I have the great privilege of reading all kinds of information sent to me from many Jewish Camps all across North America. Not surprisingly, I typically spend about 2 seconds skimming a camp newsletter before deleting it.
So when I found myself stopping to read the updates that B'nai B'rith Camp (BB Camp) Executive Director Michelle Koplan sends to her Board each week, I figured she must been onto something. I interviewed her and one of her Board members about her approach. I hope you will discuss implementing something similar at your camp.
*Note: You can find two recent examples of Michelle's updates here and here.
Julia Riseman (JR): Michelle, I've been getting your email updates from BB Camp that you send to your Board each and every week. They are very impressive; mostly because of the shear volume of activities camp is doing each week. Can you please tell me a little about what motivated you to start writing these?
Michelle Koplan (MK): I needed an easy way to update the Board without waiting to report at Board meetings. BB Camp became independent in 2009, and our new Board had to focus on many things all at the same time, such as developing governance from scratch, strategic planning, and undertaking a major Capital Campaign to rebuild the entire campus. These email updates were one way of freeing up time at Board meetings, as well as engaging the Board in all the new developments happening at BB Camp.
JR: Who gets these updates?
MK: I send the Notes to both Boards of Directors [Michelle directly reports to an Operating Board, BB Camp LLC, and the Parent Organization Owner Board, B'nai B'rith Men's Camp Association Board], all Committee Chairs and Committee members, Camp's Professional Staff, the Federation CEO, and several community lay leaders and/or donors, including you, Julia, at JCamp 180.
JR: I know that BB Camp has evolved very fast over the past five years, and many in the community were slow to realize the extent of your programming. Is that another reason that motivated you to start sending weekly updates?
MK: I've found that it is an easy way to educate the community and even our staff about who we are and what we do. And, yes, I think it is helpful in having folks understand us better as an agency.
JR: There is so much information in your updates! Is it time consuming to put it all together in one place each week?
MK: It is a commitment from my staff and from me to produce these notes, but I use them two-fold-first to keep the Boards and our lay leaders informed, and second, I also use this as a tool to supervise my growing staff. I ask my staff to email me weekly notes regarding their projects, highlights of their work, and weekly tasks. I then take all of their notes, plus additional information that I've collected for the week, and synthesize it into this email update. At the end of the year, I have a collection of everything we've done, which helps me to produce my Executive Director annual report to the Board and donors. So, although time consuming, it is time well spent.
JR: What is the structure you use for the Updates?
MK: I typically follow the same format weekly, which includes:
JR: What has the reaction been so far from your Board?
- General News (including next Board meeting, kudos and/ or thank you's to specific folks for something special they have done or participated in, links to interesting camp related articles, etc.)
- Registration, Recruitment, & Retention (Including registration numbers, incentive grants awarded, financial aid awarded, reports and presentations or recruitment events)
- Upcoming Engagement Programs & Recruitment Presentations (including all of our year-round camp in the city and weekend events at Camp for youth and adults, alumni programs, fundraising events, and recruitment presentations)
- Development (including grants, details on fundraising and alumni events, capital campaign, etc.)
- Communications (including recent published posts, articles, and videos about BB Camp)
- Facilities & Retreats (including mini reports on which retreats we hosted, how many guests we served, and anything relevant about the facilities)
- I also always try to attach a photo from camp, flyer or save the date about an upcoming event.
MK: Why don't you ask one of them yourself?
JR: Hello, Steve Rudolph. First, thank you for serving on the BB Camp Board. I want to know what you think of the weekly updates that Michelle sends out each week?
Steve Rudolph (SR): I think the updates are an excellent proactive communication vehicle to keep all board members up-to-date on camp activities.
JR: How does it help you as a Board member? Can you give an example?
SR: It allows me to be educated on recent activities; as I am socializing within BB Camp circles during the week I am able to talk and interact with other fellow Board members and supporters from an informed perspective. This also allows me to seek additional support from external resources on ongoing projects that I have been made aware of.
JR: What other thoughts would you like to share?
SR: I think Michelle and her staff and the BB Camp Board are doing an excellent job. This communication tool is just one of the examples of the team being creative and proactive in their approach to reaching out to the community.
*Reminder: You can find two recent examples of Michelle's updates here and here.
How does your camp keep your Board and other stakeholders up to date on the progress (and needs) of camp?