With input from member surveys collected in August, moderator Thomas Nordby and panelists Pam Furneaux, Tom Harlow and Mike Smith shared experiences and tackled questions designed to reduce the pain and increase the success of the annual budgeting process. The discussion developed around four key aspects of the process: length of the budget, education of staff and board, collaborative rather than centric input and, finally, the unpredictability of external conditions.
While budgets themselves ranged from 4 pages to 60 pages among the panelists, the speakers agreed that the key element of the budget proposal should be written in the narrative presented within those first four pages. Everything that follows is detail for those who are bound to ask for it. Even having a clear narrative and supporting numbers doesn't guarantee a smooth process. Readers - both staff and board members - are not equally prepared to understand financial documents. One organization uses in-house experts as coaches to non-business staff as a way to encourage their participation and understanding.
Moving from a centric approach to a collaborative one increases accountability and synergy among directors and impedes the development of silos, but it doesn't happen overnight. For the organizations represented, it is an evolving approach that requires a presentation of the "big picture" from the CEO, buy-in at strategy sessions, smart goals and a willingness to look backward as well as forward.
The unpredictability of costs, especially health benefits, lurks in everyone's top drawer. Plan now to continue the discussion at the January 21 luncheon program on "The ACA in the New Year."