What Are You Talking About?

At YMCA Camp Kern, I believe, the success of our camp is directly tied to how aggressively and effectively we network.

I think of networking in two ways:

1. Local networking – your community and camp families

2. National networking – your peers and colleagues across the country/world

Both are important. Both are learned behaviors.

Why Network Locally?

One of the most common questions camp directors ask is, “How do I network locally?” But, a better question is, “Why is it so important?”

Local networking is important because it allows you to:

1. Let others know who you are and what you are all about

2. Develop resources you need to run your business

3. Attract volunteers to your organization

4. Grow and expand your organization

But, most important, local networking entrenches you in your community and allows you to continue to connect with your local camper families throughout the year.

Getting to Know the Players

To begin building your local network, get to know your camper families. Look at your roster and see who are four-, five- and six-year camper families. Call them and introduce yourself. They will be happy to tell you how they view the camp and who you should get to know in town.

Get involved with community organizations. Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, Council of Tourism, and City Council meetings are great opportunities to meet the “go to” people in your community.

Or, hang out at the local breakfast spot(s) — the place(s) where business people go to hang out, talk “shop” and network. One of my good friends says whenever he starts a new job he always seeks out the local breakfast spot and makes it a priority to eat there every day.

Local Goal – Develop an Advisory Board

Once you know the players, you need to introduce yourself and share your story. Ask for guidance. People love to help and people love to know they have made a difference.

Your goal should be to create a board of advisors for the camp with a committee system of volunteers behind it.

How do you fill these seats? Use the local resources you have created through the techniques listed above and through the committed camp families who are already a part of your organization — people who are already sold on your benefits. These people will love the opportunity to support your camp and your mission.

Advisory boards (and networking) empower your new supporters to sell you and your organization to others by giving your supporters (the ones who are already bursting with the desire to share with others why they love your organization and camp) a voice.

National Network – A Two-Way Street

Here’s the thing about networking — it is a two way street and it has to be honest. I have held a very strong belief for a long time that there are really no secrets in camping. And, why should there be? All of us are trying to provide the greatest experience possible for our children and staff. If someone is really doing something great, why not share it and allow others to modify it to meet their needs. The person who took your idea may or may not give you or your camp credit. That’s an integrity and personal security issue for that person to deal with, not you.

I make no qualms about the fact that I love visiting other camps and getting ideas. Then I love to modify the ideas to work best for my camp and its personality. I also believe very strongly in sharing everything we do. Why? Because, for me, it has worked and resulted in a pretty great place to work and to visit so if what we have done can help more people beyond whom we can serve that’s great. I’m really in this business to serve others. There is no greater compliment than to see ideas from my team implemented at other camps.

Learning to Listen

We all love to talk about ourselves, but listening is the most powerful learning tool we have. When you talk to other camp directors, don’t get territorial or competitive. Listen to them ramble on about how great they might be and listen for those golden nuggets that just might work for you. You need not counter with your own idea to outdo their idea.

Now we’re not networking, we’re back in kindergarten having the “My Dad can beat up your Dad” conversation.

Instead ask them what is new at their facility? What is the program they consider to be the most successful? What was the biggest surprise program for them? Don’t stop there.

Imitate the youngest camper at your camp and continue to ask their favorite question – the one that drives you crazy during the summer – Why? Why? Why?

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