Without a doubt absolutely.
I worked in the Summer Camping industry for almost half of my life. I started as a lowly volunteer dishwasher when I was 14, and eventually was given the role to run program for an entire satellite camp. Between then I cabin led, ran the video production, and even ran a camp just for paintball. I basically owe my growing up as a responsible and joyful human being to summer camp. So I find myself at an interesting crossroad when now I work with technology, which seems to be the complete opposite from Camp.
Outdoor Good — Technology Bad
Camp taught me very strong values about the need to be outdoors, completely away from technology, and present with oneself. I find it hard sometimes to pull myself away from my computer, whether work or entertainment, and to spend time disconnected. It is difficult, but worthwhile every time. This idea makes a very strong case against camps then going contrary to their values and developing strong technology to support their work. It almost seems like a double standard for a camp to push spending time outdoors, only then to hide in their offices and work on websites, media production, and analytics.
The other point to mention is how expensive tech can be for organizations that by nature (creating outdoor experiences with lots of amazing staff for prices that any family can afford) does not create extra revenue that can be easily expensed on staff and tech to manage an online presence. Quotes for website enter the five digits, and monthly subscriptions fees for software can push expenses for a single employee up to unsustainable amounts. It would make sense to just keep the website from twenty years ago live as long as it has the phone number and email on it… right?
I’d like to talk about a few reasons why I think that a modern website is both essential, and within reach for even the smallest of Summer Camps
1. Websites are the new Business Card
Most people, when they hear about anything, will first search your name into Google. Now usually, if you have a Google My Business account along with a domain name that resembles your camp name, then you should be the first result that comes up, which is great. But when they look at your MyBusiness profile and click on your site, that will be first impression that they will get of your camp, and it will stick.
If the photos of people and the camp are still from twenty years ago, then peoples first reaction will believe that the camp itself hasn’t been updated in twenty years, which will heavily sway on if they intend to send their child there.
2. Depending on the Style and purpose, Websites need not be expensive
Websites can be designed in many ways, and not all of those ways are expensive. Your values of camp can be very representative in how you design your site.
Is your camp very simple and minimalistic? So can your website look (and it can look very good).
Does you camp focus more on relationships than it does facility? So can your website (focus on people photos and not landscape) or vise versa if your camp is expansive and a great place to see the sites.
Websites also have the ability to have many tools attached to them (Shop, Registration, Forum, Contact Forms) that can run up the cost if you want it all. A website that serves a single purpose does not have to be anymore than that. And most modern web development platforms (we use WordPress) have the great capability of growing the website over time instead of doing it all at once, then have to redo it whenever you want to add something.
3. Room to Grow
Continuing with the previous point. There are many tools a website can provide to help ease paperwork, bring in donations or revenue, and spread the news of what is going on at camp. These can be modularly built as funds become available. Just some ideas:
-Do you have merchandise? Sell it online to spread your brand.
-Active Blogs and News Updates show people that people are working all year long to bring the best camp experience.
-Online registration systems can be seamlessly built into your website to stream parents/guardians into a no hassle registration.
-Setup a place for people to donate online or to purchase supplies on behalf of the camp.
-Online Chat systems are also available to streamline questions instead of spending hours tied up on the phone.
There are so many opportunities to turn your website into a living-active force that drives people to be a part of camp.
4. People on the Internet are a Target Audience
I think most importantly, if a main goal is to get outside and experience friendship and adventure, then the people who need to do that are people on their phones! What better way to invite people to an outdoor adventure than to have a website that actively encourages engagement to experience what is available at your camp. Many technologies drive people to stay on technology, like instagram or tiktok, but a website does not have to be that.
5. You are Already Halfway There
As most camps advertise through brochures, emails campaigns, or guest speaking at churches, the good news is that most of the material you have created will work perfectly with a website.
-Photos taken during the summer and outdoors are already very high quality, so most photos are already web quality and will look amazing, even if its just from a smartphone camera
-You don’t have to look far for gorgeous scenery! No need for stock photos or travelling since forests, beaches, and cabins in the woods already look stellar and just ready to appeal to website visitors.
-This also counts for smiling faces all the time! (Just make sure you do your due diligence and collect permission before you go posting everyones face on your site!)
-Videos are sometimes the best method to advertise and to draw audiences to get a feel for the camp in a short period of time, and most camps already have ample amount of footage to put together awesome videos that do just that.
How to go About Building a new Site or Updating?
The hardest part of this is going about how to actually get the site built at a reasonable price and with limited tech knowledge. Here’s a few points to help you get started.
First contact a managed web hosting company. I say managed over unmanaged for a few reasons. Managed hosting companies do cost a bit more money on a monthly basis, but they will handle all of the infrastructure, updates, security, and connections like payment and email sending on your behalf. Trying to get all the pieces together yourself can be a hassle, the extra $20-$30 bucks a month is well worth the price. With our partners SwiftGrid.net, they charge only $35/month and throw in regular support time for assistance with basic updates to the site.
Next, Collect a prime gallery of content that you want to use on the site. Pick you favourite 20 photos, three videos, and some written content. make sure that is available to a web developer when you start.
Come up with a basic design on how you want your site to look. I usually recommend to my clients that they draw their front page idea on a sheet of paper. The developer might have some ideas of their own, but it is good to show up with an idea to help get both sides on the same page quicker. Also have a short list of other websites that you like the design of can help
Finally, be up front with budget. Explain your situation, who you are, and why your camp is amazing, and what you can afford. Quotes for websites can increase very quickly and can range between a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands.
How can we help?
I love camp, and I love technology. It is hard to find avenues where both of those fit together. Making sure that every Summer Camp has a competitive website is something I can get behind.
We will offer a “Pay What You Can” model for developing camp websites. We will work with any budget to give you an update to your website that looks great, drives people to connect, and is as all our websites are, fast, secure, and in your control.