October 2014

JData Revealed: Day Camp—An Emerging Field

What is a day camp, and what makes a day camp Jewish? What can turn day camp work into a field of practice, and what data can support that effort?

Over the past year and a half, with grants from UJA-Federation of New York, JData pursued these questions. We developed a pilot for day camps and tested it with the 22 JCCs in the UJA-Federation day camp system. Based on lessons learned from this test and the input of a working group of UJA-Federation, JCC Association, and local JCC day camp professionals, we re-envisioned JData for the day camp world. We are now ready to launch JData's newest sector—Jewish day camps.

Day camp profile forms will be available after October 27, 2014. If you would like your day camp to gain the benefit of JData, contact Allyson Cartter (; 781-736-3941).

Location of JCCs in the New York Day Camp Pilot

To become a field of practice, Jewish day camp needs—among other structures—a standard definition, shared data, and a means to use the data to improve practice.

What's new in 2014-15? In designing the Summer 2014 day camp profile form, we started with practice and narrowed our sights to four principal tasks of day camp leadership:

  1. Grow enrollment.
  2. Build a strong staff team.
  3. Improve the bottom line.
  4. Enhance the camp's programs.

Key metrics followed: capacity utilization, retention rate, percentage of new campers, camper staff ratios, budget surplus (or deficit).

For each topic, we added inventories of best practices on the assumption that, over time, better practices will lead to improvements in core measures. We derived these practices from The Complete Guide to JCC Day Camp, published this year by the JCCs of North America.


In order to gather data from like entities, we had to define day camp. Surprisingly, no published definition exists, whether from camp associations, federations that support day camps, or local boards of health or other regulatory offices. Day camp obviously is a summer program, and it is not residential. But beyond that, what does day camp comprise?

With input from our advisory group, we arrived at the following working definition for day camp in general and Jewish day camp in specific.

Day camp refers to an entity that provides programs on a scheduled basis during the summer months with sessions that are minimally one week long. Campers may be of any age, from preschool through high school. Day camp programs may take place on a specified day camp property, in a host institution (e.g., a JCC or synagogue), and/or "on the road." Day camps are characterized by community building, group experiences, and activities that provide opportunity for personal development. Jewish day camps, in particular, are concerned not only with social, emotional, and physical development but also with Jewish identity development. Jewish day camps may serve both Jewish and non-Jewish children.

Distinguishing "Program" from "Camp."

A single day camp (whether part of a JCC, synagogue, day school, movement, or overnight camp) might offer ten, fifteen, or even twenty day camp programs, and the list of programs can change from year to year. Day camps differ from overnight camps in this regard and thus require a unique structure for their data.

All totaled, the 22 New York JCCs in our pilot test reported on 64 different camp programs in Summer 2013. Eight JCCs offer only one program; the others offer two to nine programs.

The programs are vastly diverse in terms of the size of their enrollments, staff, and budgets. The largest program, for example, serves 80 times more participants than the smallest. As well, the various programs offer different experiences: 44 are traditional camps; 20 are a rich set of speciality or travel camps. Programs also differ in terms of their setting, whether at the JCC, off-site, and/or on the road.

Location of New York Day Camp Programs


Seven of the 64 programs opened in the past four summers (2010-2013), suggesting a slow but steady rate of innovation.

What's new in 2014-15? The design of JData is based on the premise that the various day camp programs in each JCC should be branded, promoted and managed as the overall entity that offers them (i.e., "[Name of JCC] Day Camp"). JData thus provides a single profile form for each day camp, with adequate space for data on each of the camp's individual programs.


Growing enrollment is one of the principal tasks of camp leadership. Relevant data include numbers on recruitment, retention, and financial aid. In New York, for example, we can see that the peak audience for day camp is children entering Grades 1 to 4. We learned that 70% of eligible campers return the following year. We also learned that camp staff do not know where most of the other 30% go. The camps are rarely at full capacity, which suggests a need not only for expanded recruitment but also for increased attention to the retention of individual campers.

