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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How Summer Camps Can Profit When Giving School Donations

If it seems like the number of requests you get for school donations increases every year, this post is for you.

I won't go so far to say getting so many donation requests is annoying, but it can definitely get stressful when you're bombarded by everyone and their brother who want one.

The problem is (especially for us little guys who operate "mom and pop" summer camps), giving away free camp sessions here and there is tough because the money we make from filling our camps with paying customers is generally how we feed our families. There's only a limited number of non-paying kids we can afford to accommodate because they take away spots from other kids who'd otherwise pay full price. In that respect, asking us to donate free camp is similar to asking an employee to take a pay cut. When you look at it that way, it's disconcerting.

And yet, undeniably, making donations to schools and organizations in need is the right thing to do. It generates goodwill, raises money for schools, and hopefully sends lots of kids to camp who otherwise might not get to go. If you're anything like me (and I assume you are), you want to help as many people as you can, so you end up donating camp sessions to just about anyone who asks. It's hard say no!

Well here's what I think. When people ask you to donate, you should do it as much as you can. At the same time, though, if you're gonna continue being as generous as you are, you deserve to get something back. You should never forget your job is not just to be a nice guy or gal, but also to get as much promotional exposure and new enrollment for your camp as possible.

To this end, I wanted to share with you what I've been doing lately in response to the numerous school donation requests I've gotten. Hopefully my approach inspires you to try something similar, but I realize this strategy might not be for everyone. Even if this appears to involve more of a "hard sell" than you're used to, please don't give up that easily! Try viewing the following scenario from the school's perspective instead. What you're doing is helping them raise money -- which is what they contacted you for in the first place -- but in this case you're helping them raise far more than they ever thought possible. In the end, you'll look like a hero in their eyes, and when you view it like that, this almost becomes a no-brainer marketing option for you to pursue. So here's the deal

When someone contacts me for a donation of a free camp session (which happens at least once a day), I generally tell them I'm happy to donate, but I'd like to do even more.

 Right away I've got their attention.

So then what I do is, I ask them if they're interested in hearing about our new fundraising program where their school can earn up to $5,000 or more to spend however they see fit, no strings attached.

Here's what I might say (and what you can say, too): 

"Well, you know what, Mr. Fundraiser Person? We'd love to help you out with your request for a free camp session, and we hope it helps you raise lots of money. But your request is for such a good cause, we're prepared to do even more. With your help, we'd be happy to donate an extra $5,000 or more to your school so you can really blow the lid off your fundraising goals this year. Would you like to hear more about this opportunity?" 

And guess what happens next? They're blown away and drooling, that's what.

Nobody -- especially not a summer camp -- ever offered them $5,000 before. They can't wait to hear more about it.

So then what I do is, I tell them I'd like to turn my camp enrollment process into a fundraiser for their school. I explain that I'll designate a one or two-week time period (the first two weeks of April, for example) during which their students should sign up for my camp. I go on to say I'll donate 10% of all camp tuition sales I receive from their students who sign up for camp during that time period directly back to their school. I make it clear there's no limit on how much they can earn, and offer very specific examples of what they can do with all that money. I generally say something like this:
"So, Ms. Fundraiser Person, here's what this means for your school. If $10,000 worth of camp enrollment comes in from your students during the two-week period we designate, we'll write you a check for $1,000. If $50,000 worth of new sign-ups come in, we'll donate $5,000. And by the way, there's no limit on how much we're willing to donate. And you can use the money however you want. I assume it could really come in handy if your students need new computers, or maybe some sports equipment, or the school needs a new lawn or a copier etc...etc..."
By this time they're so excited they can't stand it. One of the things these parent fundraiser volunteers want (in addition to raising money for the school) is to look good in the eyes of their peers. The bigger the donations they get, the better they feel about themselves, and the better they think they look in eyes of their friends and others on their fundraising committee.

At this point, your offer is so unbelievable to them, they ask you what the catch is..

"No catch at all," you tell them. "And no risk either."

But you do make it clear there's just one thing you'll need from them in order to get this program off the ground: You're gonna need as much help as they can possibly give you to spread the word about their new fundraising program to their entire student body and their families.

So now they'll do two things.

First, they'll go bat-sh!t CRAZY trying to sell your idea on the decision-makers.

Then, once they get approval, they'll run around their school, sending home flyers with students, trying ANYTHING they can to get kids to sign up for your camp.

You can't buy that kind of promotional exposure , that kind of word-of-mouth marketing.

And please don't forget what I mentioned about looking like a hero. Let's say the school got donations from 20 other camps besides yours. All 20 donated a free camp session, not too shabby. But you -- you just donated THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS the school never dreamed of getting. You're even BETTER than a hero in their eyes.

Now there's just a few more things I think you should know.

Before I wrote this post, I shared my ideas regarding school donations with two other camp directors this morning. Both enjoyed this idea, but were concerned 10% was too much to give away. But that's pretty short-sighted thinking if you ask me.

If donating 10% seems like a large number to you, it's really NOTHING compared to the amount you'd have to pay to get the kind word-of-mouth marketing exposure you're getting for free from all the school volunteers who are getting the word out for you. You could go broke trying to reach so many people among so many different schools.

Moreover, it's not like you're investing several thousand bucks in a marketing activity that might not even work. In this case, you're only paying for actual results in the form of actual enrollments. You're donating money you never even had in the first place -- and found money equates to a pretty nice ROI if you ask me. And truth be told, your reputation will skyrocket from doing this. What could be better than that?

Finally, just to revisit the idea of how stressful getting so many donation requests all the time can be, please don't let all those solicitation letters pile up in your inbox. If you don't have time to deal with them now, delete them. There's no need hang on to those requests too long. The schools will send you another one tomorrow! :)

In any case, whatever you do, don't forget that when you get hit up for a donation, giving one is almost always better than not. But don't just give away a free camp session and forget about it -- you and your camp deserve more than that. If you're giving something away for free, you should get something back in return.

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