What Might Your Board Members Learn from Visiting Other Camps?

Yogi Berra, the great New York Yankee catcher, once said “You can observe a lot just by watching.” 
With that as our guide, JCamp 180 is running a pilot program this summer to encourage board members to do both watching and learning from other camps. We’re calling it our Board to Board summer visit program through which we are encouraging board members to see, and talk to, the board members of camps that are, or have addressed the same issues they face. By helping match camps for optimal learning opportunities and providing a financial subsidy for travel to visit other camps, JCamp 180 hopes to foster beneficial peer-to-peer board learning.
What Might Boards Learn from Camp Visits?
Before starting to work on a new strategic plan, Pam Passman, then Herzl Camp’s Board Chair, and Jennifer Lang, then Chair of the Strategic Planning Committee, took to the road to visit three other Jewish overnight camps: URJ OSRUI, Beber Camp and Camp Chi. The purpose of the trip was to gain a new perspective on camp programs and operations before focusing in on Herzl Camp’s strategic direction. They packed their husbands, car snacks, and an open mind as they drove from camp to camp. Pam and Jennifer found it very helpful, and they both highly recommend the experience for other Board members. 
To gain a better understanding of Herzl Camp’s experience with their camp-to-camp visits, we asked Pam Passman a few questions:
Q: What made visiting three other Jewish camps useful to Herzl Camp? 
Pam: “The timing [that summer] was right for us. We were just ramping up our strategic planning efforts, and thanks to our Mentor’s encouragement, we did the trip at a time when it was very beneficial. It gave us many ideas for how to think about the areas we were focused on in our Strategic Plan in programming, Judaics and inclusion and some areas we had not yet even thought about.”
Q: Do you have a tip for others who are thinking of visiting other camps? 
Pam: “Ensure the other camps are open to your visits and call ahead - all three camps that we visited were extremely open and welcoming, with their directors spending a couple of hours with us.”
Q: Who should go on the visit to other camps?
Pam: “It was great to go with two of us [board members]. We were able to talk about what we saw and develop our ideas together. One thing that would have made our trip even better would to have had Gary [our Camp’s Executive Director] with us. But that is inherently a challenge, as directors and executive directors don’t want to leave their camps during the summer. So we acted as proxy, but it may have been even better with Gary.”
As their Mentor, I found Pam and Jennifer’s experience and newly gained insights to be very help. One benefit of strategic planning is raising your perspective beyond your own organization. Sometimes the best way to think about other approaches for your camp is just to go see it in action for yourself.
We hope our new Board to Board summer visit program will help camps make the connection with a peer camp and – like Pam and Jennifer at Herzl Camp – gain some new perspective for whatever challenge they are facing. 
Interested in funding to support inter-camp visits between board members?  Please contact your camp’s Mentor for more information and an application.

Written by Julia Riseman. Julia is a Mentor with JCamp 180. Julia leads Data2Donors, a program to advance Alumni Outreach, improve camp databases, and raise more major gifts, and Fundraising Fundamentals. Julia has also sparked the creation of many JCamp 180 programs and offerings, including this blog.

Who we are: JCamp 180 is a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation (HGF). Our goal is to significantly enhance the long-term effectiveness of nonprofit Jewish camps in North America. To meet this goal, we provide affiliated Jewish camps with consulting services, annual conferences, shared resources, professional development, and matching grant opportunities. Find more at