Camping ‘academy’ seen as a national model

Camping ‘academy’ seen as a national model

Local, national allies help leaders strengthen their summer programs

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

During a break in the March 8 “Fund-raising Academy” are, from left, Tracy Levine, manager of One Happy Camper at the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life of MetroWest; Mark Gold, director of the Grinspoon Institute for Jewish Philanthropy
During a break in the March 8 “Fund-raising Academy” are, from left, Tracy Levine, manager of One Happy Camper at the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life of MetroWest; Mark Gold, director of the Grinspoon Institute for Jewish Philanthropy

A local effort to develop fund-raising and marketing strategies for Jewish camping is being seen as a model for camps and communities around the country.

Professional and lay leaders from six Jewish summer camps serving the area gathered on the Aidekman campus in Whippany March 8 in the second installment of a first-ever “Fund-raising Academy.” Its goal is meant to create a “culture of giving” at such camps.

Participants heard data reflecting the long-term impact on youngsters attending Jewish overnight camp, took the part of donors and fund-raisers in role-playing sessions, and considered a YouTube video created as a marketing tool by a Jewish camp.

Keynote speaker Jeremy Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, said the training was breaking ground for similar projects being rolled out in Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.

“They are all watching what’s happening here,” said Fingerman. His organization is credited with placing Jewish camping at the center of efforts to strengthen the identities of Jewish youth and families.

The fund-raising academy — run by the Grinspoon Institute for Jewish Philanthropy — is part of the MetroWest Jewish Camp Enterprise, a major effort undertaken by United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ and the Jewish Community Foundation of MetroWest. In addition to the academy, the effort to promote Jewish camps features a full-time manager, an aggressive marketing and recruitment plan, and a push to provide $1,000 incentive grants for first-time campers to attend sleep-away camps.

The enterprise aims to double the number of local children who attend overnight Jewish camp in the next five years.

“Jewish camp is key to the future strength of the community,” said JCF development officer Kim Hirsh. “In order to get more children in Jewish camps, we need to invest in strengthening the camps themselves. This increases their capacity to offer scholarships and to enhance their camps overall to continue to attract more campers — from MetroWest and other communities.”

The focus of the March 8 event was demonstrating the impact of Jewish camp, the topic of a study FJC had released the previous week. The survey concluded that those who have attended Jewish camp are, according to 13 key variables, more Jewishly engaged as adults than those who did not go to camp.

“The data is a door-opener,” Fingerman said. “It can open the door to a conversation with a rabbi or a funder. And you can customize it for the impact you are having.”

‘Culture of giving’

Several of the attendees welcomed the information and urged more research.

Len Robinson, director of New Jersey Y Camps, said he was eager for studies focused on retaining campers from one year to the next. “We need…desperately to find out what are the compelling reasons that children return to camp,” he said.

Rabbi Paul Resnick, director of Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, requested more information about the potential market for Jewish camps and which parts of the country are ripe for growth.

Participants also discussed how to get Jewish day camps to serve as “feeders” into Jewish overnight camps.

Participants in the Fund-raising Academy are expected to put together and implement a plan that will not only close gaps in funding, but will set goals for the future.

Over the past five years, Grinspoon has committed $10.6 million in matching grants and more than $7 million in consulting services to helping Jewish camps raise money, improve their facilities and technology, and grow attendance.

Its mentors provide free consulting services to 75 Jewish camps around the country and six national camping organizations.

“We believe in the benefit of summer camp, and the Grinspoon Institute is putting its resources behind it,” said Mark Gold, director of the Grinspoon Institute, who attended the event on the Aidekman campus.

Camp directors were thrilled to hear from experts, including Fingerman and Rabbi Herb Tobin, a Grinspoon mentor. But they also appreciated the chance to spend time with colleagues.

“It’s not just the fund-raising piece; it’s the totality of the conference,” said Robinson. “[W]e don’t have enough of this — of meeting together. I already have four or five ideas, just from being together today. We learn from each other, because we’re all in the same business.”

Aaron Selkow, the new director of the Reform URJ Camp Harlam in Pennsylvania, thought the topic was exactly on point.

“This is huge for Camp Harlam,” which, he said, “is one of the largest Jewish camps in North America that has yet to create a culture of giving.”

“All the others that haven’t invested in institutional giving are either smaller or closed,” said Selkow. “We have high expectations because of the size of our camp and the constituency we serve.”

The institute will continue through March 2012.

“Our MetroWest initiative is the first where a federation is leading such a comprehensive approach on strengthening Jewish camp — going beyond recruiting, bringing our camps and national experts together to bring the camps’ fund-raising to a new level,” said Tracy Levine, manager of the Jewish Camp Enterprise.

Added Fingerman: “It’s something special when people are coming together and putting their parochial interests aside to think bigger and broader about what we’re doing.”

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