How to start a camp for kids
A lot goes into starting a camp for kids, but it is so rewarding in the end. Seeing your campers smile and knowing that you are contributing to their growth and development in a positive way makes each step of the process worthwhile!
We will go over each step in the process so that you will get a full understanding of the timeline, necessary funds, and legal requirements you need to follow to start a camp for kids. If you are looking to start a camp for kids, then you have come to the right place. The team at Sawyer has worked with hundreds of businesses to create and build camps and other children’s activities all over the country.
In this guide we'll be referring to any series of activities that occur during consecutive days over a set period of time as a camp. Remember, camps don't have to only be in the summer. They can run during winter breaks, long weekends, and other holidays.
Here are the basic steps to start a camp for kids.
- Understand the different types of kids camps and choose the one that matches your goals. Camps can be in-person or online (or hybrid), sleepaway or just during the day, over the summer or over school breaks or both, general enrichment or specific themes, and all ages or just a small range.
- Understand the costs of starting a camp and identify how you will get the funds. The costs of starting a camp are determined by the type of camp (for example, in-person camps are more expensive than online).
- Find the right camp insurance. Kids camp insurance is often required to legally run a camp and varies in price based on the type of camp you choose to run.
- Apply for camp licenses and permits. States require a number of licenses and permits like health department checks, background checks for staff, camp operating licenses, and more.
- Decide where you want to host the camp. Finding a facility for your camp depends on the type of activities you want to run, the age of the campers, when the camp will run, and the funds at your disposal.
- Hire the right staff. Find staff members that are responsible and ready to help your campers have the best experience possible.
- Establish safety guidelines. Setting up safety procedures and properly training your counselors are important keys to keeping your campers safe.
- Collect registration forms. When families register their child, use registration forms to ask questions and get necessary information like pronouns, medical needs and allergies, parent/guardian contact information, and much more.
- Set up payment systems and take payments. Allowing families to pay for your camp online with a credit card or ACH payment makes it easier and helps your camp grow.
Keep reading our guide to get more information on each of these steps so you can successfully start a camp for kids.
Types of kids camps
The first step of starting a camp for kids is deciding what type of kids camp you want to run. A lot of your decisions will be based on capital, location, estimated enrollment numbers, and more factors. Start by asking yourself these questions to see where your interests lie.
- Will you choose to run solely in-person activities or will you also include virtual options?
- Is your camp going to operate only in the summer or will you provide activities throughout the school year during holiday breaks and days off?
- How old will your campers be?
- What type of activities will you offer? Will your camp focus on one theme (like STEM or sports) or will it offer a variety of options?
These are all important questions for camp owners to consider at the beginning of their journey. To help you make these decisions, we’ve outlined the pros and cons of different types of kids camps.
Based on camp duration and location
There are 3 main types of camps that you can choose to run: day camps, sleepaway (or residential) camps, and virtual camps. Learn more about each type of camp, including the pros and cons of that specific style, to see which is right for your business.
Day camps can range from 1 hour to a full day, but the main difference is that the child does not sleep at the camp.
At sleepaway camps, the campers spend the night away from home, on the grounds of the camp with the staff.
Virtual camps take place online and can be as short as 1 hour.
Based on activity theme
Camps can be organized by a theme (focused around one subject), or they can be more general enrichment camps that cover lots of different types of activities. To decide which type of camp you want to run, you should think about your target audience and what is more likely to interest them.
Based on age group
Opening up your camp to a wide range of students can increase your audience size and revenue, but each age group comes with its own unique positives and negatives. We’ve outlined the 3 main age groups for camps so that you can see what works best for your goals.
Toddlers are 1-2 years old. Some spend time away from their families during the school year at daycare. But, for others, this might be their first time away from their families.
Preschoolers are generally 3-5 years in age.
This generally refers to children aged 5-12 who are typically in elementary and middle school.
Based on season
Camp does not only need to happen in the summertime. Many camps offer activities for days off from school as well as holiday breaks. Check out some activity ideas for these seasonal camps.
