It still has me shaking my head.
For the life of me, after so many years involvement and interest, I cannot understand why Christian camps fail to measure their performance. (And I mean far more than just creating the annual financial report and telling us how many campers attended this past year.)
Sure, there was a day (remember, “back when we were there”, “back in the day”) when things were simpler. Decision-making information and resulting conversation seemed clearer and contained far less layers of complexity.
But not anymore. C’mon.
God’s still the same, but the days we live in and the systems they have spawned, and the complexity of people’s lives (including volunteers), have grown more challenging to navigate for most camps. That’s also true for the well-meaning men and women who sit on camp committees or boards trying to make decisions to move the work forward.
If a Christian camp did measure performance, that critical metric would show them where they need to pay attention. It would inform them where to dedicate time, energy and resources to make the biggest difference. They would KNOW what needs improvement and what their stakeholders actually think about how things are going.
I can think of 12 good reasons (for openers) why Christian camps … and their boards or committees … absolutely should take start taking regular measurements AND acting on the results.
But first, let me outline the key areas that should be measured that will really speak to the health of the organization. These are the critical metrics that are BEHIND the camper attendance numbers.
Stakeholders are all those who have some interest in camp doing well: Board, Administrator, Full time staff, Volunteers, Section Directors, Parents, campers, Families, Suppliers, Contract workers, Donors, Supporting leaders and their organizations or churches, bank managers holding loans, past Administrators and staff etc.
The 12 Critical Areas of Measurement for Christian Camping Success
Safety – Response will show how stakeholders feel about the overall approach currently being taken to ensure the safety and security of both guests and staff.
Guests – Response will show how stakeholders feel about the organization’s attitude toward campers and their responsiveness to their concerns.
Program – Response will point out whether stakeholders think there is engaging, inviting and balanced programming in place.
Finances – Response will show the stakeholder’s perception of how the organization relates to, manages and reports on anything to do with its finances.
Staff – Response here reveals the stakeholder’s perception of just how effectively the organization’s staff is collaborating to meet overall goals and carry out the immediate job at hand, as set out by leadership.
Convictions – Responses in this category will disclose the stakeholder’s view on the spiritual tone set by the organization and modelled by staff through promotion, programming and daily example.
Board (Committee) – Response here informs what stakeholders perceive about the vision, effectiveness and working relationships of the board members and those they interact with.
Policies – Responses show what stakeholders think about the number and practical value and application of current policies.
Planning – Responses indicate the stakeholder’s perception of whether or not the leadership has an adequate plan to move the organization and its aims ahead, while preserving everything that is important to them.
Administrator – CEO/Director/ Responses here express the stakeholder’s perception of the performance and well-being of the organization’s point-person and the structure in place that allows them to operate to their potential.
Leadership – Responses here show the stakeholder’s view of how leadership within the organization is approached up and down the organizational chart.
Social – Response in this category shows how the stakeholders feel camp is doing in it’s presence and interaction with the broader community.
Yes. These things can be measured. We do it.
These critical areas will almost certainly determine the quality of staffing, volunteers, leadership and yes, the number of campers who keep returning to camp and bringing their friends and neighbors.
The health of these areas are the underpinning for successful programming and presentation of the gospel. Low scores on any of these foundational items will probably mean cracks have already appeared or soon will be appearing on all that is built above it.
Why Christian Camps Should Measure These 12 Areas
Let’s get to it. Here are 12 reasons why Christian camps should conduct regular assessments, gauging both the importance and performance of the 12 areas above, as seen through the eyes of all their stakeholders.
Responding to the Pluses
1. Good things are happening so fast that we need to develop new methods of responding. Growth, success and moving forward are all good things. But they put strains on old systems and methods of thinking. Sometimes those attitudes and polices and practices that once served well just don’t cut it in response to the new realities. Brave is the leadership that steps out of its comfort zone to find new methods of responding. It may make the difference between preserving the current momentum and finding yourself coming up short a little further down the road. Accurate measurement will better inform your deliberations on what’s needed.
2. God is helping us to see opportunities we haven’t taken advantage of yet. That’s the spirit. Most never look far enough to see opportunities. They kind of wallow in the ‘what was’ versus reach for ‘what might be’, and that’s sad for camping. So kudos to you for opening your eyes and doing the hard work of finding opportunity in the midst of the current environment. Now put in place that good foundation for building the future on. Examining (by way of measurement) your current systems in light of what will be needed is simply prudent leadership.
