Sprucing Up Overnight Summer Camps for Children


By Melanie Grayce West | Wall Street Journal

HAROLD GRINSPOON HOPES TO PRESERVE OVERNIGHT SUMMER CAMP experience for children. Mr. Grinspoon, an 81-year-old Massachusetts real-estate entrepreneur, is giving matching gift grants through his Grinspoon Institute for Jewish Philanthropy, a program of his foundation.

The grants are up to $54,000 each to seven non-profit Jewish camps based in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. In total, Mr. Grinspoon is giving $1 million in matching grants this year to 18 camps in the U.S. and in Canada.

"I thought that camping, children being together and having an informal education in a summer environment of fun and being outdoors, is a very positive experience," says Mr. Grinspoon.

The matching gift grants are designed to help the camps shore up their own fund-raising efforts. The Grinspoon Institute also provides a mentor to help with board development and technology assistance to help the camps use social media to reach out to potential campers. The camps have a year to take advantage of the matching funds and grants are to be used for scholarships or improvements to the facility.

The grants especially help in sprucing up bunks, common areas and kitchens-places where parents take note when shopping around for a summer camp. "We call it the mothers' test," says Mark Gold, director of the Grinspoon Institute.

"It is a competitive business," admits Mr. Gold. "If you're a nonprofit camp, you're competing with specialty sports camps. Some camps are for-profit camps and pour big money into their facilities."

Camp Young Judaea Sprout Lake in Verbank, N.Y., is again this year a recipient of a Grinspoon Institute grant. Over the years, the matching gifts have enabled the camp to create a culinary studio, a fine arts studio, health center and to renovate four cabins. The camp is 35 years old.

This year, Sprout Lake will renovate its camp gathering spot where children meet nightly for songs. The grants have "completely changed the landscape of the camp facility and program," says camp director Helene Drobenare.

The matching gifts challenge has made it easier to fundraise and "excited people that we didn't even think were capable of giving," says Ms. Drobenare. "It's like a coupon. They feel like they're getting more for their donation."

Since 2005, the Grinspoon Institute has given about $10.5 million in matching grants to camps. Those camps have, in turn, been able to use that money to raise more than $60 million on their own. "I like to get a return on my investment in business, and I pride myself on getting a return on my investment in my philanthropy," says Mr. Grinspoon.