Basic requirements to start an in-person camp for kids
What do you actually need to start a camp for kids? Before you think about space, lesson plans, and materials, it’s important to ensure that you’re meeting the legal requirements for your state, city, and county. These vary, so look up exactly what is needed in the location that you wish to open your camp. We recommend using the list of laws and regulations by state that the American Camp Association (ACA) has created.
Kids camp insurance
Kids camp insurance covers the operations at the camp and attempts to protect all parties (campers, staff, and the business owner). Usually, it is provided by an outside insurance company.
However, purchasing camp insurance is not the same as insurance for your home or car. Only a few companies provide this type of insurance and they usually require a safety audit before you can make the purchase.
Why do you need camp insurance?
Camp insurance is necessary because it provides protection for you, the business owner, as well as your staff and campers. Parents are looking to send their children to a safe camp and insurance helps put them at ease. In addition, many states require that camps take out insurance policies, so it is often not even a choice.
What to look for and average costs of camp insurance companies
When deciding between camp insurance companies, it is important for you to consider the type of activities and risks they typically cover. For example, a sports camp will require a different insurance policy than a non-sports day camp. In addition, some companies work more frequently with large camps and others with smaller ones. Therefore, we recommend comparing the clients of each insurance company to find the one that is right for your camp.
Because camp insurance is such an important part of successfully starting a camp for kids, it is important to include a line item for insurance in your business budget. The exact cost of insurance for your camp will depend on a variety of items, including the number of campers and staff members onsite, type of activities offered, cost of property and items on the grounds, and more.
However, most small-to-medium sized camps take out around a $1 million to $2 million insurance policy, which costs about $37 to $59 per month, according to GeneralLiabilityInsurance.com. We recommend speaking with an insurance specialist for more information on selecting the best plan for your camp.
Types of insurance needed for camps
Most camps choose the following areas to cover:
- General liability
- Health (for owners, staff, and campers)
- Worker compensation
- Vehicle liability
- Personal property
Remember, each camp is different because of size, location, type of activities offered, and more. The best way to be safe is to speak with an insurance specialist to learn what you need to cover and what you don’t.
Looking to learn more about camp insurance? Check out our full guide.
Kids camp licenses and permits
Besides insurance, states also require certain licenses not only to start a camp, but also to start a business. The same ACA list includes information about the licenses required by each state for you to successfully start and run a camp for kids. Most states require health department permits as well as background checks for staff in order to get started.
Besides state requirements, some cities also require specific licenses and permits, like this camp operating license required by New York City, which must be renewed annually. Be sure to check your state, city, and county licenses and permit requirements before starting your kids camp.
Finding the right facility to host the camp
Finding the right facility for your camp depends on a lot of factors. You can decide whether it makes sense to rent or buy the space needed for your camp based on your finances and the amount of time you will spend using it. Here are some other considerations for camp owners when looking for the right facility to host your camp.
- What type of activities will be done at the camp? If it is mainly sports, you will need to find a facility that has access to fields and courts (likely inside and outside) for sports like soccer, baseball, basketball, and more. If the camp will be focused around indoor activities, like art or STEM, you will need to find a facility that can safely accommodate the campers and staff.
- When will the camp run? If you are planning to run activities only in the summer, renting a space might make more sense. If you are planning to run school break camps and other activities throughout the year, it might make sense to buy a facility.
- What type of camp will it be? Running a sleepaway camp will require a much different facility than a day camp because you will need space for the campers and staff to sleep and eat all of their meals.
Staffing for kids camps
Another important part of starting and running a camp for kids is staffing. Finding responsible and knowledgeable administrators, counselors, and instructors can be difficult, but it is essential for the success of your camp.
When you are looking to find staff for your camp, it is important to be upfront with the job title and responsibilities. Job-seekers value transparency, so make sure that you include salary, benefits, and other important details that can tell the full story of the role. Likewise, if there are certifications, years of experience, or degrees needed, include those in the description so job-seekers know if they are the right fit.
