Last year, I led a Next Generation Winter Camp that took nearly 500 kids (3rd – 12th grade) and their leaders over Martin Luther King weekend. It’s the largest camp I’ve ever led and it was amazing in so many ways. What I’m most proud of is what happened long before we loaded the busses. Although the camp was held the 2nd weekend in January, we opened registration on September 1st (over 4 months earlier). Over 60% of our participants registered on September 1st. We closed down registration on December 1st, six weeks before camp started, giving us ample time to make all the arrangements. Never had we been more prepared for a camp. Sound like a dream, doesn’t it?

This has not always been my camp registration experience. Just four years before, I executed a student camp where dozens of kids signed up the week before camp began with more than one student showing up at departure that we didn’t even know was coming. I even remember a very specific conversation with my assistant over 10 years ago (it was two weeks before camp) where she told me that she would resign if I let another kid register.

We all know what this is like. We have a hard time saying no, because we don’t want anyone to miss out on an amazing camp experience. We’re also looking at the camp bottom line and we know that every extra registration (even if it’s the week before) helps tremendously. Lastly, people will almost always register as late as possible. Our willingness to take registrations the week before camp enable this behavior. So, what’s the solution? How do you fight cultural procrastination?

Incentivize the registration process

Strategic pricing drives registration: For years, I’ve seen a lot of success with incremental pricing. The best price for camp is always the first month. I’d call this the early bird price. The regular price would always run for another month or so. Lastly, I’d have a late registration price. This would be the most expensive. These price differences are always at least $25. It’s enough to motivate people to register, especially if they have more than one kid.

Incremental pricing is an incentive. When the price of camp stays the same for three months, most of your parents will wait until the end to register. Why not? What’s the motivation for registering early? Most parents want to save money when possible, so they’ll elect to register when they can save some cash.

Strategic pricing also drives your marketing: When you have a camp registration open for several months, it becomes white noise. However, letting parents know that the “LOWEST PRICE OF CAMP EXPIRES THIS WEEKEND” catches attention. When I would look at registration patterns over the years, I’d see 80% of our registrations come in within a few days of a deadline. It’s the way people are wired and if you don’t understand this or arrange your pricing around this fact, you’ll have all your parents register at the last minute like they have been for years.

Scholarship requests are limited: We know that many families in our church also required financial assistance. Not everyone can afford camp and there are many people who will help get kids to camp who can’t afford to go. Several years ago, we even incentivized scholarships. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting a registration the week before camp from a kid who can’t afford to come. If only they had registered earlier, you could have found a scholarship. We fixed this situation by closing the scholarship request process early, typically a month or two from launch. All of our marketing drew attention to our price increases and deadlines, including the deadline for scholarships. This really works, and it allowed us to present a specific scholarship need to generous people who wanted to meet that need.

Take calculated risks: A couple of years ago, I took a crazy risk and actually stumbled into something that really works. My team had decided that we wanted to officially launch our Winter Camp registration at our Back to School Fall Kickoff. We wanted to make a big splash. We were also looking for an added incentive for people to attend our Fall Kickoff. So, we decided to offer a $50 discount only to families who attended the event. I figured that we’d have 75 kids sign up at the event. I was completely taken off guard when more than double that number registered at the event. Yes, this little trick cost us (you can do the math), but this was the first year where we saw more than 50% of our registrations come in on opening day. We were on to something. The next year, we adjusted our pricing so that the $50 discount didn’t equal a $50 loss. We had over 65% of registrations happen on the first day, we had a record number of families at our Fall Kickoff and we met our camp budget.

Every church believes their people have a “last-minute mentality.” Your church isn’t unique. This is they way people are wired. It’s why you get free trials for products and services, because very few people cancel in time. Executing a successful camp means not being overwhelmed with last-minute registrations. Employ strategic pricing and deadlines to help your parents sign up early. You can do it!

* I’m going to go ahead and answer the inevitable question. Is raising the price for no reason other than dates honest? Is it taking advantage of people’s flaws/tendencies? I understand that businesses employ such tactics, but should the church?

These are good questions. For me, it all comes down to stewardship. Last minute is always expensive. When we’re trying to “make something happen” we ultimately end up paying extra for “rush” fees, expedited shipping and other added costs. When we don’t know actual numbers until weeks before the event, we end up guessing which leads to waste because we’d rather have more than not enough. You also can’t put a price on your sanity. My assistant who threatened to resign if I let another kid register wasn’t kidding. It wasn’t respecting her time. Graduated pricing with firm deadlines allows us to save money, purchase exactly what we know we’re going to need and put the required energy into the experience rather than last minute registration emergencies. I’ve always structured our camps in such a way that the incremental pricing is still covering our costs. We’re not making money off of anyone.