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Making Camp a Priority, Part 1: How to Get Time Off For Camp This Summer

  Camp Promise-West, 2017.

Camp Promise-West, 2017.

Every year we hear from folks that they want to come to camp, but they just aren’t sure they can make it because they have to work. Well, we’re here to tell you that work doesn’t have to stand in the way of going to camp!

We understand taking off a week to volunteer is a big deal and a big sacrifice, but in our humble opinion, we think it’s so, so worth it. And the good news is, we know it’s totally possible. In 2017, 32% of our staff took time off from work to volunteer with us, and a few of those individuals even took off time to go to more than one Camp Promise!

So, this post is for anyone who wants to volunteer at camp but just isn’t sure how to swing it with work. We reached out to some veteran volunteers who juggle both work and camp to get some advice for those of you who want to take the plunge. Read on for some tips and tricks from the pros on how and when to ask for time off so you don’t miss another summer of Camp Promise.

When should you ask?
As with everything else in life, timing is everything. The number one suggestion from everyone we spoke with was the following: ASK EARLY! It’s best to give as much heads-up as possible instead of waiting until a couple of weeks before camp to ask. As soon as you know the camp dates (which we try to publish early each fall), put in your request.

This is important for two reasons. First, asking in advance gives your supervisor as much time as possible to prepare for your absence. “As a manager, I would rather know sooner rather than later so that I can work around them,” said Trisha, one of our camp nurses at Camp Promise-West. Plus, as an employee, this makes you look professional and on top of your schedule and work responsibilities.

And second, it’s important to ask early so that you can keep your commitment to camp. If you wait until two weeks before camp to ask for the time off and your supervisor says “No,” then you’ll have to call us at camp and tell us you can’t come. And we know you don’t want to have to do that. By that point, we won’t be able to find a replacement for you since our hiring process involves an application, interview, background check, etc. You know the drill. It’s not just a two-day process. So, be sure to ask early and before you commit to camp, so that you don’t leave a camper hanging.

How to make the ask?
What makes the ask for Camp Promise so unique is that you’ll be volunteering. It’s important to make sure you specify that you’ll be volunteering rather than laying on a beach for a week. Especially if you’re starting a new job and camp is within the first few weeks or month of your new gig. Going to camp is not a vacation, so it's not the same thing as asking for a week of vacation right as you begin a new job.

Don’t be afraid to let your boss know exactly what you’ll be doing at camp and the impact you’ll be having on our campers. “Let your boss know it is for a volunteer position and discuss what the camp is and why it is so important for volunteers. Once employers know why you’re requesting the time off and what camp is about, I find they are very accommodating,” says our ever-wise camp nurse, Trisha.  

Here’s a few more tips to keep in mind:

  1. Keep things positive. Instead of phrasing your ask as missing a week from work and being absent, use positive language to explain your passion for volunteering, your excitement for camp, how wonderful an opportunity this is, and why camp is so important to you.
  2. Be accommodating. No matter what the reason, being away from the office may result in your workload being transferred to others. Make it easier on your boss and coworkers by offering alternative times and dates to get your work done.
  3. Swap shifts. Some workforces use shift schedules. Make your ask before the shift schedule covering the week of camp gets created. You can also ask coworkers to swap shifts with you, just make you say thank you and help them out the next time!
  4. Relate it to your job. Don’t be afraid to tie volunteerism to your company’s values and to present it as an opportunity for your organization. There’s lots of research that shows volunteering can boost morale, workplace atmosphere and brand perception. Highlight how this is a win-win for both you and your manager. And, when you come back, make sure to share the outcome of your volunteering experience so that you build excitement from the employer side as well.  
  5. Professional development. Whether or not you work with youth or in a medical setting, the work you do at camp may relate directly to your job and may make you a better employee. Don’t be afraid to say “One of the reasons I am a good and valuable employee is because I go to camp. The experience and lessons that I learn at camp will come back with me to the office and will make me a better employee.” The more you can explain and demonstrate this, the more getting time off to volunteer at camp will feel like a professional development opportunity.

Do I have to use my vacation time?
This is a really great question and it will depend on your company’s policies. It is becoming more and more common for companies to provide volunteer benefit programs to their employees. Often companies get tax breaks on volunteer hours so it often to their benefit to promote volunteerism amongst their workforce.

Start by speaking with your HR department to see what options are available. Your office may allow employees to take time off to volunteer without having to use vacation time or paid time off (PTO), while other companies provide flexibility for comp time, permitting you to work late in the evenings or over weekends to build up time to use for volunteering. We’ve also heard that some organizations pay their employees hourly for the volunteer work they do. And, we’ve seen some companies who will give a donation to an employee’s nonprofit of choice if they volunteer a minimum number of hours per year.

If your company doesn’t have an official volunteer benefit program, you’re not out of luck. It never hurts to ask your supervisor what flexibility he/she can offer. Many managers are understanding and able to be flexible when it comes to volunteering. Of course,you can always request to use your PTO/vacation time. PTO can be used for just about anything and if you request it in advance, employers typically don’t object. Just make sure to ask nicely (see above)!

Part 2:
Now that you know how to ask for time off, we’re expecting to see an uptick in volunteer applications. Seriously. Volunteer applications for 2018 are due March 5th, so start yours today at camppromise.org/apply. And, if you’re in the middle of looking for a job and this post leaves you wondering how to get time off for camp from a job you don’t even have yet, stay tuned for Part 2 of this post where we will cover that very subject!

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Let your boss know it is for a volunteer position and discuss what the camp is and why it is so important for volunteers. Once employers know why you’re requesting the time off and what camp is about, I find they are very accommodating.
— Trisha, Camp Nurse
Libby Brockman