Check out our full guide with everything you need to know about hiring for your camp.
Some states and cities have requirements for people who work with children at camps. For example, the NYC Health Department has a full list of requirements needed for group child care providers, including degrees and certifications, healthcare training, and child abuse screening. Before writing your job descriptions, research what qualifications are needed for childcare professionals in your state and city.
It is very common for states and cities to require background checks for professionals who will work with children. Even if it is not required, it is recommended that you make a practice of doing a criminal background check on the candidate before hiring. This protects your campers as well as your staff and it is a security measure that parents look for before choosing to sign their child up for camp.
Staff to camper ratio
The American Camp Association (ACA) is generally considered to set the standard for camps around the United States. When it comes to staff to camper ratios, the ACA explains that it is important to consider the environment and adjust based on risk. For example, more dangerous activities like swimming, hiking, and horseback riding would benefit from having more staff members present than more benign activities. However, there are general rules for staff to camper ratios, according to the ACA.
- For campers 5 years and younger, it should be 1 counselor for every 5 campers at overnight camp or 6 campers at day camp.
- For campers aged 6-8 years old, it should be 1 counselor for every 6 campers at overnight camp and 8 campers at day camp.
- For campers aged 9-14 years old, it should be 1 counselor for every 8 campers at overnight camp and 10 campers at day camp.
- For campers aged 15-18 years old, it should be 1 counselor for every 10 campers at overnight camp and 12 campers at day camp.
Camp counselor training
Another key to a safe camp experience is proper camp counselor training. The ACA has compiled a manual of evidence-based guidance for summer camp training. In this document, they go through research on camp counselor training including competencies that staff should have, how characteristics of the staff lead to effectiveness, and even summer camp staff training agenda and structure.
These are the most important recommendations:
- Interactive training works. Keep your staff members engaged and interested by including activities, role playing situations, and asking questions throughout the training.
- Open the lines of communication. You want the counselors and instructors to feel comfortable coming to you and your team with questions, concerns, and feedback. This is also an important element of establishing strong diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices for your camp, which leads to a safer environment for everyone.
- Keep safety at the forefront. Camp is fun, of course, but counselors are there to keep everyone safe. You can bring in subject matter experts to lead more in-depth training and consult your state's safety regulations and requirements to make sure you are sharing the right information.
If you want more detailed information on camp counselor training, review our guide and the suggestions offered for training activities and orientation ideas.
Establishing safety procedures & protocols for campers and staff
To establish safety procedures and protocols, we recommend researching the local guidelines of your state, city, and county. Each state varies in how it oversees and regulates camp operations. In many states, camps fall under the jurisdiction of the state health department. However, others have licensing and permit fees that are different by county or city. Many states require specific certifications for camps focused around swimming, first aid, CPR, children’s allergies, sports and playground equipment, and even bunk bed guardrails.
We also recommend that you put together your own safety rules based on the type of activities and age of your campers. These are some examples of these types of rules.
- Always have a buddy. When children are paired up, they are safer than on their own. This is especially useful in more risky situations like swimming, hiking, and on field trips.
- Establish boundaries. Let campers know what is off-limits on camp grounds without adult supervision. For example, the kitchen, swimming pool, woodshop, and gym could be dangerous without counselors present.
- Wear the right clothes for the activity. If you are running a sports camp, do not let children play tennis in flip flops or run a race in flowy pants because it can lead to injuries. If the weather is extremely hot or cold, make sure campers are dressed appropriately so they stay safe.
For more summer camp safety procedures, including safety plan templates, use our full guide.
Budget and investment needed for a kids camp
Starting a kids camp requires a lot of funding. There are many elements you need to think about, and budget for, when you start a kids camp. Here are some of the common line items that you will need to add to your business budget.
- Rent or capital for the physical space
- Camp insurance
- Materials and supplies based on activities offered
- Staff compensation
- Medical supplies
- Discretionary spending (field trips, camp events, parties, etc)
- Transportation (if applicable)
How much does it cost to start and run a camp for kids?
