Mark J. Duffy 2014-07-22 11:30:59
Among the half-dozen fortune cookie slips I have pinned to the wall in my office is an especially erudite one: “A metaphor could save your life.” Pulling the 83-page SAA FY2015 Budget together is a serious stride through our voluntary association’s financial realities, which has no relationship to fortune telling, but is not altogether without its predictions and faith in good fortune. Like all projections, the budget comes wrapped in assumptions, best estimates, and many high hopes. SAA’s budget takes the best information we have available and projects it eighteen months into the future—hopeful that we leave the organization in an even stronger fiscal position for the next round of planning. A good budget can tell you as much about an organization’s future as its current bottom line. The trend line, or as SAA’s new Director of Finance Peter Carlson offered in a moment of droll accounting speak, the “leading and lagging indicators,” are strong. We have many more leaders than laggards and much to celebrate in the FY2015 Budget in terms of new initiatives, built-in flexibility for programs to change, and an overall strengthening of our organizational capacity. Unfolding the budget beyond a high-level summation begs for a metaphor, and the mapping function is too obvious to resist. I think of the SAA Budget as essentially comprising three kinds of maps—infrastructure maps, road maps, and topographics—each represented by accounting statements that describe in different ways a set of fiscal controls designed to render our finances transparent, standard, and understandable. Program Planners (or Infrastructure Maps) The infrastructure maps are the so-called program planners— elaborately detailed worksheets the staff uses for the budgetplanning process. The department heads use these worksheets to build from the ground up and look carefully at performance and trends occurring in every aspect of programs and services. This task has to start fairly early in the new calendar year; the Finance Committee and Council must review and approve the plans prior to the start of the fiscal year on July 1. One comes to appreciate staff members’ expertise in their areas as they cut the “that didn’t work” expenses and gently build in some room for contingent expenses (a “conservative” budget). These budget worksheets are like the utilities, water mains, sanitation tunnels, and other support lines that constrain the directions we can plausibly move in and the money we’ll need to get there. The Annual Meeting program planner (#194!) Is one of my favorites for demonstrating the level of transparency we maintain in our financial planning process. Budget Master Income Statement (or Road Map) The executive and finance directors feed the program planners into a standard accounting package that spits out road maps, or projections based on expected revenue. Directors use these projections to ensure SAA maintains a standard balance sheet with a positive financial outcome. This iterative negotiation results in a series of income statements for each cost center and an overall budget master income statement, which is an industry-standard financial statement of operations and a key guide to the bottom-line product of the months-long, ground-up planning. With this road map, we have an objective way to analyze, compare, or measure the overall financial impact of SAA’s programs, services, and strategic initiatives. Budget Narratives (or Topographic Maps) The final piece of guidance—the topographic map—is the one that makes the budget understandable. The vast majority of our members aren’t so keen on deciphering complex number arrays, but they do want to know the outcomes of their spending (dues, registrations, etc.). Staff prepares the budget narratives, which become a bigpicture map that illustrates how SAA’s Strategic Plan, operational requirements, and funding resources come together to set the overall agenda for doing business as a financially secure and missionoriented operation. The narratives offer a program-by-program overview of both the vistas of good news and the potential potholes we can anticipate in managing our financial future. Measuring Priorities Taken as a whole, SAA’s budget maps are not a measure of our programmatic success or weakness (that’s another set of tools), but rather a measure of our priorities as a professional association. Altogether, the budget is a statement in numbers of what we value and where we want most to put our treasure to work. The expense side of the budget draws our attention in that regard. Its major categories are personnel and member services, in addition to large items like rent, travel, and depreciation. SAA’s FY2015 Budget projects approximately $2,605,831 in expenses. Member dues, Annual Meeting revenue, and income from our education, publishing, and other programs will, we hope, bring in $2,652,107. If all goes well, we will realize a planned net gain next year of at least $46,278. This is where our fortune-telling skills really matter because that fair sum is a fraction of the money we’ll need to build our technology fund for communication and data management upgrades. The depreciation line mentioned previously is notable because it marks the dwindling value of our aged and worn IT systems—a sign that SAA, as a voice of an information profession, must devote resources to updating the technology we use. For now, our vision for next year’s budget surplus is only real in our heads. We are certain, however, that the 2015 budget will set aside funds for immediate, new investments, much of them to assist in implementing the recently adopted Strategic Plan. Here’s a look at the investments we’re planning: Professional Advocacy (Within and Outside of SAA) * Increase spending by 74 percent overall * Provide no- and low-cost member resources, including an advocacy guide, workshop training, on-demand webinar, and metrics for gauging impact * Expand public awareness capacity through the Committee on Public Awareness and the Committee on Advocacy and Public Policy, including utilizing professionals to develop a design and ongoing publicity and media plan Member Education and Knowledge * Expand the successful education program by streamlining the curriculum and adding new courses * Develop new continuing education and training tracks in arrangement and description * Further offerings of webinars as a low-cost educational alternative * Migrate The American Archivist to a new online journal hosting service * Focus on the Trends in Archives Practice Series and rebuild the Archival Fundamentals Series * Develop options for members to opt out of the print edition of Archival Outlook Enhanced Member Experience at Annual Meetings * Give access to AV services to all component groups * Support affordable child care for Annual Meeting attendees * Continue to explore new opportunities identified by the Annual Meeting Task Force Staff Development and Retention * Provide continuing education and professional development opportunities * Adjust salaries for staff retention in a challenging employment market The 2015 budget responds to several forces of change underway: the Annual Meeting, the publishing field and communication, the demand for education and training, and the call for resources so archivists can speak convincingly about public issues in their professional domain. In the information profession, we must commit to seriously investing in the association’s technology and communication infrastructure or be sidelined by others. As an institutional archivist, I’ve learned to read the future of an organization through its budgets and financial history. SAA faces formidable challenges in the future as predictable dues adjustments disappear and membership enrollment flattens. For the near future, which is fairly manageable, members can feel confident that we operate on solid ground. Between our strategic planning and multifaceted budget, we have a reliable set of maps to point the way. For More Information * See the entire SAA FY2015 Budget at: http://www2.archivists .org/sites/all/files/0514-V-A-1-FY15Budget-SortbyProgram.pdf. * See the Annual Meeting program planner on pages 68–76 at the link above. * See the Budget Master Income Statement on page 3 at the link above. * For more on depreciation, see: https://www.boundless.com/accounting/controlling-and-reporting-of-real-assets-property-plant-equipment-and-natural-resources/depreciation-of-assets/.
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