Bring Your Sleeping Bag!
Adding Nocturnal Programs to your Institution
Steve Daughtrey, Camp Coordinator
Henry Doorly Zoo, Omaha NE
This workshop will focus on how Informal Science Institutions such as zoos, aquariums and museums can reach out to visitors through non-typical programming. We will focus on night time programs involving families. These programs will include short programs of two to three hours and longer programs running the entire evening into the next day. Sub topics will include advertising, programming, staffing and revenue. This workshop is designed to take what you already have and formulate a plan to get nocturnal programs started at you institution. Utilizing hands on approach and active participation, we will work through the steps needed to have a proposal ready when you get back to your home town. Ultimately the discussion will pull in other topic according to the participants input.
About the presenter:
Your presenter for this workshop is Steve Daughtrey, Camp Coordinator at the Henry Doorly Zoo. My career at the Henry Doorly Zoo started in 1995 as a docent and was hired in 1997 after graduating from the University of Nebraska at Omaha with a B.S in Biology. I was hired to supervise staff for all summer day camps and overnight camps along with creating new curriculum for the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari. In the time I have been in this position, camps have seen an increase of 60 programs a year and an increase of 2000 persons attending all the night programs. We currently have a staff of 19 people dedicated solely to leading overnights for which I supervise. This is an increase of 11 since 1997. I have not only seen success but also defeat, we will talk about how to turn each result into a positive for your institution.
Time to start:
Night time programs are an often untapped resource for many non-profit organizations. The idea of spending the night at your institution sounds great on paper but who in their right mind would do this willingly? Families with children ages 5 to 11 will be a good starting point. Adults of all ages will also be interested. We will talk about this group later. To get a good foundation you will need to market your nocturnal programs to families.
Membership should be the first group you market to because of the interest they already have in you institution and the willingness to support their interest with revenue. You should already have access to communication with these folks through your newsletter, Internet web site or signage on the property. Next, contact youth groups such as boy and girl scout councils, church groups, 4-H groups and schools. We will talk about how to attract these groups through programming later on. Another group you can look to is adult groups. Generally education departments focus only on the children for programs. This is for good reason; children make up 1/3 to 2/3 of all families. Adults are often left out but they are the ones who make the disposable income. The Henry Doorly Zoo education department has scheduled a couple of adult programs with fair success.
Modification of the curriculum is the greatest challenge. We find that docents are the best testers. It is a great idea to do the program in advance with docents to gain support. Not only are docents the best advertisement but some may choose to participate in these programs over the day programs. No matter who you decide to market your programs to it is a good idea to start out small. Try some new things until you get a formula for success then build on it. Over time you will reach the numbers your institution is comfortable with handling.
What benefits can you plan on gaining from nocturnal programs? Nocturnal programs provide both educational and financial gain for your institution. We will cover education first. Curriculum will be tailored to your institution’s strengths. How involved you make it completely depends upon the work you want to do. Some suggestions: make it special, cover all ages, get out among the attractions and food is always an option.
Everyone likes to do a behind the scenes tour. At the Henry Doorly Zoo we have very good keepers who do a good job talking about their areas. Now getting to go behind the scenes depends on how your institution views the subject. Needless to say you will need an alternative plan. You can still make the experience special by using your regular space and equipment. Simulating tasks that employees are in charge of at your institution substitute nicely for behind the scenes tours. Think about adding some sort of craft into your curriculum.
Children enjoy and can learn as much from active curriculum as they can from lecture. Parents also appreciate their children bringing home a tangible item from the event. Having multiple themes or revolving themes will keep your program new for an extended time period. Whether you decide to add food or not is again your discretion. As an example we do provide food for family events but not for general groups. In return we charge more for the family event and give a discount for the general programs. Food can be difficult to store and pleasing all the participants is near impossible. The K.I.S.S. method (Keep It Simply Simple) is best when in doubt. Another approach is to ask youth groups what they would like to cover in an overnight program. Girl scouts and boy scouts have patches they need to acquire. Call the council to get a book or description of the patches/badges that best fit your institution. Schools have national, state and district standards they need to cover. Your institution could the partner they need to get it done. Finding these niches in your area could bring unexpected revenue and numbers.
Financial gains are dependent on your institution and the going rate in your area. We have seen prices for nocturnal programs vary widely. The majority of institutions charge per person. Some charge per group. What ever you decide will be fine plus you can always change the fees or the way you collect them as you grow. To give you a gauge for your program, typical charges start at $10 per person for a night program without a sleepover. Sleepovers start at $15 per person and range to $200 per person. The later sounds great but will people in your area spend that kind of money? Obviously when the cost increases so do the expectations. Your numbers will also play a part in what you charge. We will talk about number limits a little later in the workshop: How are we going to staff these programs? Beside the Education staff, who will more than likely be in charge, Docents are the best choice for staff. When looking for the right staff you will want experience to be a major factor in your decision. Attitude, enthusiasm, adaptability and teamwork are also qualities you need to look for in possible staff. Getting a quality staff will set a solid foundation for your program to grow. If you are planning to advertise outside your institution, look to local colleges for help. Along with docents, these young people are often looking to become a part of something they can really take stock in. Here’s a tip, don’t hire someone who is looking for a paycheck. Money is a factor for working but not the reason to do overnights.