Each camp is different based on size, location, type of activities, age of campers, number of staff members, and so on, so it is not possible to come up with an accurate estimate on how much it costs to start and run a camp for kids.
However, in 2011 the ACA did survey a random sampling of camps to find out about their costs and get a better understanding of their revenue. While this information is helpful for new businesses looking to get a lay of the land, it is good to note that costs have changed in the past 10 years and these numbers are likely lower than they are currently.
They found that the total expenditures for day camps and sleepaway camps were as follows:
- Day camp: average = $675,000, median = $327,000
- Resident camp: average = $1,138,000, median = $640,000
And the gross revenue was as follows:
- Day camp: average = $760,000, median = $384,000
- Resident camp: average = $1,250,000, median = $698,000
You can forecast your costs by adding up your expected expenses. Then, you can project your revenue by subtracting that number from your estimated enrollment numbers and income from what you plan to charge.
Starting a budget friendly camp
If you are looking to cut costs and start a budget friendly camp that will help you get off the ground faster, we can make a few recommendations. However, it is important to note that safety should always be the number one priority when running a camp. You should not make any cuts regarding the legal requirements, staff to camper ratio, or the safety procedures.
- Specialize. If you narrow down the ages for your campers and/or the types of activities offered, then you can keep your costs lower. Once you have some success, you can accept a more broad range of ages or open up your camp to more activities.
- Limit discretionary spending. Some costs are fixed and necessary, like food, insurance, and staff compensation. Others, like field trips and events, are more flexible. When you are just starting out, you can limit those types of costs to make your camp more budget friendly.
- Go light on marketing. Reach out to your community, focus on direct communication and referrals, and bootstrap your marketing to lower costs at the beginning of your journey.
Grants and financial assistance for camps
Grants are a great way to mitigate some of the cost of starting and running a kids camp. There are a variety of different types of grants that can help you raise the money that you need.
- Federal grants. These are reserved for nonprofit and educational organizations. If you are running a camp focused on serving a specific population or teaching a topic, these might be a good fit.
- City and state grants. Many states and cities offer grants to organizations that support youth programming and enrichment programs for children.
- Grants for supplies. Local businesses often offer grants for supplies to new youth programming like camps in the area. Ask around and see if you can get money or the supplies themselves provided for your camp as a way to reduce costs.
Review our guide with everything you need to know to get a small business grant, including templates for your grant proposal.
You can also apply for a small business loan, which can help you take some of the weight off of your shoulders when raising capital to start a camp. Of course, loans require repayment and often include interest, but they are common for camp owners who are just starting out. The US Small Business Administration (SBA) has a ton of resources that can help you find the right loan for your business, including a feature where you can search by zip code.
Learn more about how to raise money to start a camp in our guide.
Setting the cost for your kids camp
Camps vary in cost based on what is being offered. In general, virtual camps are less expensive than day camps, which are less expensive than sleepaway camps. Specialized camps that include extensive coaching, like sports camps or chess camps, might cost more than general enrichment camps where campers get less individualized attention.
In general, though, the President and CEO of the ACA says that the average cost of summer day camp in the United States is around $178.49 a day and $448.53 a day for sleepaway camp.
The best advice when setting the cost for your kids camp is to research what your competitors in your area are charging. Try to find camps that are similar to yours in the activities offered, age groups accepted, location, and style and then match their prices or go slightly lower if your budget can allow it. The goal is to make your camp more enticing for families than the other options. Remember, if you prove that you are adding value and an enriching experience you don’t always need to cut prices to be the cheapest option.
Camp registration forms
Organization is key when running a camp for kids because there are so many moving pieces. Getting the right information from the adults before they drop off their children will make your camp more safe in the long run.
Collecting camp registration forms is easy with a camp registration platform like Sawyer. Not only are the forms easy to create and fill out, but all of the information appears on the roster, so counselors and staff will have everything they need at their fingertips. Pronouns, allergies, and other important information is easily accessible, making camp a safer and more inclusive environment.
