Communicating with your stakeholders - and their mothers

Once upon a time, lonely campers could only rely on a weekly mail call and the occasional long-distance phone call to break the solitude. Parents and campers alike had to communicate through the Camp Director - a nice, traditional command and control communication system.

Obviously, times have changed. There are fewer filters influencing communication among staff, counselors, campers, parents and alumni.

Phone trees, bulletin boards and mimeographed newsletters have been replaced by sophisticated web sites, e-newsletters, voice mail broadcasts and alumni affinity programs.

This means transparency and the rapid flow of information are essential if a Camp Director and camp staff are to deal effectively with campers, parents and alumni in times of calm and crisis.

After all, why should the campers, kitchen staff and Head Counsellor's drug dealer be the only ones to know that Cabin B has a wasp's nest, the Assistant Director is sleeping with the crafts teacher, and the school bus failed its last safety check?

That's why the advent of electronic communication has proved to be a boon for small businesses like camps:

  • Desktop publishing software means the admin assistant has reams of clip art to “brighten up” the early spring promotional mailouts

  • Cheap broadcast voice mail services mean you can remind campers to bring more Off! when that dead crow turns out to have West Nile Virus

  • E-mail means the on-call lawyer can provide instant reaction to the FTC lawsuit stemming from last year's “how to make money off spam” seminar.

  • Out-of-the-box software can help the camp set up alumni websites and mailing lists, ensuring a continuing flow of wistful nostalgia, reunion reminders, and plaintive calls for more donations for the new staff rec room.

  • Of course, regular web access time for campers, at $9.95 an hour, will give them the opportunity to maintain their Neopets, trade in their fantasy baseball league, and keep up on the Olsen twin's latest addictions/afflictions.

    But some communications activities need to be styled old-school: there are influential members of the community who need their hands held, voices heard, palms greased, and, sometimes, their skull cracked.

  • the cranky old man who leased the land for the camp, knowing it was a Superfund site
  • the park ranger who tolerates overturned portapotties, golf cart races on the bike trails and underwear in the branches of the 300 year-old Sequoia
  • and the small town mayor, who's still mad that your non-profit status is depriving him of tax revenue for such essentials as a frapuccino machine and a new Impala.

  • In