They’re Already Getting Ready for Camp


Bundling up in scarves and sweaters may not get you thinking about sleeping in a bunk in the middle of July, but for the leaders of many Jewish summer camps, it’s never too early to start planning for the summer.

Directors, lay leaders and strategic planners from camps such as Camp Ramah, Camp Galil, Pinemere Camp, URJ Harlam and more met for the annual JCamp 180 Conference in Springfield, Mass. from Nov. 1 to Nov. 2 to discuss fundraising, planned giving and technological strategies.

JCamp 180 is a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, which many may be familiar with because of its PJ Library program. This year’s theme was “Year-Round and Lifelong: Connect, Engage and Inspire,” and sessions and workshops were held throughout the gathering to discuss the conference’s core focuses, which are, according to its website: fundraising, board development, strategic planning and technology.

As a former Ramah camper himself, Rabbi Joel Seltzer, executive director of Camp Ramah in the Poconos, knows that camp is important, or as he exclaimed, it’s the “most important.”

Now, he works to ensure that the experience is just as good for other campers as it had been for him, which includes helping them create a sense of independence and “creativity that is free from your iPhone.”

A key takeaway for him from the conference sessions he attended — a few of which focused on fundraising strategies — was the need to create relationships with donors that aren’t “transactional.”

The workshops aimed to help leaders learn to not be afraid to ask for gifts but also to help the donors understand why they’re giving, and hopefully want to give on their own.

“It’s not all about the money; it’s about relationships,” Seltzer said.

This also helps create a culture of philanthropy, he added.

Of the lessons he learned, one that stood out to him was understanding “what are the steps you, as an organization, need to take to change the tone from, ‘We need your money, please support us’ to creating the culture of self-driven philanthropy — saying, ‘Of course I want to support Camp Ramah in the Poconos,’ and in what ways do you create that culture,” he said.

This was the fifth time David Weiss attended JCamp 180, but it was the first time he attended as part of Camp Galil.

Weiss, executive director of the camp, said the conference has always been a great way to learn new strategies and find opportunities that have allowed them to “build and grow the camp.”

The key benefit of the conference, Weiss added, is the chance to “build relationships with the wider Jewish camping community and remain knowledgeable about the practices in the field, and the newest and most innovative things that are happening in Jewish camping.”

Getting together with all the other camps from the Philadelphia area was a highlight for Seltzer.

“There’s something really lovely about all of us getting together and being seen as a Philadelphia community,” he said. “That’s extremely helpful for us in terms of networking and feeling part of the team, all in this holy work in creating the next generation of Jewish leadership and that’s reflected in the conference as well.”

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