Don't Put Your Eggs in One Financial Basket

By Jaynie Schultz, co-founder, Retreat Central

Almost every financial manager will advise you not to invest your money in a single stock - diversification is always promoted as a best practice for long-term financial well-being. However, in the nonprofit world we hear the message of "do only what you do best." Rarely do nonprofits consider alternative funding options: individual donations, private foundation grants, government grants, non-camp income sources, etc.

How about Retreats?

For example, what about leveraging your camp's beautiful location and facilities to host retreats? Has your camp even considered this potential new funding opportunity?

During the summer, your camp facilities are thriving, filled with joy and learning. But after that last bus leaves, the staff packs up the place and - for many camps - there sits a multi-million dollar facility, unused for six-nine months, awaiting next year's program.

A few camps offer programs hosted by the camp as recruitment or community-based events.

A few more host weddings and b'nai mitzvah.

Ever rarer is the camp that hosts outside groups year- round or during the shoulder months before it is too cold.

The general reasoning for not opening to outside groups is the lack of financial resources and bandwidth of camp staff to market and manage a retreat business, and serve as "hoteliers" during the non-summer months.

Yet potentially millions of dollars are being left on the table and facilities are left empty for the majority of the year.

To Retreat or Not To Retreat?

How can camp leadership reconcile this paradox? How can a passionate Board, often comprised of camp alumni or parents, consider whether to offer retreats or not?

Below are some key questions to use as conversation starters.

  1. What are the costs/benefits of hosting outside groups?
    1. Consider the need for additional staff…and options to leverage existing resources. Could the summer kitchen, facilities and housekeeping staff be higher quality if they were year-round?
    2. How will overall costs be affected? For example, might camp benefit from economy of scale on food costs if purchases are year round
  2. Can your camp staff retreats effectively?
    • How will the director recruit and fundraise if they are working on retreats?  Can the summer business manager become a retreat director?
    • Who will do the sales and marketing for retreats?  Can the social media summer staff handle year-round promotion?  Are there ways to outsource the sales and marketing through companies like Retreat Central?
    • Who will manage on-site customer service for groups?  Is there anyone during the summer that shows sincere interest in the campers and guests that might be capable of managing groups year round?  If not, are there hotel schools or business management programs in the area that might partner for staff?
    • Does your property have service standards?  Does everyone know what the expectations are?  Are Standard Operating Procedures outlined and/or followed?
  3. What is the competitive landscape for retreats within your geographic boundaries?
    • Have nearby camps successful run a retreat business in the offseason?
    • Is there excess demand for additional retreat business in your geographic area?
    • Are there other camps you can speak with to learn more about the successes and lessons learned of running retreats at camp?
  4. Do the Board and other camp constituents have an interest in offering retreats?
    1. Does the Board have an appetite to think beyond summer?  Can additional dollars brought in through retreat sales be leveraged to enhance fundraising efforts?  Can new buildings be justified more easily if they produce revenue?
    2. Does the idea of year-round use fit the mission of the camp? Knowing that there will be groups that are not relevant to the mission as rentals, Does the potential additional revenue brought in (possibly from groups not relevant to the organizational mission) outweigh the concerns?
    3. Will the Board be able to support the Director in retreat oversight? Is there the ability to convene a retreat committee to assist in the work required of lay leaders regarding activities beyond the summer?
Bottom line: Almost all camps have the opportunity to generate revenue beyond the summer.  The key is to make sound business decisions just as you would any investment.  Thinking strategically about income diversification requires asking important questions about the camp, its mission, and its priorities.  Hopefully the questions documented here can help your Board decide how to proceed in the best interests in the long-term vitality of your camp.

Jaynie Schultz and Deb Williams own Retreat Central, a sales and marketing company dedicated to promoting locations for affordable group retreats. is the leading online directory for retreat locations.