Not sure what information you need to collect on your camp registration forms? Here are some of the common questions you should ask before camper drop-off.
- Preferred name and pronouns
- Age and birthday
- Allergies, medical conditions, and medications needed at camp
- Information about family members cleared to pick up the camper
- T-shirt size
- Level of experience with certain activities (Are they a beginner? Will they need extra support?)
- Any other information that parents think would be beneficial for camp staff to know
Flexible payment options, such as installment buying and payment plans, have become increasingly common, especially with big ticket items like camps. Offering payment options can make your camp more accessible to families and increase your enrollment numbers.
When camps are planning how to accept payments, it is important to keep this in mind. As a camp registration software, Sawyer offers monthly billing, weekly pricing, payment plans, and more payment structures built into the platform. And families take advantage of these options. In 2021, 34% of parents who were given a pay over time option took it.
We recommend that camps take payments digitally because it is easier for both parties. With big purchases like camps, accessibility is key. Sawyer processes credit card payments from families and directly deposits the money for the business. Plus, accepting payments digitally means that camps can take bookings outside of business hours and ensure that they never miss an interested family.
Marketing your kids camp
Once you have the logistics for your kids camp organized, it is time to start thinking about how you will get the word out so families sign up. Marketing is an important part of starting, and growing, a camp for kids. With the right marketing strategy, you can get a strong base of campers to make your first year of camp a success.
Before you think about your strategy and tactics, it is important to remember the audience for your marketing which will be mostly millennial parents. In 2018, Pew Research reported that approximately 19 million millennial aged birthing people (55%) had given birth to a child.
When marketing to millennial parents, keep these elements in mind:
- Experiences are more important than things. When interviewed, millennial parents report being more interested in providing experiences rather than physical items. In your marketing materials, showcase what their children will experience and learn at your camp.
- Fun is the name of the game. In a TIME article, they report that 61% of millennial parents surveyed believe that “kids need more unstructured playtime.” Highlight the fun that children will have at camp to get these families interested!
- Lean on user-generated content (UGC). Adweek found that 47% of millennials say that they trust UGC whereas 25% say they trust brand-created content. They want to know what other parents and children have to say about your camp before they sign up. If you are new to the camp world, use reviews from other types of programs like tutoring, after school activities, and more. Not sure how to ask for reviews from customers? Use our guide.
Email marketing for kids camps
If you already have a list of email addresses from previous programming that you have run or from reaching out to the community, email marketing is a good option for your kids camp. Email marketing can be difficult since consumers these days are bombarded by emails, but if you keep these tips and tricks in mind, you can be successful.
- Hook the reader with a strong subject line. If you can get the reader to open your email, you have won half the battle. Strong subject lines create a sense of urgency, intrigue the reader, and showcase your value. Here are a couple of examples:
- ~Only 25 spots left for camp this summer!
- ~Book now! Winter break camps are almost full
- ~Did you hear about our new art project at camp?
- ~Ready for your child to have the best summer?
- ~See what families have to say about our camp
- ~Learn about our expert educators
- Provide incentives. If you can offer discounts or other incentives like a free trial, email is a great place to do that. And if you are offering these, you can really hook the reader by including that info in the subject line!
- Keep it short and sweet. People are busy and they don’t have time to read long emails. With email marketing, it is important to get right to the point. Tell them why you are emailing, show them your value, and give them an easy way to purchase.
- Include a call-to-action (CTA). At the end of your marketing email, use a strong CTA that encourages the reader to make a decision. Sometimes, the decision will be registering for your camp. However, other times it might make more sense for the CTA to be “schedule a call” or “learn more” if the reader is not yet ready to make a purchase.
Review our guide for more in depth information on email marketing for camps.
Social media marketing for kids camps
Social media is a very important platform when marketing a kids camp. In 2015, Pew Research surveyed parents and found that 79% said that they get useful information from social media. 74% of parents who use social media are on Facebook and 33% are on Instagram, so these are great platforms to utilize. Consider these recommendations when you set up social media marketing for your kids camp.
