Evaluating Summer Camps

Now that summer is over, most agencies will breathe a collective sigh, and begin to evaluate which camp programs were successful and which were not.

How did your summer camp go?

Most agencies examine enrollment numbers and revenue, staffing issues, the effectiveness of cost-control measures, and other issues.

But how does an agency know if it has hit the mark with campers?

How does it identify effective customer service or ways to be successful in future summers?

It is fairly simple to measure revenue against previous years, or compare whether enrollment increased or decreased. However, ongoing and thorough evaluation takes many forms, and is critical for understanding the full scope of the program’s strengths and weaknesses.

Most people in the field of recreation have found themselves in this position: you put together a stellar summer camp, you have great, well-trained staff in place, you thoroughly plan the activities and adventures the campers will experience, you do your advertising and get the word out about the program, and when it’s all over, the program fails to meet your expectations, or worse, the expectations of your participants.

On the flip side, many departments construct fantastic summer camps following the exact same formula. They put a well-trained staff in place, plan appropriate activities to meet the needs of campers, create proper advertising and promotion campaigns, and the camp takes off with great success.

So what’s the difference? Why are we sometimes left scratching our heads trying to figure out why one camp does so well and another flounders?

As legendary football coach Lou Holtz quipped, “I never learn anything talking. I only learn things when I ask questions.”

The answers to these questions can be found by asking participants, parents, staff members, and anyone else involved in the setup and delivery of camps. Simple, direct questions can yield answers that provide critical information on what the agency is doing well. They can also let the agency know in which areas programming might be expanded, and in which areas improvement is needed.

In its simplest form, evaluation is really just a great chance to have a conversation with customers. It’s a way to listen to what they would like the department to know, and there are many ways to listen and learn.


Most agencies gather written evaluations in survey form following each camp. They can be conducted face-to-face, by phone, or by email. Surveys can be designed to provide direct questions that attempt to elicit specific answers.

Casual Conversations

Take a few minutes to stop by a camp when parents are dropping their children off or picking them up. Listen to the conversations among parents. Are they asking questions about the field trip scheduled for the end of the week? Are they commenting on the check-in and check-out procedure? A careful listener might find that the agency needs to provide better weekly communication to parents or a more streamlined process for check-in and check-out.

Personal Phone Calls

Set aside 15 minutes weekly to call the parents of a few of the agency’s most frequent participants. A warm and friendly “I just wanted to call and thank you for participating” is a great way to start the conversation. Find out whether the camp is meeting their expectations. Wrap up the discussion with a simple question such as, “Is there anything we could do to improve?” And be sure to let those parents know that you are available for future conversations if they have more to add.

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