Summer Camps Are Fun — and Big Business for Nonprofits
Thursday, June 7, 2018
Posted by: Andrea Evans
By Tom Evans
Ah, summer in Arizona. For many, this means…leaving Arizona. But for those who are unfortunate enough to have to stick around and also have children, it means finding something for those children to do while we go to work.
It used to be that kids just hung out all summer, or played in the neighborhood, or maybe joined a club. Or maybe they went off to a sleepaway camp every now and then. But nowadays, the options are almost limitless.
This is because the nonprofit community is smart. They realized at some point that by offering camps for kids, they not only could create a new revenue stream, they could start to engage with future donors and volunteers at a very young age, while doing their parents a solid that also increased engagement.
Parents now have choices ranging from theater camp to museum camp to science camp to zoo camp — with nonprofits providing experiences for children that help shape their development while building an affinity for their organizations.
“Our mission and vision include more than just the adoption of cats and dogs. We want to engage the community and create a joy and love of pets,” said Michelle Ramos, community engagement manager for the Arizona Humane Society, which provides summer camps for children from ages 9 to 17. “We’re teaching children at a young age about how to care for pets at these camps. And besides being a revenue source, camps are something that drives visibility for us. We want kids to be advocates for animals.”
Over at the Desert Botanical Garden, the organization’s summer camps completely sold out well before they started, providing children with a chance to bond with nature instead of bonding with their PlayStation 4 for the summer.
“They help us push our mission forward,” said Tina Wilson, director of education for the Garden. “One of the audiences we want to engage with is families with young children. We want to help them develop and cultivate a passion for the Southwest. Camps are a format that reaches and motivates and excites children, so that they go home and talk about it with their family and it becomes a family conversation.”
For those more drawn to the arts, there’s a ton of choices for performance camps. Steve Martin, Childsplay’s managing director, said a side benefit of the camps is an opportunity to keep performing artists employed during the slower summer months.
“Summer programs are only as good as the people teaching them,” he said. “Childsplay is proud that the same professional artists we hire to be in our shows are the teachers working directly with the young people in our Academy.”
Some of the nonprofits now offering camps might surprise you. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, for example, now offers summer camps at Taliesin West, with the architectural elements providing for a natural transition into STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) learning.
“We use Taliesin and Taliesin West just as Wright did, to educate and inspire people of all ages to live beautifully, by giving them firsthand experience of his philosophy and work, challenging them to embrace innovation in their own lives,” said DeDee Ludwig-Palit, director of education at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. “We continue his legacy of experimentation and invention so that Wright’s ideas can grow through new technologies, materials and construction, now and for all time.”
Ramos said that the camps require some significant costs to put on, but do serve as a revenue stream for the organization — as well as an opportunity to receive donations and grant funding.
“There’s a customer life cycle, and we like our adopters and donors to stay with the organization,” she said. “We don’t want them to come in the door and then walk back out and forget us. When we bring children in, it helps us create meaningful relationships, and brings in a multitude of people from the community. We see it in revenue and then see it in the life cycle with children. Some of them start as kids, work here as teens, and maybe work for us or intern with us later on. Some may even end up being employees as adults.”
It’s a win-win-win for everyone involved. Kids are exposed to a broad spectrum of experiences that help shape their growth and build bonds with causes they care about. Parents get their kids out of their hair for the summer. And nonprofits have a new recruitment tool, one that generates its share of revenue but also helps them hook potential donors.
With all this going on, maybe summer in Phoenix isn’t so bad after all.