Beyond the Pizza Party: Incentives to Improve Staff Quality of Life
My executive director and I are in a bit of a pickle. I'm assuming many of you reading this are also in a situation similar to the one I'm about to describe. Essentially, we want to pay people more but we don't have the funds in the budget to do so. We've cut every cost, applied every discount, and snipped every coupon we could, yet we still know that our staff deserve more. We've come to the conclusion that it is unlikely we will win the lottery in the next month, so the next best alternative is incentives.
Keep in mind — when I say incentives, I don't mean a weekly pizza party, a free pack of stickers for their water bottle, and definitely not a “sense of wonder and fulfillment from enriching the lives of children all summer.” While I think all of these ideas are incredibly dope and nice to have, they don’t provide continuous and tangible quality of life improvements for our staff throughout the summer. I’m thinking about the kind of incentives you might envision listed under amenities and accommodations when you go to book a hotel for your end-of-the-summer vacation. The kinds of things that our staff would possibly spend a substantial amount of money on if they weren’t already working at camp 50-120 hours a week. The kinds of things that make our staff feel less like a young adult that’s good with kids and more like a distinguished hotel guest who would have no choice but to give us a 5-star Yelp review upon departure. You know, these kinds of things:
1. A Personal Gym, A Soft Room, and a Pool
I’ve been doing quite a bit of apartment shopping recently and the most enticing places to stay offer one or all of these accommodations. With a little creativity and elbow grease, I feel camps could do something similar for their staff. Here’s how it would work:
Find a room or space that can become a dedicated gym area. If your space is outdoors maybe invest in a small storage shed. Buy a bunch of gym equipment off Craigslist or Facebook marketplace for the low. Create a sign on how to properly and safely use and store the equipment. Keep the area stocked with things like Whey protein, paper towels, and — if you’re fancy — beverage enhancers like Gatorade/Propel packets or those liquid IV packets.
A Soft Room
Inspired by Google’s napping rooms. Invest in a nice couch or futon and place it in a space that is away from all the hoopla that occurs at camp. Find some other cheap soft lounge items like bean bag chairs, large soft pillows, blankets (weighted/heated blankets get bonus points), and hammocks online. A good place to look is on college marketplaces as many students are moving out and looking to get rid of these types of items quickly.
Invest in 3-4 kiddie pools. Find a space with access to a hose. Place the pools together so that they form a square and wrap them together with rope or colorful pool noodles for some added flair. Take a few stakes and rope off the area to give a VIP feel. Decorate the area so that it creates an ambiance (lol). I’d suggest something to give a Tropical feel or maybe Atlantis. Lastly, be sure to have a Bluetooth speaker available so your staff can vibe out to their favorite tunes on their breaks in the new oasis you’ve created.
Aside* I’d recommend that, while these will be community spaces that everyone is responsible for maintaining, you also dedicate one or a few people to be directly responsible for owning the process of rec space management. I bet that you could even turn it into a fun camp activity and get campers involved!
2. Door to Door Delivery Services
This idea isn’t fully fleshed out but I couldn't help but include it because it is the one I’m most excited to try in the future. Hear me out... Uber Eats — but like — for camp. Here’s how it would work:
Get a Venmo account specifically for camp goodies.
Order the Venmo debit card for that account.
Have staff Venmo you money and put the snacks and other items they’d like or need in the description with their name.
Have a set day(s) and time that you have one or a few members of your staff run into town — use the Venmo card to grab the goodies and bring them back to camp.
Camp staff now have all the treats and a few members of your staff had a fun little shopping trip. Everybody wins. I'm sure there are some finer details to work out, but I guarantee your staff will appreciate the goodies. Not to mention, they wouldn’t have to pay the outrageous delivery and services fees on every door-to-door delivery app.
3. Professional Development
Our camp staff have goals and ambitions that likely don’t involve a full-time career in camp. How can we help them get there? When I was a Jr. Director at Camp Tall Tree, they had recently increased staff wages but looking back, it was the professional development they offered that I got the most value from at the time. I learned many things I still use to this day like “How to communicate with parents” or “How to build and maintain credit.” Knowledge that was not readily available to me in my day-to-day life outside of camp. It makes me think what other life lessons could camps teach their staff besides “Ages and Stages” or “How to be a good roommate.” I would bet that you have some camp alumni or other notable professionals in your network that’d be willing to aid you in teaching your current staff some valuable lessons. The key to success with PD is making sure you're offering the educational content that staff actually desire. The best way to find out what they want is to just ask!
All in all, I get it.
Finances are a touchy subject for most of us right now, from the camp execs making the budget to the current staff on payroll and potential members we’re hoping to hire. The cost of everything is going up and keeping up isn’t as simple as “just paying your staff more.” Not to mention fundraising is hard AF if you don’t already have a network of moderately wealthy people supporting you. Supporting our staff to ensure they are healthy and happy is a top priority for any camp worth spending a summer at and higher wages are a sure-fire way to aid in our mission to do so. However, if there’s anything I’ve learned from my time in camping it’s that things don’t always go how we would like them to, and that’s ok! We may not be able to pay our staff more this summer, but that doesn’t mean we as camps can’t do what we do best – get creative! Implementing incentives that give substantial and continuous quality of life improvements may just be what we need to show our staff that we truly appreciate and understand the investment they make in our camp summer after summer.
Allison Note: Totally agree that fundraising can be hard AF — BUT I believe that the things Nelson mentioned are things easy to support. I could totally see putting together a plan for this and sharing it, an Amazon wishlist, and the staff Venmo with camp families/alums. It’s not going to be a huge fundraiser, but it will probably help offset the cost if you message it correctly AND it may give you insight into who has the desire/ability to give for a larger campaign in the future.
Looking for more ways to support staff?
This is a topic our members frequently talk about on Slack or in meetings!