In about 50 days, Jewish camps will begin to open their doors for summer 2015; tens of thousands of youth and teens across North America have been counting down the days until they drive through the gates of their camp for yet another season. And before I know it, my staff and I will be hitting the road for our annual camp visits to observe the field in action.

Every summer, I am struck by how unique each camp really is. It is easy for me to see what makes a camp special and different from other camps because over the last five years, I have visited more than 120 camps. But, I know it has become increasingly difficult for individual camps to differentiate themselves from each other and from other summer experiences.

Parents are consumers who want experiences for their children that provide positive, value-added outcomes for their children, even during the summer. Supporting camps in learning how to articulate to parents the value that their specific camp provides, how to speak to families about this succinctly, and how to emphasize what the camp does that differentiates it from other options, is key to developing the camp’s image and brand.

FJC has been working with camps to define their individual brand identity and help them create messaging to effectively recruit more campers through our Marketing and Recruiting Academy, in partnership with the Greater MetroWest community. This year, 13 Jewish camps serving the MetroWest New Jersey region participated in four, day-long sessions where they learned from branding, communication, and social media experts. Through the course of the program, camp staff developed new ideas to incorporate into their communication, marketing, and recruitment strategies. They built comprehensive marketing calendars, fine-tuned their messaging, and tested new ways to better leverage their social media outlets.

Why is this so important?

FJC’s mission is to increase the number of children who have experienced the transformative power of Jewish camp. We believe that to recruit effectively in today’s market, camps must uncover unique strengths in their program offerings and brand those strengths to attract potential families. As one of the participants indicated:

“I am bringing back to my work the idea that we ought to sell our programming based on our values – our camp does not just have a cool, 1,000 ft. zip line – we provide campers with an opportunity to conquer, overcome, and experience a challenge that will foster growth and confidence.”

Another way we help camps increase the number of campers is on the community level, by leveraging our federation partnerships to reach new populations. Through new, more targeted marketing, communal professionals are better equipped to connect Jewish camp with Russian speaking families, Israelis living in North America, interfaith families, and children with disabilities.

As a result of all of these efforts, I am proud to report that we have seen a 16% growth in participation over the past five years and early indications for summer 2015 look very strong.