by Patrick Connelly and Chris Pallatto

Marketing to new families is an ongoing process for all camps, regardless of budget size. Here are some creative ideas to add to or improve your marketing campaign.

Email, Email, Email

  • Make a regular effort to collect email addresses. Put spaces for parents to update their email addresses on registration forms, permission slips, surveys, etc.
  • Send out quarterly e-newsletters or event announcements
  • Have special email contests
  • Use mail merge to create custom emails to ask for help, thank folks for attending, etc.

Free Pictures!

  • Send home a postcard size notice that if parents would like a group shot of their child sent to them via email, simply return the postcard with a current email address and you will email them a picture at the end of the session.
  • Take group shots with a digital camera.
  • You can create a template in Photoshop that automatically adds your camp logo, session date, at a click of the button, by using the “Actions” function.
  • Parents can then forward the picture to family and friends or print them.
  • A great way to promote camp and collect current emails.

Birthday Parties

  • Host birthday parties at camp. The parties generate revenue, and more importantly, help kids who LOVE camp bring all of their friends to your camp.
  • Based on your facility or time of year, you can offer themed parties, such as “Rock Climbing Adventures,” “Games Galore,” or “Wet & Wild."
  • Run some traditional camp games, like Capture the Flag or Archery. Running these type of activities helps expose new campers to the fun world of summer camp.
  • Be sure to provide the host family with party invitations and waivers. The invitations will give new parents a first glimpse of how professionally your camp is operated. The waivers are important for liability reasons, as well as provide you with the names and addresses of new families to send camp information to.

Working with Your School Systems

The best place to find kids is at school! Working with your local school system (or systems) can be very advantageous and effective.

  • Distribute flyers and brochures through the schools. If you’re doing this, you think it’s a no-brainer. If you’re not, you think this is genius.
  • Offer to do Character Development activities for assembly periods or special classes. Most schools use the “Pillars of Character” model, which closely models the YMCA Character Development initiative. You can do fun camp games or skits that demonstrate the values, and hand out information packets with your camp’s logo/info/spin on it for the students to bring home. Put a “For information on how YMCA Camp Anywhere instills character, visit our web page…”
  • Team building programs. Every administration wants to do team building activities with their students, but very few teachers have the experience that us camp folks do. Offer to run special team building programs as part of new student orientations, physical education classes, etc.
  • Field Days. Many schools do not have the ability to run their own “Field Day” program at the end of the year, or simply don’t want the headache. Imagine hundreds of students coming to camp, having a blast, leaving their addresses on their waivers, and returning home with a camp brochure. You may find that the field days are a great revenue producer as well!

Online Summer Camp Directories

There are many different online camp directories, such as or Based on your budget, you may find them to be an effective way to market your camp. Here’s how to choose the right ones for you:

  • Think like a parent. If you were looking for your type of camp, how would you search for it on the internet?
  • Day camp parents often type into Google “Summer Camps in Springfield, MA” or “YMCA Camp Idontwanna” or other terms that help them find a known camp or a locate camps in their town or region.
  • Resident Camp parents often type in the type of camp they are looking for – “sports camp” or “sleep away camp” or “overnight camp for girls.”
  • Type terms that you think are appropriate for your parent market into Google and look at the results. If a summer camp directory is listed in the top 5 listed results or above, or ranked higher than your own camp web page, that’s the one to go with.
  • Type your camp name into Google. If any directory is listed higher than yours, that’s the one to go with.
  • Many online directories copy or share camp info from any number of sources to populate their directory with basic camp info for free. You may be surprised how many of them have your camp listed already.
  • Be sure to visit the online directories to review your camp’s free listing. Many of the directories will update the free listing at your request. If they won’t, and you don’t want to subscribe, ask them to remove it.
  • Track your referrals from each online directory that you subscribe to. You want to be sure that this marketing effort is paying for itself in new camper enrollments.

Brochure Basics & Flyer Fundamentals
Everyone has a camp brochure and various flyers, right? Here are some tips that make sure that your brochure and flyer marketing is effective.

Design, design, design.

  • The moment you can afford to have your materials designed by a professional, do it! A designer can combine the best colors, pictures, fonts, and style into a captivating piece. Camp directors can give lots of input and guide the process, but a designer will make it work.
  • If you need to do the design in house, find a marketing layout you like, and model your design after it. Insert your own pictures, program names, etc, but you can definitely model your brochure layout after a professionally produced one.


  • Rule #1: Use pictures of smiling campers doing fun activities under the watchful eyes of caring staff. Parents number one concern is safety, followed with a concern that their child will be having fun.
  • A really cute camper is simply not as effective as a camper as described before.
  • Try to use pictures of campers and staff wearing camp shirts to reinforce your branding efforts.
  • Make sure that the pictures do not show campers engaged in seemingly inappropriate activities. Sometimes the really funny pictures can be alarming to parents, so choose carefully.