3. We want to excel at what we currently do. Pardon the cliche, but many camps already have a winning formula.They’ve just grown tired, lazy in leadership and stopped watching and being fully engaged. Never settle for mediocrity if you’re on to something. Reach for excellence. Have an attitude of excellence. While you’re measuring performance, ask for confidential feedback from your stakeholders to reveal what they think really has the capacity to carry the organization and its programming to excellence.
4. We think we can de even better. Maybe slowly, almost without people knowing it, a lot of what once made camp vibrant has slid slowly downward. Like #3, things have been allowed to relax and what’s left has lost its lustre. But, you know the organization can do better. You believe things are “that close” to taking on a vitality once again. Perhaps it’s going to take some substantial changes in approach to once again make it the top-of-mind experience parents want their kids to have each and every year. Or maybe the infrastructure and leadership model has passed its prime and needs a major overhaul. Measure and find out for sure, then ride on that wave of insight.
5. We want to be benefit from what others are experiencing, so we can move ahead. You’ve looked around. Other Christian camps are doing well, thriving perhaps. Ministry is taking place, staff are enthusiastic and campers are returning year after year. That’s what you want but you know something isn’t allowing that to happen. You’ll find the answer from your Stakeholders. Collectively they know, pick up on things or have perceptions that you must understand. Measure to learn.
6. We want to complete our return to standards we were once known for. Standards have gone down. Years of not paying attention have left camp depleted of what it takes to get staff and campers to return with previous enthusiasm and engagement. Sure, stuff still happens. But you know the bar needs to be raised once again. Leadership and staff need to reach for better performance each and every day. Measurement and inquiry will tell you what needs to be paid attention to.
Responding to the Negatives
7. We have lost some of our original sense of direction that compelled us to move forward. This kind of loss leads to a lack of clarity. Not knowing. And it breeds a lack of real vision and confidence in striking out on a truly decisive and inspiring agenda. Something got you to this point. Find out what’s going on and start the return journey to certainty of why camp exists and what it’s here to achieve moving forward.
8. We are losing campers, guests and/or staff. Don’t kid yourself. Some of this hardly has to be measured. The bus isn’t as full. Registrations are down. Inquiries are drying up. It’s pretty glaring. But sometimes things with staff aren’t so apparent. Most people don’t tell you what’s wrong. They just vote with their feet. Making regular opportunity for them to give input and then acting on it can make the difference. Making the changes that instil confidence in your larger camp family and “target market” can make the difference. Stakeholders know a lot about this. Find out from them.
9. We are a tired organization. Stay tired and you sink. Your measurement results might sting but it pays to find out the truth. Then act on it. Get new leadership on the board. Bring in a new Director. Create new structures. Take care of your leader. Whatever it takes might not be easy. But I’ll guarantee you, it will be the only way to get off the slippery slope to irrelevance and padlock.
10. We are going backwards. I’m glad you recognize it and can admit it. Many will deny reality with all sorts of stories. Don’t. Find out what stakeholders think and begin to build on that. If a turnaround is possible, it will take good information, interpretation, strong leadership and willing followership to turn this around. Act now. Don’t procrastinate.
11. We are having problems, we can’t seem to overcome on our own. Behind problems are reasons. Once again, your stakeholders know things that you need to know. Where do they perceive your key problems lie? How does that now critical information square with leadership’s thoughts. Measure, ask, find out and you will have more accurate information to work from making the hard decisions moving forward.
12. We need to make radical changes soon or get out of this ministry. Again, this is where surveying your people is critical. Assuming the radical changes are possible, what would it take for them to be behind you? Stakeholders have a sense of where problems lie. If you address that, they are with you. Fail to address what they perceive as the true challenges and you may end up trying to make the journey alone.
What To Do Next
Back in 2000/2001, soon after I finished as Executive Director of Beacon Bible Camp, I developed the Attitudes of Excellence, Camp Practices Profile. There’s a long, encouraging and interesting story around it, which can be told another time.
That profile is available online. We provide the assessment, a thorough report on the results and a comprehensive debriefing. The profile is completed one year later again, giving the camp time to address areas that the assessment show need attention. Contact me and we can have a conversation around logistics and costs.
I’d love to see your camp benefit.
Gary Wood, 705.687.2711 or contact me through this my website, www.gewood.com