By Jack Schott and Sarah Kurtz McKinnon
Networking. Why does that seem like a dirty word to some of us? Probably because it seems contrived, fake or corporate—and it can be. But ultimately, networking is the way that we can get things done. It’s the process of starting relationships that are beneficial for not just the person we are networking with, but also ourselves and for our camps. We do good work, and networking is the way that we can share what we do as well as find resources to make what we do even better.
BUT—the thing is—networking takes time. If you start the networking process now, when you have a little more (or a lot more) time than you do in say June, you will start to see these new relationships pay off when your busy season starts. Here are our five ideas of how you can do it now.
Meet with a local leader.
Choose a leader in your community (or a community where many of your campers come from, if different). This could be someone like a mayor, city council member, religious leader, or educator. For instance, take the with the superintendent/principal of your biggest feeder school out for coffee or just set up a meeting in his or her office. Bring some pictures from the summer of their kids having a blast at camp to give them. Ask them about how you can even better serve the kids in their district and talk about some common challenges that you both have. And, you never know what you are going to find out: When Kurtz met with the superintendent of the local school district, she also conveniently learned that he was a US Archery instructor. The following summer, he came out to camp and trained her program staff, free of charge!
Build on your partner network.
Email the nonprofits you partnered with this summer some photos of their kids at camp with a quick story from the summer and thank them for working with you. If you have a release form signed for those campers, invite them to share the photo and/or story in their next newsletter. As the conversation continues, ask them to introduce you to one other community partner that they think you should know, or request an invitation to their next board meeting to tell a story about their campers and meet their volunteers. Ask them how your camp can do better working with their kids.
Call a Camp Director.
Write down a couple things that were hard this summer, such as firing people, rainy day plans, or tough parent phone calls. Pick one situation. Email a camp director you respect and want to get to know better. Ask if they have a little time to chat with you about the specific incident and get their advice because you value their opinion. Even better, choose a camp director who lives within driving distance of you, and offer to take them out to lunch or coffee to talk about your summers. Meeting up in person is even more powerful! Note: This only works if you are authentic!
Go visit a couple camps.
Spend a day and visit the local day camp, an overnight camp, a special needs camp, sports camp, or any camp. Especially camps that are different from yours. Ask for a tour. The goal is to see the camp, but equally important is to spend some time one-on-one with the director. Be sure to ask a lot of question about themselves, their site, and their program—and send a follow-up thank you.
Pick a hobby.
Book club, volleyball, beer tasting, knitting…whatever you are semi-interested in…start a monthly or weekly event. Join a kickball league or a first Tuesday of the month meetup at a local bar. Then, invite a few people to join you that are just on the edge of your social circle. It almost doesn’t matter what these people do personally or professionally, but building a larger network is always worth it—both for the possible benefits it brings to your professional network and for your own personal sanity!