Well, it’s that time of year, when the air changes, and we feel it coming. The season of new beginnings and the color green.
That’s right, it’s time to turn in your budget for the new year.
If you are interested in learning more about aspects of budgeting within houses of worship, check out the following session, "Big Church Sound on a Small Church Budget," slated for the WFX Conference & Expo on Thursday, November 15, 2018 in Orlando.
Whether your budget year began in October or starts in January, this is a great season to evaluate exactly how your budget did last year, and more importantly, how you are going to manage it successfully in the coming year.
For many of us on staff, our church has a budgeting program like Shelby (or for the proud few, ShelbyNext), or we have access to some other program that we've likely not logged into in several years.
Most of the time, we see a monthly report from the finance office, filled with columns of numbers that make no sense to us, typically to spell out that once again, we’ve spent too much over this past month.
Because in Media/Tech, we all know that everything we purchase is spaced out evenly over 12 individual months…
The question is this: Is it enough to check our monthly report, to see how we’ve been doing on spending our budget money? I believe we need to take a much more proactive approach, to spending our tithing church members’ money for the sake of good stewardship, accountability, and planning for the future.
First, I find it vital to keep track of my budget on my own - outside of the church’s financial software.
To do so, I use Smartsheets to create my annual budget, and then track it through the year. Other programs like Quicken and such also do a great job.
The idea is to enter in all of my budget information and then track every purchase I make, just like I would for my ledger at home. The problem with using my church’s system to keep track of my budget is, that information could be as much as a couple of months behind, or more!
I always want to know exactly where I stand.
I don’t want to think I have a bunch of money available, because that’s what Shelby says, when in reality, I’ve already spent it.
When I track my budget this way, I can also print off those monthly reports from Shelby and reconcile every line item. This ensures the finance office got things right, and it also accounts for charges I wasn’t able to track, like hidden shipping costs and the ridiculous amount of money that can be spent on the color printer.
On any given day, I always know exactly how much money I’ve spent, and how much I have left.
Another advantage to diligently tracking my budget is when major repair costs hit, or when a request comes in to execute an upgrade, one that I wasn’t expecting, I have a great tool for communicating with the powers-that-be how these unforeseen costs will impact my bottom line. That allows them to decide if they want the money to come from somewhere else, or if I should just go over budget.
Communication is key to good stewardship.
Then, as it relates to accountability, I believe it is important to have other people watching my budget and how I spend money. I always think twice about expenditures when I know that someone is going to have the ability to ask about them. Also, I believe it is important to share budget information with my team.
I have been on several teams where the budget was envisioned by many as this big secret, one that I wasn’t allowed to know about. All I could do was blindly submit requests wondering if what I was asking for, was absurdly out of the question or not.
If I have a team member who is responsible for an area like lighting or sound or A/V services, then I should empower that person to not only know how much money is available for them to cover their needs, but that he or she should also be allowed to spend that money as they see fit!
I still approve PO’s and such, but that person deserves the dignity to have the authority to spend that portion of the budget.
Finally, I use this budget tracking to more succinctly plan what my budget needs to be for the following year. I just started working at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, one year ago, and this budget year has taught me a lot about how my area spends money, and how I think we need to spend it moving forward.
Next year, it will allow me to make some changes, and then the following year, we will be pretty honed in by then. It’s an ongoing process, in that I have to evaluate how money was spent and determine whether or not that was good stewardship.
Another important note that goes against so many organizations these days: Don’t fall into the trap of the “spend it or lose it” mentality. If you don’t need to spend all the money in your budget, then let the church use that money in other places. Make adjustments to your budget for the new year, so you don’t end up with high percentages of unspent funds.
I consider my annual budget to be my “operations” budget. In other words, this is money I need to run and maintain everything I’m responsible for, including minor new equipment purchases, repair/maintenance, supplies, etc. If there is a venue that needs a new sound system, I’m going to put that on a list of capital expenditures that I present to my financial administrator when I present my budget request. Keep those items separate, and let your financial team determine where those funds will be derived from.
I have a heavy burden on my shoulders when I consider that every penny I spend comes directly from the pockets of those people sitting in the pews.
In the world of technology, we can drop some serious coin in an instant. I will be held accountable by God for my stewardship one day, so I might as well build in some accountability ahead of time, to ensure I’m doing everything I can, to allow my church to further the Gospel effectively.