- Use high quality photos. Professional photos are best, but you don’t need to pay for high quality photos. These days, Smartphone photography is a great alternative. You want parents to see that you are professional in everything you do. These images are the first impression a parent will get of your camp, so make sure they are full of smiling faces! Remember to always get permission from a parent or guardian before using a child’s picture in any type of promotional material.
- Showcase user-generated content. Ask families to share pictures in photo contests, reshare positive reviews, and get the excitement flowing with social media takeovers. Check out our full guide on user-generated content to see even more ideas.
- Interact with families. Social media is such a great tool because you can easily interact with potential and current campers’ families. By making connections, you are increasing the likelihood that they sign up for camp and refer friends.
For more guidance on social media marketing for camps, check out our article, which includes helpful information about setting up business accounts on Facebook and Instagram.
Advertising for kids camps
Google Ads are an incredibly useful, and often cost-efficient, marketing tool for camps. Google Ads follow a Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising model, allowing business owners to bid on search terms, rank higher, and pay for the clicks their ads receive. There is no minimum spending requirement and you are in control of the copy, assets, and settings for their ads. You can choose where your ad appears, set a budget that works for you, and measure impact with analytics.
Follow these steps when setting up your Google Ads strategy.
- Start with research. Take time to research your competitors and see what keywords they are targeting. Keywords are the words or phrases that people search for on Google that trigger an ad. You can find this information by searching those words to see what ads appear.
- Be organized. Google Ads accounts have two different levels: campaigns (higher level) and ad groups (lower level). Creating different ad groups for different keywords will help your ad be more effective with customers.
- Budget well. When thinking about your Google Ads budget, you need to consider two different pieces that go into your account’s overall spend: daily budget (the amount of money you spend on each campaign each day) and bid (the cost when someone who searches for your keyword actually clicks on your ad).
- Choose keywords and match types. Google Ads has a free Keyword Planner tool, which you can use to generate a helpful list of keywords for your campaigns. The Keyword Planner helps you see if certain (popular) keywords are too expensive. Then, determine the match type, which refines where your ads appear.
- Choose devices. Do your customers search on mobile, desktop, tablet, or all three? In our 2021 Children’s Activity Business Trend Report, we found that 60% of parents booked activities on mobile, 39% on desktop, and 1% on tablet.
- Write ad copy. Include the keywords in your ad copy and advertise your camp! You can even add a short testimonial to really get people interested. Be sure to add a call-to-action (CTA) like “Sign up today” or “Learn more”.
- Activate and monitor. Put them out in the world and then see how they are doing with Google Analytics, which is free and connected to Google Ads. For more advanced tracking, you can also install a Google Ads pixel on your site.
Looking for more details on setting up Google advertising for your kids camp? Check out our guide!
Making connections with schools
Making connections with schools is a great way to build customer trust, increase your enrollment numbers, and find new families in your community. And, for new camp owners, school connections can help you get your first batch of campers.
But, how do you actually make connections with schools? Here are some of our top tips.
- Find the right contacts. Try reaching out to members of the school board, administrators at the school, and/or the PTA to start the conversation.
- Write a strong outreach email. Be straightforward and polite. Use a subject line that catches their attention but gets your point across. Introduce yourself and explain what you are offering. Let them know why the students would benefit from your camp and how you can make life easier for the school, too. End your email by thanking them for their time and let them know how they can get in touch with you to continue the conversation.
- Use our outreach email generator. With our outreach email generator, you can easily input the above information and create an email that will help you make strong connections with local schools.
Making profit from your camp for kids
Profit is defined as the amount of money a business makes after expenses. In order to keep your camp running, you will need to make a profit. This means that you need to build a budget and keep careful track of your spending so that you know how much to charge in order to stay in the black. These are the costs you need to plan for and keep in mind in order to make a profit from your kids camp.
- Fixed costs. Examples of fixed costs are rent, insurance, utilities for your business like Internet, employee salaries, and platform subscriptions.
