Camping has a long tradition in Ohio 4-H (McNeely, 2004). Ohio 4-H camps are creative experiential learning endeavors in which participants engage with each other, older teens, and adult staff. They are intentionally designed in a carefully supervised and supportive environment which typically incorporates aspects of the natural surroundings. Teens are part of the supervision and supportive environment through their involvement as camp counselors where they undergo a selection process, receive training, assist in planning and the evaluation of camp. Research has shown that participation in 4-H camping programs has promoted the social growth and development of life skills, such as personal responsibility, accepting differences, character development, and positive decision making (Arnold, Bourdeau, & Nagele, 2005; Garst & Bruce, 2003; Garton, Miltenberger, & Pruett, 2007; Hedrick, Homan, & Dick, 2009).
In 2018, there were 12,252 overnight campers and 3,483 day campers for a total of 15,735 campers, along with 2,858 teen counselors (Ohio 4-H, 2018). Camp directors, volunteers, and counselors have a large role when recruiting these individuals to 4-H camp.
Who Influences the Decision to Enroll a 4-H Camper?
The decision to enroll in 4-H camp is most influenced by the camper themselves regardless of gender, followed by parental input, friends, then finally siblings (Hedrick, Homan, & Dick, 2009). Camp promoters, whether they are club volunteers or youth development professionals, should concentrate their efforts primarily at youth, while keeping in mind that parents tend to first screen and limit choices for their children. Captivating the attention of youth involves advertising to their likes and needs. To do so, focus your advertisements on the fun-filled activities 4-H camp has to offer and the “feel good” atmosphere of the camp (Martin, 2016). School visits, community advertising, and online marketing should have the “child in mind,” however they should also address the preliminary concerns that parents identify with, including safety and supervision.
Parents who are alumni of the 4-H program report a higher influence on the decision process than those parents who are not personally familiar with 4-H (Hedrick, Homan, & Dick, 2009). Many parents encourage their children to participate in similar activities that they benefited from as a child. They may appreciate the value of the experience, and therefore, take a more active role in the final decision to enroll in camp. In a sense, they have a brand loyalty that non-4-H alumni do not have. Non-4-H alumni parents may be quick to dismiss camp promotional material because it may be unfamiliar to them, therefore buy in to the experience is much more difficult. An increased effort needs to be made to reach both the child and parent(s) of first generation 4-H families when developing camp promotional pieces. Getting materials in front of decision makers more than once is important. Develop strategies to send email and social media marketing materials often, draft news releases in local media outlets, and get flyers into schools a few times before enrollment time.
How to Promote 4-H Camp
In order to prepare promotional pieces, it is important to have the camp experience resonate with the viewer of materials. When asked, “What will you remember most about camp?” campers respond:
- “How 4-H camp makes everyone equal.”
- “How fun the activities were.”
- “Having counselors that care about me and are fun to be around.”
- “I now love zip lining thanks to camp.”
- “Being myself and being accepted.”
- “You always can make new friends at camp.”
There are multiple avenues available to market and promote 4-H camp to youth and their families. Some of these include:
- Announcing early and often—as soon as the dates have been identified, publicize them and encourage interested families to “hold the dates.”
- Periodic newsletters/blogs/email blasts/tweets/Facebook posts—the more someone receives and views the information, the more likely they are to participate.
- Word of mouth—invite counselors and members who have had past positive experiences to share at club meetings and county events.
- Camp counselor recruitment—current counselors should be encouraged to promote camp.
- Booths and information at county fairs and other community events—utilize the opportunities when you have 4-H members and families present for other events to promote camp.
- Camp open house—some youth are nervous to go, and parents are nervous to send their child to unfamiliar surroundings. Provide them the opportunity to become familiar with the camp facility.
Although various marketing methods are used to promote the availability of 4-H camping programs to potential youth and their families, personal methods are the most effective (Hedrick, Homan, & Dick, 2006). Program planners should pay special attention to the potential of expanding camp enrollment and reaching additional families through direct promotions from volunteers, camp counselors, and former youth attendees. Ask them to speak directly to club members about what 4-H camp is all about.
Additional methods of camp promotion that have also proven successful, depending on community and ability to explore these avenues:
- School classroom visits
- Promotional fliers to schools and churches
- Newspaper articles, including pictures
- Radio and TV ads
- Mass membership mailings
Fortunately for local 4-H professionals and volunteers, who often work with limited budgets, there are effective ways to promote local 4-H camping through venues that cost very little or nothing at all. It is important to recognize no 4-H residential camps are the same, so promotion efforts will differ in their success in each county. Even though mass media does not take much time, personal contact and positive testimonials are more effective and go a long way in building camp numbers.
As youth professionals and volunteers look to allocate camp resources and decide how much to spend where, the money can be reserved for building solid camp programs that deliver positive impact. The promotional piece can be done utilizing youth to spread the positive word about 4-H camping experiences. Camps should evaluate promotional efforts on an ongoing basis and consideration should be given to what has generally been found to be effective. Even though considerations discussed above target Ohio 4-H camping programs, the strategies can easily be replicated in other camping programs.
Arnold, M. E., Bourdeau, V. D., and Nagele, J. (2005). Fun and friendship in the natural world: The impact of Oregon 4-H residential camping programs on girl and boy campers. Journal of Extension, 43(6). Article 6RIB1. Available at archives.joe.org/joe/2005december/rb1.php.
Garton, M. S., Miltenberger, M., and Pruett, B. (2007). Does 4-H camp influence life skill and leadership development. Journal of Extension, 45(4). Article 4FEA4. Available at archives.joe.org/joe/2007august/a4.php.
Hedrick, J., Homan, G., and Dick, J. (2009). Exploring the positive impact of 4-H camp on youth: Identifying differences based on a camper’s gender, years of attendance, and age. Journal of Extension, 47(6). Article 6FEA5. Available at tigerprints.clemson.edu/joe/vol47/iss6/5/.
Martin, R. (2016). How to Successfully Market Your Summer Camp. Retrieved from signs.com/blog/how-to-successfully-market-your-summer-camp/.
McNeely, N. N. (2004). The Ohio 4-H camp counseling experience: Relationship of participation to personal, interpersonal, and negative experiences. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). The Ohio State University, Columbus. Retrieved from rave.ohiolink.edu/etdc/view?acc_num=osu1095800892.
Ohio State University Extension. (2018). 4-H Youth Development Statistical Report. Retrieved July 25, 2019 from ohio4h.org/about/ohio-statistics.