Another good idea is to have the youth volunteers help out with your program. These individuals usually have the same enthusiasm as the Docents and are willing to do a lot of work. Involvement with a new program will give them ownership, which can turn into great leaders down the road. Youth will also serve as an advertisement tool to their peers and younger children. This influence is another means to a solid foundation.
How many participants are you looking to have at your program? Well how big is your institution? Obviously you don’t want to shove 100 people into a space big enough to hold 20! Also, you need to decide how many times you want to put on the program. Set a goal for overall numbers you are looking to obtain through the year. Many institutions choose to do several dates spread over a predetermined time frame. It is much easier to start this way so you can control staff and participant numbers. Another way to run your programs is to open a season and allow the participants pick a date. Either way you need to set limits. Start with setting a minimum and maximum number of participants. Be sure to communicate your limits to potential participants in case they don’t register in time or you have to cancel. This is just good customer service. Give a list of supplies participants need to bring. Include a list of unwanted items as well. If you don’t, make room because people will bring everything under the sun! Some of the item brought on overnight include small refrigerators, king size blow up mattresses, three course dinners, various athletic equipment and family pets. Include a general itinerary with you confirmation materials. Parents enjoy the program much better when they know what is going on. In these materials you can also include expected conduct. Try to put as many rules in writing before hand because there will come a time when to will have to refer to them.
Now let’s get to work on a plan for you.
The following steps cover many facets of an Education program you are planning to put together. Not all of what is covered may pertain to your institution. All are good to think about because adaptation is going to happen. Being prepared will save you time and stress in the future. The order of steps is arbitrary except for presenting to upper management. Staff and supervisors, who are busy with the day to day tasks, will appreciate your best proposal. Being able to answer any question posed to you will increase your chances of getting the support you need. With all that out of the way let’s begin:
Step one — Doing your research.
Why do you want to do nocturnal programs?
Who do you want to participate?
What are you going to offer?
What resources can your institution provide you at night?
Who is going to be in charge of these programs?
Who is going to lead these programs?
What is your long term goal?
How are you going to schedule the programs?
Do you want to add any peripherals to the program?
What security do you provide?
What are you missing?
Step two Writing the programs
What highlights at your institution do you want to cover?
Are there topics groups require that only you can cover? (Niche programs)
Can you convert programs you already have to a night theme?
Do you want to go out of your institutions specialty to include theme related topics?
Are you going to include live demonstrations?
Who is in charge of updating the curriculum?
What resources can you borrow ideas from?
Step three Getting upper management on board (You’re going to need the support!)
Who do you need to approve the idea?
How are you going to present the idea?
What is the benefit for your institution?
What do you do if your proposal is denied?
Step four — Advertising the programs
Who do you want to promote to?
What numbers do you wish to attract your first year?
Do you have a Budget?
What means of promotion are at your disposal?
Step five Registration
What process do you already use?
Will the same process work?
Contract or not to contract?
Do you need to get signed permission slips or health forms?
What correspondence do you need to send out to convey rules, arrival procedures, and necessary items not supplied by your program?
Do you have a rain date?
Step six Show Time (Your first night is here, are you prepared?)
Who is leading the overnight?
Where are your programs going to be held?
Are you involving the exhibits?
Are you providing food?
Where are people going to park?
What is your contingency plan?
Step seven Evaluation (important part of the process)
What do you want to know from your visitors?
What do you need to know from your visitors?
Is it better to evaluate before they leave or after they have gone?
How do you word your questions?
Evaluate your leaders?
Now that you have the brainstorming done, what do you do next? Go home! It is time to include the resources of your institution.
Writing the detailed plan.
With the help of the Education Staff and/or fellow Docents create a basic class outline. Remember to keep it
simple. Word gets around about a quality program with a rock solid foundation. You can always grow into
numbers once you have a quality program. Recovering from a negative image wastes resources to could use to promote your program.
In filling out the steps we skipped a couple of things on purpose. You need to really think about cost, training
and recruitment more closely. These items tend to be personal to each institution and can best be decided in the company of your Education Department staff.
The questions posed under each step have the purpose of setting a mind set for you to begin the process of
program development. As in all processes, institutions will have very different circumstances and points of
reference. Some constants you will need to be successful are a reliable staff, support from your Educational
Department / upper management, a quality curriculum and a target audience.
Last but not least, we will create a networking system. What good is a workshop if you don’t have someone to talk to when you run into questions? No one will call you to see how things are going unless they have
questions in the first place. At the end of this workshop each person will get a list of participants with E-mail
addresses, phone numbers and places of volunteering. Use these when you need them. If you are the person being contacted please return calls and information because the need will reverse.
We are giving each institution a copy of the activities we used this last year for our nocturnal camps. You may use any or all parts to get an idea for your programs. You are welcome to contact myself or the Henry Doorly Zoo Education Office with any questions you may have throughout your development process. We also like to hear success stories.
Henry Doorly Zoo
3701 S. 10th St.
Omaha, NE 68107