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Hole in the Wall Cited for Powerful Brand

By Tom Watson on January 24, 2008No Comment

A recent publication, America’s Greatest Brands, highlighted three nonprofits in its annual roundup of 50 leaders for having strong, recognizable brands that “evoke an emotional connection.”

onPhilanthropy spoke with Alicia Wettenstein, Director of Camp Services and Communications at one of those nonprofits, the Association of Hole in the Wall Camps. The camps, founded by Paul Newman, provide free, traditional camp experiences for children with life-threatening conditions and serious illnesses, more than 114,000 in 32 countries.

OP: Hole in the Wall Camps are pretty well known. So had there been a perceived need to re-brand?

AW: Not so much to re-brand for its own sake, but we wanted to unite the different camps globally under a single brand, a family of camps. As you can see from our website,, each camp has its own 501© 3, and keeps its independent identity and logo below the Hole in the Wall brand. Organizationally, we’ve always worked together.

OP: How strong is the connection between the brand and fundraising?

AW: Each of our camps has to do its own fundraising to cover $3-5 million in annual operating costs. Having the strong common brand shows credibility and professionalism to donors. There’s strength in numbers; 16,000 campers attend Hole in the Wall Camps each year. And whenever one camp gets some good PR, it raises public awareness and strengthens the brand for each member.

OP: Hole in the Wall is so strongly identified with its founder, Paul Newman. Is there ever a downside to that, in that potential donors assume he’s been able to fully fund the camps?

AW: Every day. He has been generous in every way and we’re blessed to have his involvement, but he does not fund the operations. It costs $18-20 million to build a new camp and he has provided challenge grants to do so but the funds for each camp are raised locally.

OP: Is there any common fundraising done through your association?

AW: Yes, some, especially when it comes to corporate support. The corporate donors usually perceive more benefit with the broader reach of the international brand. Some donors, on the other hand, want their funds to stay local. For example, if their grandchild was treated for cancer in Ohio, they might want to support a camp in that community. This way, we have the platform to do both. Donors want and deserve choices.

OP: What are some of the extra expenses associated with the needs of your campers?

AW: Although they look like any other camp, our camp clinics provide 90% of all emergency room procedures; these children can be very medically fragile. On the other hand, we have 8,000 volunteers a year, medical professionals who give up 1-2 weeks to help us staff the camps. Each camp must have a 2:1 ratio of children to adults. We could not do this without our volunteers. People really want to give back, especially when it comes to sick kids. They feel that there but for the grace of God, any one of us could be facing this.

OP: What plans are in the works for future camps?

AW: We have provisional members in Ohio and Colorado, and we’re working with programs for children in Vietnam. And we’re excited about plans to open a camp in Israel  next year.

We have other, year-round programs in addition to the camps, like Camp in a Can, programs that can be run in the day room of a hospital, from a fake campfire and marshmallows, to having a camp schedule delivered to a child on his hospital breakfast tray. It also gives the siblings some activities when they have to spend time at the hospital visiting a sick child.

OP: Do any of the camps have programs for siblings?

AW: Yes, each camp has siblings in the last session each summer. There are also sibling weekends and parents’ weekends. We’ve found that very important: it’s hard to be the sibling of a sick child. We have seen that when siblings have their own session, the number of visits to the camp clinic double. It’s very interesting, but clearly they sense that the sick child gets more attention because of medical issues, so that appears to them as the place to receive attention.

OP: All camp services are provided free of charge; are families ever asked for support?

AW: Families are never solicited in any manner. That’s one of the challenges to our fundraising: we don’t have lists or alumni we appeal to. On the other hand, we find that when it comes to fundraising, our mission is pretty flawless, so the camps are able to do an amazing job meeting the challenge.

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