All totaled, some $4.4M in financial assistance was disbursed in Summer 2013. On average, 20% of campers received some type of financial assistance. Financial aid is critical for enrollment, but it is not always sufficient or determinant. Based on 60 reporting programs, almost 400 children requested and were offered financial assistance but did not enroll at camp. Camps might want to seek out additional information about these potential campers in the future.

What's new in 2014-15? The 2014-15 day camp profile form includes an inventory of best practices in recruitment and retention. Over time, the impact of improved practices should be seen in numbers such as total enrollment capacity utilization, retention rate, and the like.

Profit and Loss

Aggregated data show where the day camp sits within its agency. New York's pilot results, for example, suggest that the day camps are financially important to their JCCs although their importance is not always seen in the agencies' governance, strategic planning, or fundraising.

  • Day camp accounts for a significant portion of the JCCs' total budget. In the 18 reporting JCCs, day camp budgets were, on average, 12% of the total JCC budget. Overall within the community, day camps generate significant revenue for their sponsoring agencies.
  • Eight of the 22 JCCs have both a strategic plan and a development plan that includes day camp. Seven JCCs have either a strategic or a development plan that includes day camp, but not both. The remaining six JCCs do not have such plans or the plans they have do not explicitly include their day camp.
  • 15 of the 22 JCCs have an annual campaign, but only four have a special appeal or fund designated for their day camp. The numbers for endowment funds are smaller but show a similar pattern.
  • 12 of the 22 JCCs have some form of lay leadership for their day camp, either a camp committee of the board or a trustee who holds a day camp portfolio or serves as a representative of or liaison to the day camp.

What's new in 2014-15? JData provides a forum for tracking these numbers in local communities and in the field more broadly. The numbers can be used to monitor profit and loss and to advocate for the day camp within its particular agency.


Enhancing the camp's programs is another principal task of day camp leadership. In a Jewish context this refers to the quality of the Jewish experiences provided.

The New York day camp programs generally serve a mixed population. The majority of programs estimate that fewer than 70% of their campers are Jewish. At the extremes, 13 of the 64 programs report fewer than half of their campers are Jewish; 9 report that 90% or more are Jewish. There appears to be ample opportunity to grow the camps' capacity to help children of all backgrounds to experience and appreciate Jewish life.

  • 14 of the 64 programs have a curriculum for the Jewish learning experiences they provide, and 15 have space dedicated to Jewish-related activities.
  • Over one-third of the programs have no Jewish specialists on staff (including Jewish song leader, Israel educator, Hebrew language educator, prayer leader, or Judaic specialist). The others have between one and five of these staff positions.
  • The most common Jewish activities in the New York day camp programs are related to Jewish values, Shabbat, and Israeli dancing.

What's new in 2014-15? The best practices inventory on the Program tab in the day camp profile form offers 18 ways that a camp might enhance its programming, including the Jewish component. The inventory is intended not only as a self-assessment but also as an inspiration for new thinking.

The View from the Community

Jill Mendelson
Interim Managing Director, Jewish Communal Network Commission
UJA-Federation of New York

Good data is one of the keys to measuring the success of Jewish day camps, and to discovering where programs and business practices may fall short and need strengthening. As a funder, UJA-Federation is working with its network of affiliated Jewish community centers to collect and organize data on day camp services and utilization through JData. The next stage of work will be to analyze the information—for individual JCCs and for the network of 23 JCCs with day camp programs. This communal effort to take a critical look at day camp programs and operations, and to benchmark with others in the field, will lead to stronger and more effective JCCs and Jewish day camps. UJA-Federation is in a unique position to provide leadership to this effort and to convene network agencies in pursuit of this common cause.

JData | Brandeis University

Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies
415 South Street | Mailstop 014
Waltham, MA 02453-2728

Contact Us

Ph: 781-736-3941