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Articulating the value of your site and facilities.

"The program is most important because that's where lives are changed!" cry the program leaders. "But without the site (and facilities and services) you wouldn't have a program!" cry the site leaders. In many camps and conference centers, there is an observable tension between the site and the program areas. This is evidenced between the site staff and the program staff in attitudes, rifts, or work behaviors.

Tension may also be felt during budgeting and prioritization decisions. This tension must be addressed at its heart--in the recognition that the very nature of camp requires a specifically designed environment tailored to the purpose, and that the place and the program are integral parts of a whole experience.

Are site/facilities mentioned in your camp's vision, mission, and/or value statements? Is it important or necessary?

Take a look at the American Camping Association (ACA) definition of camp (top of this page). The natural setting (site) and group living (facilities) are two key elements that distinguish camp and outdoor education/conference centers from a childcare center, a school, or a conference in a hotel. There are many ways to describe these elements. These include space, environment, geographic location, site features, property, land, buildings, context, place, program activity structures, natural resources, etc. Since people make significant strategic and tactical decisions for their operation based on the vision/mission/values statements, it is critical to include the site/facilities with the programming/educational aspects in the vision, mission, and values statements.

As the ACA National Board has facilitated discussions throughout the industry about the nature of camp and the priorities that the organization should address, one belief has been articulated consistently--camp is assumed to have some relationship to the outdoors. The ACA Section delegates noted this in their hearing discussions; the preliminary research revealed that it is an expectation of the public.

While it is common that all camps value the outdoors, it is uncommon to agree upon the relationship between site and program. Because of this, it is critical that you describe the inter-relationship between the two areas in your vision, mission, and values statements. If we hold that "it just wouldn't be camp" without being in the midst of the natural environment, that creates equal value for site/facilities and programming. The buildings, land, and activity structures are not secondary, a supporting role, nor only "context"--they are vital, essential components to accomplishing the camp's or conference center's mission and need to be acknowledged as such.

How Can You Articulate the Value of Site and Facilities?

Below are some phrases, divided into four groups, to illustrate some ways camps and conference centers may include site/facilities in their focus:

Context for Program

* Use the outdoor recreational environment.

* Safely enjoy adventurous outdoor activities.

* Use the serenity of the outdoors to instill

* Well-equipped facilities sustain high quality programming.


* Respect and care for the earth.

* Value the natural world.

* Describe the camp as an outdoor learning center.

* Appreciate all of God's creation (religious camp).

* Use historic buildings to learn about


* We manage, conserve, and take responsibility for our natural resources.

* We model ecological responsibility.

* Teach beach preservation.

* Care and protect the land, aquifer, wildlife, and flora and fauna.

* Preserve natural resources by keeping the majority of the site undeveloped.


* Our facilities complement the natural environment.

* Provide residential camping facilities for individuals with physical limitations.

* Create comfortable surroundings to....

* Provide and maintain top-level facilities.

Why Include Key Phrases About Site/Facilities?

If you are convinced that the physical environment is a critical aspect of the camp experience, you should articulate those beliefs in your vision, mission, and values statements to guide decision-makers and staff as they bring the mission to life. Incorporating specifically defined belief statements regarding site/facilities into your camp's mission can guide your camp's operation and the people acting on behalf of your camp. Site/facilities belief statements can influence:

Property and Building Decisions

* An architect designs activity buildings utilizing the historic theme of the local settlers (uniqueness of the area).

* The maintenance staff creates and maintains a park-like atmosphere with walkways lined with planted annuals and perennials.

* The decor and furnishings in a building are chosen around a western-themed atmosphere, rather than purchasing institutional-looking furniture.

* The physical surroundings create the atmosphere for hospitality, further built upon by the staff with their services.

Program Design

Programming staff develops programs, materials, and themes around learning and caring for the natural environment. The vision/mission/values statements define the amount of focus placed on environmental education and what aspects are important.

* The location of the ropes course is carefully selected, utilizing the land contours and trees to create unique, natural high adventure elements.

Grant Application

* The fund development staff member writes a clear case statement for wetland preservation. Having the preservation values already articulated in the vision, mission, and/or values statements strengthens the application.


* The Board of Directors establishes a unified formula for annually a) allocating funds to a depreciation reserve to address future maintenance needs and b) for a scholarship fund to support campers who can't pay the fees.

* Management staff has the authority and responsibility to establish fees to assure sufficient revenue for real costs to include the land, facilities, and the program.

Positive Impact

Without a doubt, a camp or conference center is about positively impacting a person. By clearly articulating how the site/facilities work in equal partnership with the program, it creates a stronger foundation on which your entire operation revolves, including the impact on your campers and guests.


What is unique about your site when contrasting it with a different geographic region? What is it about your camp or conference center's environment that draws people to your camp or conference center?

How are the types of facilities and the furnishings essential and how do they strengthen your purpose (e.g., rustic or modern amenities)? Or looking at it conversely, if the buildings are run down, what are the camper/guest perceptions and the resulting impact on programming?

Why is nature appreciation, urban/wildlife interface, or natural systems a cornerstone of the program? If it is a key component, how are you articulating it to your participants and guests?

Thanks to Kathleen Trotter, president of Kaleidoscope, Inc. for editing and suggestions.


ACA Knowledge Center, Defining Your Mission. (accessed January 6, 2004).

Ball, A. & Ball, B. (2000). Basic Camp Management. Martinsville, IN: American Camping Association.

Carver, J. (1997). Boards that Make a Difference: A New Design for Leadership in Nonprofit and Public Organizations. Jossey-Bass.

Collins, J. (1993). In Pursuit of the Big Hairy Audacious Goal. (accessed January 6, 2004).

Covey, S. (1989). 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Inc.

Mission/Vision Statements Remain Key to Successful NPO Governance (accessed January 6, 2004).

Poderis, T. Don't Make Your Organization's Statement Of Purpose A "Mission Impossible" (accessed January 6, 2004).

Strategic Planning, including what's in a mission statement? (accessed January 6, 2004).

Available from the ACA Bookstore

* Guidelines for Conference and Retreat Centers CD by ACA

Wynne Whyman, M.A., M.S.S., is president of Callippe Solutions, LLC, offering site/facility management software. She has worked in the camp industry for twenty years in a variety of positions including staff, board member, and ACA visitor. She can be reached at
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Author:Whyman, Wynne
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 2004
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