Transforming Jewish Summer Camps: Report from the 2017 JCamp 180 Conference

Winnie Sandler Grinspoon, President of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, and Gary Weiss, recipient of the JCamp 180 Outstanding Philanthropist Award. Photo courtesy Harold Grinspoon Foundation.

This past weekend, more than 400 leaders from nonprofit Jewish camps and other organizations gathered in Springfield, Massachusetts, for professional development and to learn strategies to help the camps they lead to thrive. The leaders were hosted by JCamp 180™, a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, for its 13th annual conference.

Each year, the conference exposes professional and lay leaders of Jewish overnight and day camps to best practices in areas that will help them better sustain their camps. With a conference theme of “Networking,” experienced leaders conducted more than 60 workshops that guided participants in discussions on topics that covered all six of JCamp 180’s areas of focus: board development, governance, strategic planning, fundraising, enrollment, and the effective use of technology to further the mission of the organization.

“For many in the Jewish community, camp is a special place that enriches their identity and creates friendships for life,” said Harold Grinspoon, the founder of the JCamp 180 program. “It’s vitally important for these organizations to spend time focusing on their management and sustainability processes. Making it possible for these camp leaders to interact with one another and hear from leaders in their field is among the best investments I make.”

This year’s conference was a day longer than in previous years, providing more time for both formal and informal networking opportunities, including a dinner at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Attendees took part in training sessions, workshops, and speaking programs geared to help nonprofit camps better manage their operations.

“I’ve been attending JCamp 180 conferences for eight years,” said Stefan Teodosic, the executive director of Beber Camp, Perlman Camp, and the Perlman Retreat Center at Beber Camp, “and each year I make new contacts and learn something new.”

Keynote speakers included Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism; Doron Krakow, president and CEO of the JCC Association of North America; Danny Herz, director of URJ 6 Points Sports Academy; and Andrés Spokoiny, president and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network.

The conference was highlighted by the presentation of awards to individuals and camps that demonstrated outstanding achievements in the leadership of Jewish camps throughout North America. This year’s award winners included:

  • Gary Weiss (Camp Stone, PA) – Outstanding Philanthropist Award
  • Janice Brumer (URJ Camp Kalsman, WA) – Outstanding Board Leadership Award
  • Marsha Rothpan (Shalom Institute and Camp JCA Shalom, CA) – Outstanding Development Professional Award
  • Camp Ramah in Wisconsin – Gail Littman Memorial Legacy Stewardship Award
  • Camp Tawonga (CA) – Impact in Technology Award

Rabbi Bradley Solmsen, executive director of Surprise Lake Camp, expressed the feelings of many of the conference attendees, saying, “We have been a proud recipient of JCamp 180’s support for more than a decade and are so grateful for the resources, guidance, and funding they have provided. They continue to find thoughtful and innovative ways to help the entire Jewish camping field achieve its full potential.”

Since its formation in 2004, JCamp 180 has provided free training and support to the boards of directors and professional leadership of nonprofit Jewish overnight and day camps throughout the US and Canada. JCamp 180 works with the leadership teams of 116 camps, with the goal of helping organizations attract campers by improving their facilities, using technology and social media more effectively, and raising funds for scholarships, capital improvements, and endowments.

In addition to providing mentoring services to client camps, the JCamp 180 program directs matching grants from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation to support each participating camp’s implementation of its strategic plan. Over the past 13 years, the Foundation’s challenge grants have contributed more than $16 million in matching grant funds to the participating camps. These participating camps have raised more than $85 million in response to challenge grants and another $230 million on their own, funds that have been used in areas not traditionally funded by tuition payments, such as capital improvements, expansions, and endowments.

This emphasis on upgrading infrastructure has played an important role in helping Jewish camp attendance across North America grow from 43,000 campers in 2004, to 73,000 campers today. Matching fund contributions complement the services provided by JCamp 180 mentors, which collectively have been valued at more than $15 million. This support equates to more than 100,000 hours of consultant involvement with Jewish children’s overnight and day camps since 2004.

“JCamp 180 has played a major role in transforming nonprofit Jewish camps into more professional and sophisticated organizations,” says Mark Gold, Director of the JCamp 180 program. “This program has helped participating nonprofit Jewish camps raise more money in the last thirteen years than they had in the previous four decades, enabling them to better compete with other nonprofit and for-profit camps. Our conference provides three days for the leaders of these important institutions to focus on assuring that their organizations remain the preferred institutions to attract and train the next generation of Jewish leaders.”