- Variable costs. Variable costs can be commission on item sales, consumption-based utilities like gas and electricity, travel, holiday gifts for employees, marketing, or shipping costs.
- One-time costs (or emergency funds). This section acts as a buffer to protect your business from large, unexpected costs. Some examples can be a new piece of equipment, renovations, damage to the facility, or lower enrollment numbers.
Once you have an idea of your expenses, you can figure out what you need to charge in order to make a profit.
Common challenges of running a kids camp
As you start and continue on your journey to setting up and running a kids camp, you might be wondering what you are missing. What other elements should you consider that you might not be thinking about from the get go?
Luckily, at Sawyer we work with camp owners every day to make starting and running a camp more simple. To help you with your camp journey, we’ve outlined some of the common challenges of running a kids camp and how you can solve them.
One of the biggest challenges that camp owners face is managing rosters. Rosters help counselors and staff keep track of everything: registered campers, important information, attendance, and more. If you do not have a system in place, rosters can become overwhelming. We recommend using a camp registration and management software like Sawyer to keep your rosters organized.
Once a camper is signed up, they are automatically added to the roster along with all of their information like parents’ names, pronouns, birthday, allergies, t-shirt size, and more. Counselors and staff can also track attendance at drop-off and pickup using the roster online or by exporting and printing. And if something comes up, staff can email everyone on the roster to keep them in the know.
Learn more about how Sawyer can make managing rosters simple for your camp.
Garnering too much interest in your camps is a good sign, but not capitalizing on the interest means that you’re leaving money on the table. By opening up waitlists, you can ensure that every interested family has a chance to sign up for your camp. Plus, waitlists are a great way for you to see which programs resonate with your audience more strongly and help you know if you’re ready to expand your offerings and hire more staff.
Sawyer provider Oh! Canary, which offers art camps and extracurricular activities for young children in New Jersey, explains that waitlists are beneficial because they also act as a growth projection and planning metric, providing insight into the interest in each class. Lacey, founder of Oh! Canary, explained that “waitlists are helpful because we can really see in real time the demand for our classes. In some weeks, our camp waitlists are up to 70 kids! It shows us the potential of what could be possible.” Read more about how Sawyer helped Oh! Canary grow and scale in our case study.
Taking online registrations
Millennials are digital natives and they spend a lot of time on their devices. That’s why it is important to show that your camps can be booked online, 24/7, without the need to make a call or send an email. In our 2021 Children’s Activity Trend Report, we reviewed 5.1 million bookings and found that 43% of parents book outside of typical business hours (9am to 5pm). Plus, 60% booked on mobile! To capture this business, you need to be available for online bookings and mobile optimized. Learn more about Sawyer's registration software.
Selling camps by week and by day
By providing registration options for families, you can increase your enrollment numbers. Families are looking for flexibility when making big ticket purchases like summer and winter break camps. However, it is difficult to offer camps that are not semester-based unless you work with a camp registration and management software that has the capabilities built in.
With Sawyer, camp owners can choose to offer semester long camps as well as weekly and even drop-in camps. You can even offer multiple options for one camp, so some families can choose to pay for the whole semester or month while others pay by week or even by day.
Life happens and sometimes families need to make changes to their child’s camp booking. Camp management software makes transfers an easy process. Camp owners can allow parents to choose whether they want their child to transfer into a different camp program or request a refund. With a few clicks, the camper’s booking has been updated, saving you and your staff time!
Getting the information you need from families
Before registration and camp management software, camp owners had to ask each family to print and fill out camper forms, waivers, consent forms, and more documents before their child could come to camp. Then, they’d have to file these papers and keep everything organized. Now, camp owners can use camp management software like Sawyer to seamlessly collect information about each camper and access it easily from anywhere.
Custom form fields
Camp owners can have parents fill out consent and waiver forms, answer important questions about medications, allergies, and pronoun preferences, and list emergency contacts with custom forms. This information is exported automatically into the roster so that staff members have access to everything in one place.
