I recently chatted with folks from three of our schools, Jennifer Uribe from Marlborough School (Los Angeles CA), Carol Huckaby from Baylor School (Chattanooga TN) and Tonia Webb from Woodward Academy (College Park GA). The purpose of our discussion was to highlight the main benefits of using a camp-specific registration system for their summer programs (as opposed to something else like a student information system, for example).

To provide some context, Marlborough sees about 600 campers over a 5-week program. They primarily offer enrichment programs (e.g. dance, drama, computer programming) and academic classes. Baylor has about 950 campers over the course of their 9-week summer. They offer a very wide range of programming, mostly in 2-week sessions, including sports camps, enrichment and academic programs. Woodward Academy offers 150+ academic, enrichment, athletic and traditional camps across 2 locations and over 8 weeks, taking in about 2,000 registrations.

As you might expect, all 3 are strong advocates for a camp-specific software for their summer programs and here are some of their primary reasons:

Buy the Tool to Fit the Need

As Carol put it, the advantage of using a student information system is that you have a single database which is great for mailings. But, that’s it. It does not make sense to sacrifice all the other advantages of a camp system just to have that one plus. Summer programs needs are very specific and Carol and Jennifer noted a few areas where you need that tailored approach:

School-based summer programs often offer a very large numbers of “sessions”, over 250 in Marlborough’s case; you need a system that can handle that volume and have the flexibility to only display sessions appropriate to that child’s grade or age for parents
Summer programs request different information from campers during the summer than students during the school year so the forms need to be flexible; in addition, you may need to have different forms for different types of programs (e.g. sports vs academic, day vs overnight)
The registration engine needs to be robust enough to handle “options” as well, things that can be added on to sessions such as lunch, after care and transportation

As Carol succinctly noted, campers are different from students and summer camp is different from school.

Make the Parent Experience Wonderful

Parents are incredibly busy and, when it comes to planning the summer, they want simplicity. The online experience needs to be tailored to the summer programs’ needs. What makes a difference for parents?

Ease of registration – the ability to quickly find a session for their child based on who they are, timing and availability….and being able to register multiple children at once
Having a real-time portal with children’s schedule – they see their schedule and finances in one place
Long-term online account – Jennifer noted that parents love to have an account they can return to each year with everything already there, all set to go; she noted it is about building relationships with her customers and this goes a long way to showing how much she cares about making things easy for them

Carol noted that schools do registration once a year for the whole year. Camps do registration multiple times (weekly) over an extended part of the year. Camps are different from schools.

Reduce your Workload

Jennifer commented that, with the growth of their programs over the years, she had no time to do data entry. Having the parents do the data entry is not a “nice-to-have”, it is a “must”. Put simply, having a camp-specific online system that parents loved to use meant that the school could grow their programs without increasing the administrative time devoted to those programs. She also noted that accepting credit cards was a key component here – parents expect to pay for camp using a credit card online. It really is as simple as that. For schools, that can be a tough one to accept. But, camp is not school and combining online registration with credit card processing automates a lot of administration.

Jennifer had another interesting observation – registrations used to filter in slowly in the past. With everything going online and a first-come, first-served model where parents know right away if they got a spot (or may not get one!), registrations came in a lot faster! There is a race to register for many of their programs.

For Carol, it is all about ease of use. Whether looking up something from 2 days ago, 2 months ago or 2 years ago, she wants that at her fingertips. The system needs to be tailored to meet the needs of managing a camp operation and the dashboards, reports and communication center need to reflect those unique needs. Otherwise, you have a lot of data but no way to effectively harness it.

For Tonia, reporting has been the key ingredient. Given her volume (both in camps and campers), she requires detailed reports for each camp, general reports for health center staff and attendance reports for the bus drivers. These are tailored, camp-specific reports produced automatically from the system – manual preparation of these reports is not an option!

Beyond summer programs, many of our schools use CampBrain for their after school programs . Not all camp systems are equipped to meet this particular need but, if they are, there are some nice benefits:

Thanks to Carol, Jennifer and Tonia for sharing their wisdom and experience. We have served a large base of schools over the past many years and it is always a fun and challenging part of the overall summer camp market.

Please don’t hesitate to connect with me to chat about the above or comment below if you would like to contribute to the conversation.