Aim for Quality
By Mark D. Burkhardt, Director for Outdoor Ministries
The story is familiar to most outdoor ministry boards – aging facilities, deferred maintenance, changing programs, new regulatory requirements and never enough money. Do we repair or rebuild? Where will we find the necessary resources? These and other related questions challenge boards as they seek to provide a quality retreat or camping experience. In the process of deliberation, board members are faced with some very difficult decisions. So here are a few suggestions.
First, please understand that the condition of your facilities matter. I have talked with many parents, pastors and youth leaders over the years who assure me that their impressions of your ministry are based on both program quality and the condition of your buildings and grounds. In many ways one impression informs the other. The good news is that a strong, quality program can help to overcome some facility shortfalls. However, some things should be non-negotiable when it comes to maintaining your buildings and grounds; health, safety and cleanliness.
So, if you have limited resources and can’t afford a major renovation, then spend your dollars on health, safety and cleanliness. Make sure that all of your facilities are thoroughly clean – to the eye, touch and nose. Take care of cob webs, dirty floors, torn mattress covers, broken floor tiles, moldy showers, leaky roofs, beat up furniture, etc…. Give everything a fresh coat of paint or stain. Clean up the site by eliminating junk piles and broken down vehicles. Put some mulch on your pathways, fill in the worst potholes, plant some flowers and clear the brush around buildings. Tear down any old, abandoned buildings. Show your constituency that you are committed to making improvements and that you care about your facilities. It doesn’t matter whether it’s children, youth, adults or families, everyone who participates in your program deserves clean, healthy and safe accommodations.
Then, while you are doing your best to maintain what you have, begin planning for the more extensive work that remains. Start by taking a complete inventory of the facilities you have, including making an accurate map of your property, building locations and utility lines. Hire an engineering firm to produce an accurate digitalized map. The investment will pay huge dividends for many years, and really won’t cost that much to complete. Then, begin to develop a list of priorities based on your current and future program requirements. You should give serious consideration to engaging the services of a landscape architect to create a master site plan. Your local government may also require you to file a master site plan before doing any significant site improvements. Then it’s a matter of establishing a phased plan of development and raising the necessary funds. Again, an experienced financial development consultant can help you to organize for a successful campaign.
Aim for quality in all these efforts. Use quality building materials, manufactured for heavy duty, commercial applications. Design buildings and rooms so that they can be easily cleaned. Visit other camps and retreat centers and establish a benchmark for your center. Make sure that your annual budget includes adequate funds for routine maintenance and cleaning. Invest in training your site and facilities staff. Hire consultants and outside contractors with experience in designing and building for your kind of facility.
Like it or not, your board will be evaluated by your ability to care for the site and facilities of your outdoor ministry organization. The impressions that people form about your ministry will be based on your program and your facilities. So commit today to health, safety, cleanliness and quality in the care of your buildings and grounds.