Do you need to use camp registration software?
Camp registration software makes starting and running a camp successfully much easier. Rather than relying on phone calls and email, handwritten forms, and spreadsheet rosters, you can have everything organized and accessible with camp registration software. See how Sawyer helped Shredder, a leading ski school, get organized so they could manage their six locations).
Software keeps you and your staff more organized and efficient, which in turn keeps your campers safer. In fact, Sawyer's camp registration software can save you 28 hours per month on administrative tasks, so that you have more time to spend planning lessons and activities, growing your business, working with your staff, and teaching your campers.
Features to look for in camp registration software
There are a few different camp registration softwares on the market. How can you find the right one for you? Here are some questions to ask yourself and features to look for so you can find the perfect camp registration software for your business.
- What is your main goal for using camp registration software? Do you want to improve staff experience by freeing up your team’s time to focus more on connecting with students? Do you want to appear more professional to your customers and provide an easier way to register? Are you looking to process payments or dive deeper into business analytics?
- What are other people saying about this software? Check reviews on sites like Capterra to hear firsthand from camp owners about their experience with certain softwares.
- Do they have great customer service? As a new business starting on a platform, customer service is an incredibly important part of your success. Look at their website to see what they offer. Do they help with onboarding and continued education? When can you reach out to the customer service team? These are important questions to ask when considering a registration software.
- Can they help you grow? Do they have features and options that will help your business grow and scale? Do they accept customer feedback and make changes so that they grow with you? You don’t want to be stagnant and neither should your software.
Check out our guide to learn more about how to find the perfect registration software for your camp.
FAQs about starting & running a kids camp
Still not sure if starting and running a camp is the right decision for you and your business? Making the jump is a big endeavor. Check out these frequently asked questions about running a camp to see if starting a kids camp is the right choice for you.
Can you make money running a camp for kids?
The short answer is, yes. The long answer is yes, but you need to be smart, organized, and savvy. Running a camp for kids requires many initial upfront costs and long term expenses, so it is important for camp owners to track their expenses and make thoughtful business decisions when it comes to setting their prices, charging for add-ons, and making sales.
Using a camp management software with intelligent, real-time reporting and customizable dashboards can help camp owners make money while running their camps.
How much does it cost to run a camp for kids?
The answer to this question is vastly different based on the type of camp, activities offered, location, and so much more. According to the ACA, the average cost for a day camp to run is $675,000 and the median is $327,000. For residential camps, the average cost is $1,138,000, and the median is $640,000.
However, camp owners need to look at their own expected expenses and income to determine the cost of running a camp for themselves.
What are typical margins for a sleepaway camp?
Camp profitability (revenue – expenses) and profit margins ([revenues – expenses] / revenue) x 100 were calculated from the surveyed data gathered by the ACA. They found that, generally, day camps were more profitable and had higher profit margins than sleepaway camps. Day camps had an average profit of $102,100 with a 10% profit margin and sleepaway camps had an average profit of $91,500 with a 3% profit margin.
Are summer camps profitable?
Yes, summer camps are profitable if the camp owners are smart with their expenses and use market research and data to decide what to charge. Just like any business, running a profitable summer camp takes effort, but it is worth it.
Which type of camp is most profitable?
According to research done by the ACA, day camps are more profitable than sleepaway camps. This is because they had a higher average profit and a higher profit margin than sleepaway camps.
Do camps need to be licensed?
Yes, states, cities, and counties have licensing requirements for camps. The American Camp Association (ACA) has created a list that includes information about the licenses required by each state to start and run a camp for kids. Most states require health department permits as well as background checks for staff in order to get started.
We hope this guide has provided you with all of the information you need to start and run a camp for kids successfully. At Sawyer, our mission is to help children’s activity businesses thrive. With our suite of tools and helpful resources, we can help you spend less time on administrative tasks and more time with your campers. Want to learn more? Talk to a member of our expert camp team and see how Sawyer can help your business grow. Or get started with a free trial.