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Alumni cultivation: happy memories are a camp's best friend.

Editor's Note: This article appeared first in the YMCA Camping Centennial Series, a collection of papers on camp management that was published in 1984 to honor the YMCA's involvement in 100 years of camping. The Y currently runs approximately 275 resident camps and more than 1,300 day camps.

A critical part of any camp's sustaining program effort is its continuing relationship with alumni. It has been demonstrated that most resident camping alumni maintain a feeling that their camping experiences had an important effect in their developing lives, in some cases even surpassing the influence of their college experiences.

Why Cultivate the Support of Alumni?

Alumni represent an invaluable resource by which a camp's good image is kept before potential campers, parents, and the public in general. They are particularly influential with potential sources of financial support.

From the alumni's point of view, the camp helps them when it creates the conditions under which alumni can renew acquaintances, renew the glow of fellowship in remembering good times, and share examples of camping's positive influence on their lives. In providing such an opportunity the camp continues alumni involvement.

Alumni are also useful in helping camp staff to identify and cultivate future program participants, volunteers, other participants, and even board members.

A continuing relationship is essential. Consider the response of the alumnus who said, "I haven't heard from you for 25 years, and when I do, you're asking for money!"

Where Should Alumni Programs Be Held?

Just as Old Main tugs at the old grad's heart, so the actual campsite has the best memories for alumni. Happy times can be remembered through weekend camping opportunities, parent-child events, and alumni camping sessions.

If the camp is well maintained, if alumni and staff establish good relationships, and if the food is good, alumni campers easily rekindle the spirit that their memories recall.

However, it is possible to turn adversity around as a fundraising asset. A camp with a serious need for a complete renovation of its kitchen facilities staged an alumni event and showed what the pressing needs were. The results? Over half a million dollars raised within a year of the alumni event and final payment only one month later.

It is not convenient for all alumni to return to the camp site. If you have up-to-date mailing lists, just pinpoint concentrations of alumni and sponsor special events there -- such as Sunday picnics, winter camps, ski days, reunions, travel groups, luncheons, and Octoberfests.

What Should an Alumni Program Feature?

Communications is the essence of a successful alumni cultivation program. This means good, effective communication, not a fuzzy mimeographed self-mailer with clip art illustrations. Clear, interesting pictures of current campers as well as alumni should accompany memory-evoking material of good quality. Timing is important, alumni will be more receptive in early October, at Thanksgiving, and during the March doldrums -- not at Christmas. A good communication program will result in alumni who look forward to getting camp and alumni news.

Of course, such communication pieces should highlight all special events held for alumni either at camp or other locations. Participation cultivates a feeling of ownership, which in turn generates support.

Who Should be Involved with Alumni Cultivation?

While volunteers are important to the alumni cultivation effort, regular professional staff is its backbone -- staff members who believe in it, enjoy it, and actively participate in it. Newer staff members are useful in running programs, developing volunteers, appearing at all alumni events, identifying accurate background information, and relating to alumni through their own professional credibility.

Volunteers are useful as contacts in areas of high alumni concentration and in the day-to-day handling of details. They are not ordinarily interested in daily detail work such as maintaining accurate updated files. A paid permanent or temporary employee is more likely to be accountable for such routine work.

When Should Alumni Cultivation Take Place?

Any camp without such a program should start one immediately. Alumni cultivation is a continuous process.

How Should an Alumni Cultivation Program Be Implemented to Assure Success?

The basis for a successful alumni-camp relationship is an accurate and current mailing list. Cards should be maintained for every camper and family. Good records are essential. Those camps not fortunate enough to have them should begin immediately to correct the situation.

Reconstruction in such instances should begin with known local alumni, who often maintain their own network of communication with others. The successful camp professional will get alumni interested in the search. If they have pride in the camp they will be willing and helpful seekers, and the hard work of rebuilding the files will be made easier.


Avoiding possible pitfalls can ensure growth. Avoid: * misjudging the time required * failing to have the enthusiastic support of board, staff, and

volunteers * moving too fast before all the requirements (mailing list,

staff, volunteers) are met * compromising quality * jackrabbit starts instead of steady growth * inadequate or inaccurate setting of priorities * failure to identify and reach key persons as a primary

priority * failure to follow up on all essential details * developing expectations that cannot be met

If these caveats are observed, the camp can be well on the way to a successful alumni cultivation program.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Camping Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Focus on Fund Raising
Author:Telleen, Robert
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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