It is that time of year again for camps across the country. It is the most exciting and oftentimes the most stressful time of year for program staff and directors: summer staff recruiting! I remember the craziness when I was on year-round camp staff.
Confession: I absolutely loved it.
I loved walking with staff applicants who were discerning their life direction. I loved watching the pieces come together, imagining how each unique child of God would fit in with the staff community. There were years when I was sitting in my office in March with only a couple positions left to fill and the applications of half a dozen top prospects arranged on the floor as I prayed over the difficult decision. There were also more stressful years when I was scrambling in the first days of staff training to fill remaining positions.
The past few years have been challenging for the camping industry to fill summer staff positions. We are facing that prospect again this year, with very low unemployment (under 4%) and service sector jobs paying increased wages. I am not pretending it will be easy, but remember that you can do hard things! I want camp people to be hopeful and ministry partners to recognize the benefits of steering young people to these ministries. So, I offer three basic tips for staff recruiting this year.
Tip 1: Highlight your strengths
At a basic level, recruiting is marketing. I assume that you think your camp is an incredibly valuable ministry space that has unique gifts to offer the church and the world. Highlight these strengths! Your task is to convince young people that working at your particular camp will not only add value to their lives but is an experience worth investing an entire summer of their college life. There are great tips out there about why camp, in general, is a valuable place to work. Use these, but emphasize the strengths of your particular camp and staff community.
But we don’t have mountains, you say. We don’t have horses or a lake. What DO you have? What are your strengths? Why do you think that your camp is the best camp in the country? Do you have a small, intimate, tightly-knit staff? That’s a strength! Do you have a large, diverse, high-energy staff community? Strength! Do you pay a higher weekly salary than the average Christian camp ($254 USD)? Strength!
Side note on salary: I am all for increasing the salary of summer staff in a way that is responsible for your camp’s budget. They work hard and they deserve it. But don’t think this is going to solve your recruitment problems. In 2019, some Christian camps paid staff less than $150 per week and others paid over $500. They all managed to fill their positions. Find a number that is right for your camp, and work towards increasing. The simple fact remains that young people do not work at Christian camps for the money. We pay them as well as we can because we want to take care of them and we do not want money to be a barrier.
Tip 2: Leverage relationships
I know that it’s a brave new world and there are amazing technologies at our fingertips that allow us to connect with a bajillion people at one time. That’s all fine, but these are just tools. Use the staff recruiting app. Create an awesome website. Post inspiring videos online. But remember that camp is relational. The most reliable way to recruit amazing camp staff is through face-to-face relationships. You cannot recruit from your office. You have to get on the road and into the spaces and faces of your influencers.
This takes time and an immense amount of effort. It is oftentimes frustrating. But there is no magic online tool that will replace person-to-person relationships. This is a good thing. It is why camp still exists. Virtual camp is an oxymoron, and so is virtual recruiting. Get out there and connect with campus ministry groups. Sit in on Bible studies. Preach at chapel services. Go to job fairs and camp fairs, especially at colleges where past camp staff currently attend. Connect with your constituent pastors who are camp enthusiasts and leverage those relationships. Track your list of past high school campers who are now college age. Call your most outgoing staff member from last summer and get them to recommend or recruit two of their friends. Then drive to campus and meet with them in person. Do more than just call, email, or post something inspiring online. Show up.
Tip 3: Hire people of faith
I wish this was an obvious one. It may be for some of you. But in desperate times when we are trying to fill positions, we sometimes settle for great staff that simply do not fit at our camps. Remember the tip about highlighting your strengths. One of the key reasons that camper parents and camp staff choose your particular camp is because you are a faith-centered camp. This is a strength! If potential staff are uninterested in being part of a faith-centered community or growing in their personal faith, do not hire them. There are other camps doing amazing work in a secular environment that could use their gifts. When we hire staff for Christian camps, we are hiring ministry leaders who will impact the faith lives of our campers and their fellow staff.
Of course, you will have summer staff who are questioning their faith or are refining their theological views. This is healthy. If they are embedded in a staff community where the majority are strong believers, they will find a place of welcome and nurture. But if you ask a staff applicant about their faith story and it is clear they do not believe or would be uncomfortable teaching in a faith-centered atmosphere, direct them to a different camp. Do this even if they grew up in an affiliated congregation or are a former camper. It will be healthier for them and for your camp.
I know staff recruiting is exhausting, but it is also incredibly rewarding. Find the best people for the best camp.