director skills

10 Things Every Camp Director Needs to do before Summer

1. Tune up your car & tune up your body

These are things you probably won’t have time for at camp but will make you feel so much better going into the summer.  Your car deserves a little love and so do your teeth, your hair and heck, even your nails if that’s your thing.  If you’re really into following my lists, go ahead…get a massage!  You won’t regret it.

2. Eat favorite foods you can’t get at camp

This sounds really dramatic and last-suppery…but seriously!  Now’s the time to eat the foods you will miss during the camp season because they aren’t served at camp or in the remote surrounding areas.  For me, that’s Thai food from Tuptim, my favorite Thai restaurant that is housed in an old Long John Silver’s (please refer to photo)!

3. Every time you find yourself doing a task, ask yourself, “Is this something that can be delegated?”

Now’s the time to prioritize.  I remember finding myself two days before staff training scanning and photocopying hundreds of health forms.  That is silly for two reasons…first because the computer can now do that for us (holla CampDoc and CampMinder, etc.) and second because I had a million more things that would be a better use of my energy for camp than making copies.  Remember, there are lots of people (staff and volunteers!) who want to help—you just might have to ask.  Make sure you’re sticking to your job description.

4. Spend time with your friends and family members

With Dad @ classic car show before camp!

With Dad @ classic car show before camp!

You may feel like there is a LOT to do before the start of camp.  And there is!  But if you think you don’t have time now, you really won’t have time once the staff and then the campers get there.  Carve out some special time to spend with friends and/or family members before the beginning of staff training.  Schedule a day off and take the whole thing (Gasp!)!!  You need this and so do your people.

5. Remember that as soon as your 50 seasonal staff arrive, you will have 50 times the help that you had before!

Something magical happens when those seasonal staff arrive.  There’s so many of them, and they are READY to go!  While you have been working on camp planning for months, it’s their first taste of CAMP.  Not only do they come in large numbers, they’re energized.  Use this to not just help you get stuff done but to inspire you for that final push before camp begins. 

(My mentor and predecessor Becca Schnetzer would always remind me of this, which would calm me down immensely in those last few days before staff training!  Thanks, Becca!)

6. Put up that out of office assistant message

“Hi!  Thanks for the note.  We are now at camp getting ready for the summer season and training our wonderful staff.  I check my emails about three times a day.  If you have an urgent need, please call the camp office at 231-555-5555.  Otherwise, I will do my best to return your email within 24 hours.  Thanks, and happy camping!”

The pressure to be tied to your e-mail is now off!  Feels nice, right??

7. Stuck on something? Seek out digital resources and online community

Just another example of a resource from Jack and Laura at and!

Just another example of a resource from Jack and Laura at and!

Check out resources like and for games and activities as well as online communities like the Summer Camp Professionals Facebook Group and for advice and resources from peers. 

8. Attend at least one potluck/barbecue (this is what non-camp adults do in the summer during the evenings)


Wow!  A fascinating phenomenon!  Attendance will help you understand life on the other side (anthropological necessity).

9. Go out in nature, and write your vision for the summer

Actual photo from  McGaw YMCA Camp Echo .  How is it even possible to have such a beautiful workplace?

Actual photo from McGaw YMCA Camp Echo.  How is it even possible to have such a beautiful workplace?

So much of the time we are consumed with training our staff and helping them set goals that we fail to do so for ourselves.  This year, I was introduced to the concept of Visioning, which is championed by the leadership at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, which is renowned for its commitment to customer service and servant leadership.  Here’s what Ari Weinzweig, Zingerman’s co-founder/owner, has to say about the process:

“Though we spend most of our work lives responding to problems and opportunities as the world presents them to us, visioning comes from the inside out. It's about what you believe, what gets you excited, what you truly want to accomplish.”

Read this article and give it a go (instructions are about halfway through the article)

10.  Look at your old camp pictures to remember why you do this

Mudpit, 2007.

Mudpit, 2007.

The more removed you get from the day-to-day interactions of camp, the harder it is to remember what camp means on the smallest yet most important level: the personal experience of each child and staff member who comes through your gates.  It’s the 13-year-old who learns how to swim, who never thought she could do it.  It’s the 16-year-old who feels for the first time in his life that a group accepts him for being who he is.  And it’s the 8-year-old who is yet to find out that her friends in her first cabin will be her friends for life.

Go through your pictures and remember your stories.  Remember that as the camp director, your efforts make these moments happen.  And feel really good about that.

The Top 3 Reasons Your Camp’s Neighbors Think You Are Weirdos & 5 Things You Can Do About It

1. They happened to be cruising by on their pontoon boat during your very loud and very intense Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker skit

2. They’ve seen you at Walmart with a cart fit for a doomsday prepper (50 lbs. oatmeal, 45 containers hand sanitizer, 10,000 tablets Benadryl and six BB guns, among other necessities).  You were also by yourself but mysteriously wearing a Walkie Talkie...

Just another typical day at the supermarket...

Just another typical day at the supermarket...

3.  They witnessed the time you sent two counselors in full body paint to the ER with the camper who broke his arm (although they were relived to find out that the painted teens were not the child's parents, they still told all of their friends)

Moments away from an ER run...