Camp Website

The web the modern standard for information collection and product research, and every camp needs a web page to be relevant and accessible to today’s families. Here are some quick tips for web page success:

  • Clean, easy to navigate, design.
  • Make sure the information is up to date! Try to put the following year’s information as soon as the camp season ends
  • Be sure that all of your main areas (registration, open house dates, etc.) are prominently featured.
  • Make sure all of your navigation links work – no dead links. If you click “open house dates” and the link doesn’t work, you’ve missed an opportunity.
  • Have all of your camp forms available for download – medical forms, brochures, permission slips, etc.
  • Create a capability to register online. Not fundamentally important, but important none the less!
  • Have a section that encourages campers and families to visit the website regularly: Contests, puzzles, camp coloring book pages, photo updates, and more.

A great cost effective way to keep your camp’s name in front of your families

  • Use photos- show campers involved with activities
  • Keep messages short and simple
  • Make sure contact information is prominent and easy to read
  • Send them to last years participants, Y-members, mailing list, etc.

Birthday/ Holiday Cards
There is real power in personal correspondences sent through the mail.

  • Use your camp database to produce mailing labels for campers birthdays by month
  • Send off a pre printed card or note card with a hand written message
  • Take a Holiday picture during staff training and have a Holiday card produced and mailed in December
  • During a camp Holiday reunion have counselors write a quick note to campers that were in their tribe the previous year

Give Aways
A great way to increase your brand recognition is to produce a lot of inexpensive items and give them away

  • · Include a camp pen with the registration packet for last years participants with a bright sticker on the outside that says, “Everything you need to register for camp is in this envelope including the pen”
  • Send a bumper stick or Euro sticker in the confirmation packet to all families
  • Send camp emery boards to moms
  • Give away camp tattoos or balsa wood gliders at parades, fairs or other special events
  • Have camp name and email printed on lollipop stick and give them away at the front desk or anywhere
  • Make “goodie bags” for your YMCA birthday party participants

A great source for new campers is your current pool of happy campers. Families that are pleased with your program will be glad to share their experiences with their friends and families especially if you ask them to do it.

  • Send them two camp brochures with a note that says, one for you and one for a friend.
  • Send them a thank you note for referring someone. You’d be surprised how much it means to someone to be thanked.
  • Offer a small prize in your thank you note, maybe a sticker, or a voucher worth a few dollars at the camp store

Gift Certificates
Over the Holidays, US consumers spent an estimated $24.81 Billion on gift cards (Yui, Washington Post December 27, 2006). How much of that was spent at your camp?

  • Have sharp looking Holiday gift certificates available for families to purchase for camp
  • Offer a gift for purchases over a certain amount; spend $50 and get a plush bear, spend $100 get a back pack
  • Make them available in any amount
  • Send emails to families and encourage the purchase by Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles
  • Use a catchy phrase that plays against video games, etc… we used “Why give video games or virtual experiences when you can give the gift of real action adventure.”
  • Have gift certificates available for purchase for other special events, such as birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Easter, whatever.

Silent auctions, fundraisers, etc.
Lots of schools, churches, youth groups and service organizations have fund raisers and look for prizes to raffle or auction off. Provide them with one of your gift certificates for a session of camp.

  • Local private schools
  • Lions, Elks or Kiwanis clubs
  • Chamber of Commerce Events

Other ways to use gift certificates
In his November 2006 Camping Update Gary Forster noted an idea by Luke Austenfeld of Sherman Lake YMCA Outdoor Center. Luke gave to each of his Board of Directors a certificate good for one session of camp that they could then give to anyone they wanted, provided it was a new camper. A wonderful idea! Others you may want to thank include:

  • Your camp physician
  • A local business owner that has been very supportive
  • A key volunteer
  • An active alumnus
  • Allowing your biggest advocates the opportunity to give the gift of camp will produce a return ten fold over the cost of that one session.

A Great Sponsor Opportunity
One of the best sponsor opportunities is Little League Baseball. For $250 a team was named the YMCA Camp Ingersoll Tigers. They had t-shirts, a banner made (that the team carried in the Memorial Day Parade, and on the schedule and results page in our local newspaper it said YMCA Camp Ingersoll Tigers about 100 times. It also produced bragging rights since the YMCA Camp Ingersoll Tigers won their division and crushed the Butler Construction Cubs, sponsored by another local business that is a neighbor and friend of our camp.

This article is a reproduction of a presentation by Patrick Connelly, YMCA Camp Ingersoll, and Chris Pallatto, Greater Waterbury YMCA, at the National YMCA Camping Conference in January 2007. Rumor has it that this was the best workshop on this topic ever presented, anywhere.

  YES! Print all games and skits

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