Years ago, shortly after I entered a new leadership role working for a diocese, I met one by one with 13 Executive Directors to discuss their budgets. Although there were small differences among every individual, each said, “There are 3 basic things you should know. First, nobody appreciates my ministry. Second, my ministry is harder than the others. Third, we are underfunded.”
Since then, I have been told this story countless times by leaders of every type of ministry. Despite the universal problem of being underfunded, very few people address it successfully.
When it comes to increasing your budget, the starting point is to understand and help those who have the responsibility for comprehensive budget oversight.
Ultimately, you grow your budget by growing your influence.
Be prepared to not always be on the same page.
Budgets address a fixed period that are typically 12 months. Budget timeframes are shorter than timeframes set for pastoral or strategic plans. This distinction comes into clear focus during meetings between the Finance and Development teams, for example. While a Development team is discussing goals based on an annual plan, the Finance team might be processing that same conversation during the lens of long-term, strategic priorities.
Remember that every budget has strategic priorities. Always.
Every diocesan budget has strategic priorities, even when not made explicit. Currently, most Finance Offices are addressing underfunded pension plans, increasing healthcare costs, inadequate cemetery perpetual care funds, seminarian formation costs, facility needs, and parishes and schools in financial distress. There may be needs you do not know about that affect how Development is funded.
Learn about the year you face. Is it one of growth, reduction, or holding steady?
If your annual budget year is July to June, the time to start thinking about next year’s budget is now. Many strategic issues are discussed by a small group of senior leaders before the end of the calendar year. Long before “the upcoming budget process” is announced, parameters will have emerged and key outcomes determined through these strategic diocesan budgeting discussions that will affect your funding level. Long term, if you want to have significant input into how Development is funded, you need to be a part of these strategic diocesan budgeting discussions.
The best starting point in building a trusting partnership between the Development Office and Finance Office is to engage the Finance Office and ask them to help you.
Set up a monthly meeting to go over your budget and discuss upcoming expenditures within your approved budget. Knowing when approved monies will be spent helps the Finance Office manage the cash flow of the diocese. Further, in those meetings, you can begin to ask new questions such as:
1. What are you most worried about?
2. What are the strategic objectives from your perspective?
3. What are the significant financial demands on the Diocese that few people know about?
4. What role do you see for Development in addressing these issues?
5. What can I do to help you with your job?
While you may not immediately be invited into the strategic diocesan budgeting discussions, you will have strengthened your relationship with the Finance Office, expanded your influence, and become closer to those discussions. It doesn’t happen overnight.
Don’t simply give the finance office your budget – give them a budget that you created with them.
If you wait to begin your budgeting and take part of the process when everyone else does, your requests will get lost in the shuffle. Instead, write your goals in October, develop a draft budget, and meet with the Finance Office before Thanksgiving. Ask for advice, explain your plans, and introduce the return investing in Development can make. Use facts and best practices. Make sure portions of the increased budget requests are modest so the
Finance Office can find a way to help you if the budget is tight. Last, be sure to explicitly demonstrate how one or more of your goals addresses their pressing needs. Let them see that you are helping them at the diocesan level.
Remember that the goal is partnership at the highest level.
The most important long-term goal is being part of high-level strategic diocesan budgeting discussions. The keys to being invited are the ability to see the diocese through lenses other than your own, helping others with their jobs, and remembering that – just like you – the Finance Office likely believes they are not appreciated, their work is harder than everyone else, and that they too are underfunded!