Moments away from an ER run...

Was that you, or was that me?  Nevermind....Whether or not you have sent two fully-painted counselors to the emergency room, now is the PERFECT time of year to hatch your plan to work on building up your relationships with your camp’s neighbors.  Here are some tried and true strategies to not just get to know your neighbors, but to build lasting relationships with them:

1. Invite them to camp: And not just in the open house kind of way. 

When the fire department came to a staff week dinner, our awesome chef also made them a custom cake with a thank-you message.  I will spare you all of the selfies we took on the fire trucks.

When the fire department came to a staff week dinner, our awesome chef also made them a custom cake with a thank-you message.  I will spare you all of the selfies we took on the fire trucks.

Identify your town’s key players, and invite them for dinner.  I’ve invited out local volunteer fire department for dinner during staff training week.  It’s a blast, and it serves multiple purposes: First, the fire department comes for a walking tour of the site.  They become more familiar with the lay of the land and can point out any fire hazards they might see (this is great to do before your fire inspection).  Then, they can have a delicious dinner with the staff—we show that we appreciate their hard work and what they do for camp.  Finally, they can bring their trucks onto camp for a test run!  This is really helpful and the staff members are as giddy as 8-year-olds when they get to climb on the trucks and pose for selfies. 

After one of these dinners, we learned that our canoe launch is the perfect location for pumping out of the lake in case of a fire at our facility or any of the nearby homes.  We gave the fire department permission to do so in an emergency.  This was a great realization for us and for them!  You could even have the fire department participate in one of your emergency drills and provide you with feedback.

Bonus point: invite your local police department for a similar dinner.  It can serve the same purposes, as well as one more important purpose: Now your officers know your staff, and your staff know the officers…providing an extra incentive for everyone to behave this summer.

2. Go to their events

The local cottagers’ association picnic?  Representatives from your camp should be there, in crisp branded shirts.  The Fourth of July Parade?  What a great time for a selection of campers to march.  Decorate the mini-bus, the camp pony, the tractor—whatever they want to do!  Prepare a banner and pass out stickers or other goodies to the revelers, and have plenty of brochures on hand.  What a great chance to have a presence in the community as well as be visible for prospective camp families!

 3. Read the news

Subscribe to the local paper or get digital news alerts (Google Alert) for your town.  When news happens, see how you can respond.  Get in the routine of always send congratulatory cards to new public figures (especially folks like the chief of police, mayor, school superintendent, etc.) welcoming them to their new role in the community and inviting them to visit your camp.  You never know what good will come of it: you want to be partners with your local law enforcement, of course, but one of my best results was when I connected with the superintendent of our local district: he was not only a “camp person”, but a US Archery instructor!  He volunteered his time during our staff training to work with our archery staff but also helped repair much of our equipment.  What a good friend to have!  On top of these small habits, also think big when (heaven forbid) there are crises in your town.  Your camp may have the resources to provide food, lodging and safety in case of a natural disaster or otherwise.  Always read bad news with the lens of “how can we help?”.

Bonus point: Get in the local news.  Oftentimes when camps try to get PR, they think about getting it in the towns where their campers mostly live.  There are a lot of opportunities to get your stories told in your local media outlets as well.  Make connections with journalists at local publications and send them tips or even great photos.

 4. Hire Local

One of my most colossal disasters was in my first year as the camp director.  We were building five new cabins that year, and I signed off on using the same contractor for the project that had done some major work there just a couple of years before.  The problem was that this contractor was from downstate.  He brought up his own team of not just carpenters but electricians, plumbers, etc., had them stay in a local motel, and then, when the project was done, they all went home (with all of their money).  He may have been a little bit less expensive than some of our local contractors, but the cost savings was not worth it.  It ticked off our loyal contractors in the area, and when we needed help on camp, they were reluctant to do so.  It took a long time to rebuild the relationships we had burned by only using our local contractors at our convenience.  I never again hired an out-of-town contractor for a big job.  If our electrician can be there for me on Memorial Day when I’ve got a group coming and the power mysteriously won’t turn on in the bathhouse, I can return his loyalty by asking him to bid on our larger projects. 

This goes for your local grocer, t-shirt printer, doctor, etc.  Always be looking 1, 5, and 25 years down the road when you’re making these types of decisions.

5. Develop local scholarship opportunities

A few years ago, an elderly camp alumnus passed away.  His widow wanted to make a contribution to the camp.  In his later years, he had retired in the same area as our camp, and had been active volunteering with the local school district.  Rather than a basic memorial plaque, I suggested that the memorial contributions be put toward scholarships for campers who were from the local school district.  This was wonderful.  Even though the campers were from just down the road, they still benefited tremendously from their experiences at camp, and we loved having them.  An article was written in the local newspaper about their scholarship awards, and the program still continues.  It was a tremendous way to honor our alumnus and also show the community that we care about their kids, too.

Conclusion (just in case you didn't want to read the whole thing)

Overall, it’s all about meaningful, honest RELATIONSHIPS that, once developed, become mutually beneficial.  I guess I could have just said that in the beginning!!

What are your tips for developing strong relationships with your camp’s neighbors?  Leave them in the comments!