand new campers tends to be much lower than returning campers. 


There are lots of reasons why kids might not come back to camp. They move. The camp you are offering is actually not what they want. They age out. I get that, and I really want the kids and families who love us to come back and the kids who want something else to choose a different camp. Some more thoughts on retention and growth. For this article I want to focus on the group of kids who would love camp, but for whatever reason it just didn’t click for them in that first summer. 

Sylvia wrote an awesome article about insider info at camp. She outlines that lots of kids don’t get camp because we don’t do a good enough job of on boarding them. She outlines how that creates less diverse and less inclusive environments. I agree, and it also is bad for our bottom line. 

Syl can’t stop talking about the Hidden Curriculum, and how we have this set of insider knowledge at camp that when you get it you fall in love with the place. That obviously matters a great deal for inclusion, but it also matters a great deal for budgets. The illuminating the hidden curriculum and making it easier to feel like an insider and know how to navigate the weird world of our camps makes it more likely that more kids will fall in love with what we are providing. 

Inclusion too often is painted as something great for the mission of camp, but at odds with the bottom line. That might be true in some cases, but not here. The more we can illuminate the Hidden Curriculum and let more people be comfortable more quickly in our space, the more likely it is that they will want to come back. And when they want to come back they will pay tuition without us having to spend money recruiting them. 

I certainly don’t run camp for the money…. and without money we have no camp. Let’s figure out ways to be more inclusive at camp because it is the right thing to do and let’s not apologize for it or tip toe around it with the budget folks because in this case money and mission are in alignment not at odds.

Let's look at the math.

Say we have 1000 campers and 10% of them are new - so we have 100 new campers. Let’s say our retention for new campers is 40%. We have 100 new campers with a 40% retention rate. So next year we will only have 40 of these campers back. It costs $829 to come to camp for a week. That is our rate. Those 100 new campers that turned into 40 returners is worth ~$33,000 in the second year. What if we could raise our retention rate by 5%? ~$37,000 in year two. 10% ~$41,000. If we can get 10 more kids from that 100 that already opted to come to camp to come back we make an extra $8k. If we can get them all back we would make about $50k. Now that is unrealistic, but the math is very clear. 

Better retention is good for the bottom line and most of us have the worst retention with our first time campers. We can make the biggest impact on our bottom line by increasing retention of our first time campers, which means we need to do a great job of introducing them to our camp culture, our traditions, and our hidden curriculum so they can feel like an insider as quickly as possible. 

Illuminating the Hidden Curriculum. Good for Mission. Good for Money.

 Jack Schott (1)

Jack Schott
TSCS Founder

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