… in this role as board president (Jade Lowry)
Westside has been fortunate to have had a long line of committed volunteers with strong budgeting skills supporting our financial health. And this year was no exception! Our board benefited enormously from the deep and thorough research work and budget planning this year’s Finance Committee offered (Paula vanHaagan—chair, Shelley Webb—treasurer, Alan Mendel, and Shannon Day). They took the time to meet with us and made incredible spreadsheets to educate us about the important details of Westside’s budget. Below is what I’ve learned about triple bottom lines, how a budget is a plan, the importance of moving away from one-time income sources, and how we can plan for our future.
Here are four points of learning that have changed my understanding of our budget and budgeting process.
- The Triple Bottom Line – This references the three P’s significant in today’s world of budgeting for sustainability: People, Planet, and Profit. With this accounting framework, we can evaluate our organization’s values and how they are visible in our budget – “putting our money where our mouth is” as the old saying goes. Imagine the impact of our focus on environmental stewardship and social justice as metrics of our “performance” as a congregation, reflected solidly in our budget!
- A Budget is a Plan – I understood this before this year. However, that understanding is deeper and more nuanced now. When we vote on our budget in the annual meeting, we’re not voting on a rigid set of line items on a spreadsheet. We are voting on a plan that identifies our priorities to give our leaders a path as they deal with the details of daily life in our congregation. Along the way, they will navigate all kinds of unexpected challenges and pleasant surprises, and they will adjust the budget accordingly. We have voted our leaders into these decision making roles with our trust that they will honor our priorities. We are extraordinarily fortunate for the level of attention our budget is receiving by this Finance Committee. If significant budget shifts and decisions need to be made, we must call a congregational meeting and vote to approve what is proposed. We are prepared to do that in the coming year, given the kinds of uncertainties we’re facing together.
- Moving Away from One-Time Income Sources –Last year, Shelley Webb shared with us the statistic that our congregation’s pledges make up about 67% of our income, and we are at about 61% in this year’s budget. A widely accepted target for a healthy congregation is to have pledges form at least 80% of our budget. We knew we had challenges ahead in raising our budget to bring a new called minister to us, and that also remains true. We’ve been lucky to have the one-time income sources from the Wake Now Our Vision grant, and our recent Covid-19 PPP loan to help us to cover our gaps. Our financial health depends on our ability to grow our membership and our pledges, while continuing to operate within expense boundaries that both hold our values and remain reasonable with our pledge income.
- Planning for the Future – The value of planning for the future is common knowledge. And now I understand how it relates to us, and the reality of how we are shaping what’s possible for future iterations of our community with the budget choices we make in this moment. Our treasurer, Shelley Webb, and the Finance Committee, have been forecasting to identify potential income gaps in the 2021-2022 budget year. Seeing ahead more clearly is allowing current Westside leaders to make spending decisions more wisely, and to do everything possible to build our reserves. While this is a good practice for any year, it is more critical than ever through this pandemic time of uncertainty combined with a renewed call for social justice action.
If you have finance wisdom or skills you’d like to share to strengthen the financial future of WSUU, please be in touch with Paula vanHaagan, our Finance Committee chair. And if you have any questions about our budget, please contact our Finance Committee (firstname.lastname@example.org) or our board (email@example.com).