Camp is over for the summer, yet camp directors are already preparing for next year! Some of the most crucial decisions camp directors need to make are about the budget, which includes developing revenue strategies and goals to make sure camp is financially viable for anyone who wants to attend.
At the same time, camp directors are also working to improve access and equity at their camps. It’s increasingly common for camps (including private camps, not just non-profit organizations!) to offer financial assistance for families. As camp leaders balance their revenue strategy with their desire to be inclusive and supportive of families in their community, they have many types of pricing options to consider. Here are a few choices, as well as considerations for each.
“Need-Based” Full and Partial Scholarships
What it is: This is typically considered to be the most typical type of financial aid provided by camps. Commonly, families go through an application process to then be awarded a scholarship toward the camp’s tuition. Camp leaders might have a scale based on criteria such as median family income in the camp’s service area and number of individuals in a family unit, awarding a full or partial scholarship based on a family’s income.
Benefits: Having a standard way of distributing scholarships can provide clear decision-making guidelines, which can expedite this process, especially when there are many families applying for aid. The documentation provided by the application process is important for some organizations’ financial standards. This is also a more traditional approach that can be easier to understand (for applicants, staff, and board members alike!).
Drawbacks: The requirement to fill out extensive paperwork can be a barrier to entry. This also requires families to share private information that must be kept confidential, which is a big responsibility for the camp and also requires families to place significant trust in it. Standard income scales also might not take into account special circumstances, such as medical expenses or changes in family status. Finally, families in the “middle” might not qualify for a scholarship but also might not be able to afford the standard camp price—and therefore can’t make camp happen for their kids.
What it is: This approach has had some traction in the camp world for about a decade. In this approach, camps often pose three or four price points to families, who can then choose without application or judgment which price works best for them. Here’s how YMCA Camp Kitaki in Nebraska describes its different tiers: “Price A accounts for camp operation costs, including wear & tear, depreciation, and facility/program improvements. Price B accounts for cost of operation, and Price C is a more heavily subsidized rate and does not reflect the true cost of operating.”
Benefits: This approach demonstrates trust in families as they choose their own price point without forcing them to fill out paperwork or share personal information. Camp directors who have used this approach often report that they are pleasantly surprised by how many families choose the most expensive tier. Finally, Jason Smith, the executive director of YMCA Camp Kitaki, has made two important points in his presentations about tiered pricing: First, tiered pricing is a good way to raise camp rates without pricing people out. Second, tiered pricing is a good way to communicate aspects of the camp business and help caregivers understand the camp’s needs for support.
Drawbacks: Tiered pricing is less common, so it can be confusing to families. Communications have to be clearly crafted. This type of approach also will not support families with greater needs and is often paired with a more traditional financial aid approach. Finally, it can be difficult to predict which “levels” people will choose, making overall revenue projections difficult.
What it is: There are many different ways to offer discounts on camp tuition. Some of these options could include:
- Special offers or sales where camp tuition is reduced for a time period or for a particular group of folks, just like when major retailers offer discounts on TVs before Superbowl Sunday or 10% off school supplies for teachers with their school ID
- Bundle discounts where camp tuition is reduced for families purchasing multiple sessions of camp (like for siblings or for campers attending for many sessions)
- Referral discounts to encourage word-of-mouth marketing. An example of this would be where a returning family has a coupon or a code they could gift to a prospective family
Benefits: Discounts allow camps to be flexible and creative in attracting families to camp. They also can work as marketing tactics—discounts do things like drive earlier registrations, attract new participants to your camp, or encourage current participants to invite their friends. They are also often universally applicable and accessible and can be instituted without much clerical work.
Drawbacks: Customers might get used to discounts and could refuse to pay the regular price of camp because they are waiting for a specific coupon code. They also can make people question the authentic price of your program if they are used too often. Finally, discounts can give families a financial incentive, but they are not enough to truly provide financial aid to families that cannot afford camp tuition.
In our experience at The Summer Camp Society, most camps do a combination of all of the above. Although it can be complicated, using camp registration software like ACTIVEWorks Camp & Class Manager does reduce the workload when offering different price points. No matter what you choose, check all of your decisions against the two goals of camper access and your camp’s financial viability. Good luck and happy budgeting!