How many times have you heard a camp director friend say "This job would be so great... if there weren't so many parent's involved!" or "I spend all of my time just dealing with parents. I can't get anything done".
Although it might stress us out to when we deal with who might seem like over protective helicopter parents, there is a way to have a great relationship with your camp's parents and still focus on developing a transformative program for their children. During a session at the ACA Annual Conference with Travis Allison from CampHacker.tv, we took home some helpful tips on how we can partner with parents without pain!
Effective partnerships with parents involve: figuring out what gives them stress and communicating how camp solves that problem; looking at your current camp families and figuring out which parents have been your best allies today - then getting more of them. Partnering with parents and developing strong relationships with our camp families will enhance the summer camp experience for us all.
Photo from Birch Trail Camp for Girls Promo Video
What stresses parents out? We should talk to them and find out.
Camphacker.tv surveyed a group of parents in preparation of this session. When asked, “what is the one thing as a parent that you find the most stressful?” the parents surveyed answered: time, child development, behavior concerns, finances, outside influences on their kids, and safety; in that order.
When asked, “If you were to send your kid to camp what would be the most stressful thing?”the truthful answer was just they just don’t trust us. How could they? They don’t know you or your hooligan teenaged staff. Why should they trust faceless people with the care of their most valuable possession?
Show parents who you are.
You need to have a picture of yourself and your full time staff on your website. Parents need to see that there are grown ups in charge and that they have friendly faces. You don’t need to have yourself plastered on your front-page slider, but somewhere noticeable on the homepage after the fold.
Share your own story with parents. People need to understand why you and your staff are passionate about summer camp. Tell your personal story, how camp changed your life, n a blog post, video, in the ‘About Us’ section and parents might start to personally trust you.
Usually we mention that we have ‘well-trained staff at a ratio of 1 staff for every 2 campers’ or something similar. Give them more than that. Show parents who your staff are through bios on the website, blogs or videos so they become real human beings with a story. Some ideas are having your staff fill out a LinkedIn profile that you can send to all the parents who will have kids in their cabin. Other camps have the head counsellor call each parent of the kids in their cabin and introduce themselves.
It’s also important to train your staff to partner with parents. Most of our staff are high school or college student age and don’t have experience with parents, let alone what it feels like to actually be a parent. Your staff need to be able to confidently talk to and reassure parents who might come to them worried and stressed out.
Tell the history of your camp. It shows people that you have been there for a long time, doing great things and transforming the lives of children through the ages.
Here are some good examples of videos from camps who are working hard to tell their personal story, show the benefits of camp for children, and to earn the trust of parents.
Camp Widjiwagon shows parents where their kids will sleep and eat from a camper's perspective:
Birch Trail Camp for Girls shows the camp experience for first-time camp families:
The Parent Life Cycle when deciding to send their child to camp:
- Considering Camp: how are you marketing your camp so they're hearing about YOU?
- Research: they're looking into the value of summer camp and the value of what you are offering.
- Deciding: make sure you're accessible and able to give them information when they need it.
- Preparing to send kids to camp: It's especially hard when they haven’t spent the night anywhere. They're preparing kids and preparing themselves to not have their kids around.
- During camp: You must communicate more than your comfortable with so parents know their children are thriving at camp.
- Evaluate the experience: Give them smart forms that are easy to fill out and don’t take time. Net Promoter Score is an effective tool for evaluations. Typically it starts with a simple question like ‘would you now or in the future consider referring us to a friend’ on a scale of 1-10 followed by ‘why or why not’? Anyone who scores 7 or lower you need to get them on the phone.
- Make re-enrolling easier: Give them the opportunity to enroll for the next summer while they're picking up their child from camp. Have brochures and online registration systems ready.
Try, Buy, Repeat and Refer
If you do a good job at setting new camper family's mind at ease they might choose to send their child to your camp! Because your camps are all so awesome this child will have a positive and unforgettable experience. Keep developing those relationships with parents and you could find your next incredibly supportive camp family who will refer your camp to all of their friends.
For more information, listen to CampHacker's podcast on Partnering with Parents.