Budgeting: beyond spreadsheets to strategy

publication date: May 21, 2011
author/source: Jonathon Grapsas

Although it probably feels like you just had this year's budget signed off, it's never too early to be thinking about the next cycle. Gulp. So what should be top of mind when sorting through a myriad of spreadsheets and detailed discussions about the future?

Jonathon Grapsas photoThink three years, not one

While it's easy to look at immediate decisions, we know the real impact often comes a lot later than the toil involved. Regular, monthly giving is a great case in point.

So to overcome potential resistance to your plans, ensure all budgets include the longer term payoff, through years two and three as a minimum, or even longer where necessary.

That may mean overlaying your income expectations with expected lifetime value, not just income in the coming year.

Start from scratch: the zero based approach

While I'd agree with the adage about not fixing what ain't broken, stagnant programs or those looking for serious growth could do worse than start from scratch.

Consider this. You're an organization that generates $1 million a year in income. You've been tasked with growing that fivefold in three years.

Doable? Most certainly. Doable within the current program framework? Likely not.

Ambitious growth requires solid investment, informed risk-taking and organizational commitment. If you're planning to transform your program, looking at what you've done for the last ten years and tweaking it isn't going to help you make that leap.

"What do I need to do to generate $5 million a year?" is the question you need to be able to answer - not "How can I turn $1 million into $5 million?"

Balance your portfolio

Diversification and balance are key. A balanced program means investing in areas that will deliver short term income (cash appeals, emergency appeals, events), medium term income (monthly giving, major donors, donor care), and long term income (bequest marketing, donor care). Relying on any one revenue stream for more than 80% of your income can put you in a precarious place should the landscape move.

If you take a look at those charities around you that have gone through massive growth, there's no doubt most of that growth will be driven by one channel. In Canada over the past five to seven years, that's been F2F (street canvassing) recruiting of regular, monthly donors.

But if you look more closely, the charities that have harnessed this best are employing other channels as well, including telephone, direct mail, direct response television and, more recently, digital.

When trying to decide how to allocate funds, Google's 70/20/10 rule for investing in innovation is a great way to achieve both balance and diversification. This would see

  • 10% of funds dedicated to exploring new initiatives, with the expectation that almost all will fail but occasionally one or two will show potential and end up reshaping the future;
  • 20% of funds given to initiatives that showed promise from the previous year's new trials, to see if they are sustainable as an income stream; and
  • 70% of funds dedicated to roll-out and optimization of what is proven to deliver the bulk of income.

Invest in donor care

Don't cut off your nose to spite your face. An acquisition budget with no real commitment to donor development and supporter care is flawed. It's hard enough to hang onto donors and even harder to look after them without any investment.

That means donor care and stewardship pieces, training for supporter services staff, mystery shopping other charities, and generally keeping the topic on your agenda. Acquisition needs to work hand in hand with great supporter development to help your organization change the world, now and in the future.

Jonathon Grapsas is fundraising development director for the Pareto Group, a global fundraising agency focused on data-driven direct response. Jonathon was previously the regional director for Pareto Fundraising in North America. He currently works with charities all around the globe, including the BC Cancer Foundation, WWF Canada and the Canadian Red Cross. 

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