I see a lot of associations where each department or unit negotiates its own budget separately. Each VP submits their own budget to the CFO, who then engages in several rounds of “shuttle diplomacy” (also involving the CEO) to come up with an overall balanced budget. Everyone knows this is happening, yet the VPs and the CEO are not particularly engaged in open conversations about it, other than around the water cooler with people they feel are on “their” side already.
This is not how we should be doing it, particularly in the digital age. Here are some tips for graduating to a more modern approach.
Open the books (at least a little)
You don’t have to share everything with everyone, but more people need to see more financial information to make better decisions in general, let alone for budgeting. Find a way for everyone at the senior level to see as much detail as possible across all the departments. They are senior managers; they should know the financial workings of the organization. If this requires doing some financial literacy education across the organization, then so be it. It’s worth the investment.
Get rigorous about criteria for investment
One of the biggest issues in an organization is when different people (including at the senior level) have different assessments of what is worth spending money on. Not surprisingly, they often overvalue their own area, and some managers tend to emphasize profitability of a project while others emphasize the extent to which a program increases member engagement. Both are important, but how do you compare one to the other? You NEED to hammer that out, and that’s hard work. Remember, if everything is important, then nothing is important. Here’s one cool online platform, by the way, designed to help you through that hard work: Transparent Choice.
Implement and measure across budget categories.
When you roll up all your budget numbers, it will really help if they roll into something more integrated than individual budget line items. I know one association that puts everything together into a small number of “portfolios” of work. The portfolios are one level down from the strategic plan (i.e., they all plug clearly into the strategic plan, but they are more specific to this particular year) and they require the work of several different budget line items. In other words, it takes collaboration to get stuff done in today’s world, even though we have separate budgets. In coming up with metrics, they needed to find some that were not only “end of the year” metrics, but also some that were “in process” so they could (jointly) figure out if they were falling off track and what to do about it. With this shared accountability comes the need for a shared view of the finances.
You’ll have to figure out what works for you, but the longer you wait to inject transparency into your budgeting process, the more you’ll fall behind.