Sometimes the expenses associated with camp can be absolutely overwhelming. You’ve got money going in and money going out and it’s not so easy keeping track. What makes matters worse is that most churches have a line item in their budget for camp. A lump sum of money. But that’s it. The problem is that your line item for camp isn’t enough. Camp needs it’s own budget so you know if you’re over, under or right on track. I hope to simplify this for you a little.

First of all, you need to decide if camp is designated as a break-even or if it’s going to lose money. Obviously, you have to plan this when you’re setting your annual budget. In order to keep camp tuition affordable, you may have to consider underwriting some of the expenses. At my last church, we’d budget a $15,000 loss for camp every year. This allowed us to keep camp at the $200 price per kid without sacrificing the quality of the camp. However, my current church runs break-even camps. We have to bring in as much as we spend. So, we literally create a budget per kid.

Managing Camp Expenses

Here’s what it looks like for our elementary camp we’re planning right now.

We’re taking 125 kids. The camp were attending gives us free tuition per leader for every 7 kids we take.

$279.00 Tuition (cost the camp is charging us per kid)

$0.00 Leader Cost (since this camp covers our leaders, this is zero. If your camp doesn’t cover your leader cost, take the total cost for your leaders and divid it by the number of kids you’re bringing. That’s your “leader cost.” If this camp didn’t cover this expense, it would cost us an extra $40 per kid to cover the leaders.)

$31.20 Bus Cost (We’re taking three 48 passenger busses. We take the total cost and divide it by the 125 kids coming to camp)

$2.32 Insurance Cost (We pay some extra insurance through our provider to cover any major issues that could arise at camp. It’s not much, but we budget for it.

$8.50 Shirts (We want every kid to have a shirt for camp. We take our total shirt cost and divide it by 125 – this total cost includes the leader shirts)

$10.00 Buffer (This helps cover incidentals. We’ll treat our leaders to snacks, have some other miscellaneous expenses or just need some extra room if registrations don’t go exactly the way we planned.

$321.02 Total Cost This is what it will cost per kid. This covers all of our expenses for our upcoming summer camp. Pretty simple, right?

Now, if you want to do some special things, you just have to build it into the cost per kid budget. Maybe you want to do camp SWAG like T-shirts, bracelets and other things like that. Figure out how much that’s going to cost and divide it by the number of kids. Same goes for marketing. If you’re not going to pay for marketing through another account, budget how much designs, signs, videos and printing is going to cost and divide that by the number of kids attending. Once you know these numbers, write them down and know that you only have this much money to spend on SWAG, leader gifts or marketing. After this, you’re going to be over budget.

You can see why many churches underwrite some of the expenses, it doesn’t take long for the tuition to get pretty expensive. ***

*One question you need to ask before you launch registration. When parents pay for camp via credit card, the church is charged credit card transaction fees. You need to ask about who is covering these fees. In some cases, the church absorbs these fees. If the church isn’t, you need to budget for it. For my camp, I can expect around $800 in credit card fees. That’s an extra $6 per kid. It’s not much, but ending up $800 over budget is not good.

Managing Camp Income

I know that my camp actually costs $321.02 per kid, which includes a $10 per kid buffer, or $1250 overall. So is $321.02 the price for camp?

Of course not.

Well, we could make $321.02 the price for camp and here is what is going to happen. Twenty percent of families will register early in the registration process and 80% will register in the final 7 days which will only totally stress you and your staff out. You’ll be looking at the $40K bill that’s due shortly and wondering if everyone is actually going to sign up. You’ll be hoping, praying and fasting that parents won’t forget. You’ll spend the last several weeks (when you should be making final camp preparations) calling parents to remind them to sign up.

I don’t have time for that.

Here’s what I do, which I reference in this post about incentivized deadlines.

I hold a one day only sale when registration opens. It will be the best price possible. We’ll promote HUGE to get as many parents to sign up at this point. For this day, the price for camp may be as low as $300. Yes, we’ll take a $20 loss on every kid who registers at this price. A $20 loss is about as low as I want to go, but depending on the situation, I might even go as far as $25 or $30. You just have to do the math.

Won’t you end up losing a TON of money and go way over budget?

No. If 60% of my kids register on this first day, which is a really good percentage, I’ll be down $1500.

Once the one day sale is over, the price will go up $50 to $350. It’s still a very good price for a 5 day camp. It’s $30 more than my cost. If the remainder of my kids sign up at this price, the extra $30 per kid equals $1500. Boom. I’m back at my budget.

I actually raise the price of camp one more time for the last month. It will be another $25 at $375.

When I first did this pricing model 3 years ago, here’s what happened:

  • 50% registered on the first day
  • 40% registered the next two months
  • 10% registered the final month

Every year, more people registered earlier. This last year, this is what happened:

  • 60% registered on the first day
  • 30% registered the next two months
  • 10% registered the final month

Even though 60% got such a good deal, we still ended up in the black.

So, simplify your budget. Know what you need to spend and stick to it. Motivate your parents to save money and you’ll take the pressure off the weeks leading up to camp.