better budgets build better decisions
Tis the Budget season and many executive directors, municipal managers and other public administrators in small organizations aspire for better budgets that facilitate policy making, particularly for volunteer boards or part-time elected officials.
Budgeting is an expression of values. But in a small organization, how do find time to do more than a basic spreadsheet? Instead of carrying around that frustration, why not set an intention to improve your budget little by little over a series of years? This smaller, incremental approach, if done with a clear vision of where you are going, will bring about lasting gains and won't require dropping everything else while you valiantly try to raise the bar .
To do this, take inspiration from the free criteria of the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) Distinguished Budget Awards program. That may seem counter intuitive as the Award is a significant accomplishment. But with the right "baby steps" approach you will begin to see real gains in the quality of information available for making decisions.
Start by being aware of the mandatory criteria of this program (see table below). This baby step allows the weaving-in of budgeting activities into the day-to-day management of your organization (instead of waiting until "budget season"). For example, has a strategic, comprehensive or other planning process recently taken place? Great! Rely on the mission, goals and objectives in that to kick of the goals of your budget. Participating in a certification programs such as Sustainable Pennsylvania? Awesome! A good place to start for performance measures.
Once you know the components of a "good" budget, you can begin to plug much of your existing work into each of the following major categories of the GFOA Criteria. This table presents the budget questions to be answered by each category (table best viewed in desktop browser). Make incremental gains over a few years and you are well on your way. It makes me think of what my dad always said, "Inch by inch, life's a cinch...Yard by yard, life is hard."
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Susan Hockenberry's blog of suggestions for info and updates.