Starting a business

How to start a summer camp | Licenses, grants, and more

Summer camp is a great opportunity for educators to share their love of learning with children in a less formal environment than traditional school and extracurricular activities. If you are interested in starting a camp for kids, first of all, congrats! It is an incredibly enriching and rewarding experience running a summer camp. 

But, before you can start welcoming children and counselors, there are a fair number of steps you need to take. In this article, we’ll outline how to start a summer camp and include information on requirements and licenses that you might need as well as how you can apply for grants to help with funding. Looking for more support to jumpstart your camp? Check out our ultimate guide to starting and running a kids camp.

How to start a summer camp

What do I need to start a summer camp?

Starting a summer camp takes time and effort, but the end result is worth it. Here are some of the important elements you will need to start a summer camp.

How to start a day camp or a sleepaway camp

  1. A business plan. Before you start any type of venture, you need to outline what, why, and how you are creating this business. For a summer camp, you need to decide what type of camp you will run - virtual, day, or sleepaway - as well as if you will focus on a topic like STEM or sports or if you will keep it general. Review our step-by-step guide to learn about how to create a business plan.
  2. Required certifications. Each state is different, so it’s important to do research to learn about the summer camp safety procedures and certifications needed for your state.
  3. A site or equipment for virtual camp. If you are planning to start a day camp or a sleepaway camp, then you need to have a physical location for your camp. If you are going to run a virtual camp, then you need equipment for filming virtual activities. Check out our tips for live streaming on Zoom.
  4. A budget. A thorough budget, which includes food, transportation, and staff costs, is a must when starting a summer camp or any business. Review our guide on how to create a budget for a small business to help you get started.
  5. Insurance. Property, general liability, worker’s compensation, health, vehicle, and personal property are all types of insurance that most camps consider to cover their operations. Review our article to learn more about summer camp insurance types. Then, speak with an insurer to get started.
  6. Risk management and safety. Knowledge of the potential risks that come with running a summer camp will help you prepare for and hopefully avoid potential issues. Camp security, crisis response planning, and staff risk management training are all important elements to running a safe camp.
  7. Staff. How will you find, hire, and train your staff? This includes counselors as well as nurses, administrators, maintenance, and kitchen staff. Review our guide on hiring for a small business so you can learn best practices for sourcing talent, then check out our camp counselor training guide to get an understanding of training agendas and activities. Make sure you also take into consideration work culture and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices for your summer camp.
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Do summer camps need to be licensed?

Yes, summer camps need to be licensed before they can become functional. However, exactly what is needed varies by state. Luckily, the American Camp Association (ACA) has compiled a list of each state’s required licenses and laws. You can learn which licenses, background checks, pay requirements, and other working requirements like rest/meal periods are needed for your state.

Grants for summer camp

Now that you know some of the logistics of how to start a summer camp, it is time to think about finances. Starting a business of any kind is expensive, but especially if you are looking to start a day camp or sleepaway camp that requires renting or buying land, the costs add up.

Grants are a great way to mitigate some of the cost of starting a summer camp. We’ll break down the different types of grants for summer camp so that you can find which ones work best for your business.

Federal grants

Most of the time, federal grants are reserved for nonprofit and educational organizations. Therefore, if you are running a camp focused on serving a specific population or teaching a specific topic, these might be a good fit for you. To narrow down your research and save time, focus on looking for federal grants covering your topic or camper demographic. 

City and state grants

Check out what grants are offered by the state and city in which you will run your camp. Many states and cities offer grants to organizations that support youth programming and enrichment programs for children. If you are interested in starting a camp in New York City, you can use the New York City Grant Watch to find opportunities for funding. 

Scholarship grants

These are specific grants to help make camp financially accessible to more children. Often, these are scholarships that camp owners can apply for and then offer to families. If you are planning to become an ACA-accredited camp, which is recommended, they offer a camper scholarship program that is easy to implement.

Grants for supplies

Purchasing everything you need to keep children entertained and having fun for a whole summer can be costly. We recommend looking into local businesses to see if they will donate supplies or money to pay for supplies. By keeping it local, you can build strong connections with your surrounding community.

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Summer camp grant proposal

Now that you have an understanding of the available grants for summer camps, you need to learn how to write a grant proposal. Almost all grant proposals are organized in the same format, however, it is vital that you check the instructions and requirements for each individual grant in case they have any differences.

In general, grant proposals need the following items to be considered:

  1. Cover letter (Review our full guide with information on how to write a strong cover letter for grant proposals)
  2. Table of contents
  3. Executive summary (See our guide to learn how to write an executive summary for grant proposals)
  4. Statement of need (also known as a problem statement)
  5. Project description
  6. Goals and objectives
  7. Methods, timelines, and other project management related plans
  8. Staffing information

When you write your summer camp grant proposal, make sure you are as specific as possible. Don’t just copy the proposal and replace the name of the organization. Instead, personalize each section so that it speaks to the organization’s mission, values, and goals for the grant. This might take more time on the writing and planning side, but it will increase your chances of winning the grant, so it is a good investment.

Photo of summer camp grant proposal

Starting a summer camp is a lot of work, but watching the campers smile and make memories that will last a lifetime is worth it. If you are looking to spend less time on administrative tasks and more time on the fun side of running a camp, Sawyer is the best camp registration and management software for both in-person and online summer camps. 

With our suite of tools, like signup forms to record allergies and t-shirt sizes, various payment options like gift cards and installment plans, and seamless registration on any device, Sawyer saves camp owners 28 hours per month. Learn how Sawyer can help with a free trial or demo.

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