Probably the least talked about item in a tech directors’ job is budgeting.
We all talk about the maintenance that we do, like when we had to climb on a ladder and reach way out there or crawled in an attic, only to hit our head on a nail.
If you are interested in learning more about budgeting for houses of worship, check out the following session, "Big Church Sound on a Small Church Budget," slated for the WFX Conference & Expo this November in Orlando.
We all have these war stories to share, which is one of the things that brings us together at conferences.
However, the budget and planning behind this helps us to keep our jobs, and allows us to do regular maintenance, upgrades when necessary, fix broken parts and now and then purchase a product that makes our job easier or takes our worship service to another level.
Among those that I have talked to at conferences, there are only a few that I have talked to, who have ever even seen their budget, let alone made a plan, for the new year. Most people tell me that they typically just fix or buy what they need, after which the church then will pay for it.
Let me tell you why you need to get into your budget, with two stories.
A friend of mine at a church not-to-be-named, took over one November, and was told not to spend any more money upon his arrival, because deemed that his department was already over budget, even before the Christmas performance.
As luck would have it, he was given a copy of the budget, and it outlined what had been spent so far that year. As we were talking on the phone, he mentioned his predicament to me, and I asked if he had reconciled what had been spent so far with the budget. He had not, so I encouraged him to do so. He called me back an hour later, to tell me that something had been incorrectly charged to him from another account, and that he now had the money to pay for the Christmas program.
When I first arrived at my last church, they were spending $2,000 annually on batteries.
I was taken aback by that level of spending, so I coordinated a weekly audit. It turned out that the batteries were stored in my microphone cabinet, and that all departments had a key to it. So, every department was using these batteries, but only my department was being charged for them. As a cost-saving solution, I found an old safe in one of the rooms, and asked permission to use it. That next year, I spent about $600 on batteries.
If you have not done so, I suggest an immediate inventory of everything that you are responsible for, and label it.
When I first came to West Asheville, I determined that I was in need of microphones, cables, and music stands, only to notice a few in a different department. As the head of that department and I were talking, I mentioned my predicament and asked the best way to ask the powers that be for money. They told me that I could take what they had, explaining that they had borrowed the mics, cables and stands, and that they hadn’t returned them.
I then proceeded to visit with every department, and received permission to retrieve all borrowed items.
As it turned out, I discovered to now have a surplus of each of these items.
After that experience, an in-house book was created to check out items, which I review monthly.
That is where you start.
Know what you have.
Now look at what you need.
Remember that what you don’t have, and think you need, that your church has been operating without it at least for a while, or not at all. Therefore, if you really deem that you need a particular item, you should be able to explain it in detail to the decisionmakers, how it will benefit the service. Recognize that items such as these that need budgetary approval, usually are not approved, if its sole intent is to make things easier for you, whereby church management will generally spend money if it will make the service better.
If there is something that you feel strongly that you need, you can either make room for it in your existing budget or ask to have it put into next year’s capital budget. (This is a budget that is put aside for things needed that are out of the normal, everyday expense, but are necessary for optimal operations.) An example would be the new microphones that I will need to purchase next year to replace a few microphones, that are in a frequency the FCC has recently sold off.
To show some examples, check out the image of the chart of potential expenses. You may have different items as part of your budget, and your costs may vary as well. The items are real, the costs are from a previous church’s budget.
Yes, I still have the budget laying around from a previous church.
This breakdown should give you an idea of where to start.
I suggest getting to know the bookkeeper and the executive pastor, and to get regular copies of what is charged to your department.
If you see that your budget is high, I would spend only what is necessary, after which for the next year, put in your budget, the true amount that you need. If you find that your budget is too low, you will need to have a conversation, with a spreadsheet of everything that you need as part of the budget and why.
Listing everything that you have and everything that you need will help you make a budget for the future.
Also, don’t forget to look at a regular maintenance schedule. I have a weekly and a monthly list of things to check. Keeping old equipment running is sometimes more expensive, than buying new.
You should also know about the plans for growth, and make sure that they are incorporated into the budget. You have a knowledge of things that they do not, which is why you are there.
To get an idea of what is new and what might work for your church, going to conferences is a great way to get an up-close look at such products, while making friends with other people doing what you do. I have learned more from my fellow cohorts, than I have doing it on my own. Beyond attending conferences, though, you should also talk to several people working in similar positions to your own regularly. At the very least, follow a tech blog. You should be as up-to-date as possible.
Change happens fast, and you need to be ready for it.
I will end the way I usually begin, by saying that communication is the best way to learn what you need, and how to do things. It is also the best way to build the relationships that you are going to need when asking for the money for these items and projects.