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Specialty Camps Incubator: An Enduring Legacy for Campers & The Field of Jewish Camp


In 2008, the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) set out to answer a question: How could the field of Jewish camp attract and retain more teen campers?

What if, posited FJC, new Jewish camps offering teen programs that dove deep into a specialty area could attract new campers and simultaneously increase the capacity of the Jewish camp field? After researching this concept, FJC believed a new specialty camp model had potential to connect with a new market of Jewish campers if given financial and capacity-building support. With support from funders, the FJC Specialty Camps Incubator was born. Over the course of 11 summers, 13,000 campers—many of whom had never been to camp—attended 15 new specialty summer camps incubated by FJC.

The thousands of new campers are a crowning achievement of the Incubator’s success. Between 2008 and 2021, Jim Joseph Foundation and AVI CHAI Foundation dedicated $30 million to underwrite the start-up of these new camps and provide mentoring and consultative support as the camp directors developed the foundations for their new camps. The new camps were designed with intentionality, from their mission and vision to their values and intended outcomes. The Incubator staff and consultants worked with the camp directors to build their organizations’ capacity in areas of leadership, personnel, marketing, board development, finance, and programming.

Throughout the Incubator’s three cohorts, FJC partnered with Informing Change to independently evaluate the Incubator as a model and then evaluate and support ongoing learning for camps. This brief describes the primary takeaways from the wealth of data Informing Change gathered while monitoring and studying the Incubator—including camper surveys, camper and parent interviews, and camp observations—during this 13-year investment. As the Incubator progressed, so too did the scope and volume of data collection and analysis. Thus, many data points in this brief are described in ranges to represent the entire investment. In some instances, Informing Change provides data from one Incubator cohort which exemplifies trends observed in other cohorts.