Extreme Budget Makeover
Endless Excel files filled with formulas, pivot tables, and statistical functions make for smart financial planning, but are pretty brutal for most readers. And don’t think that you’re fooling anyone by throwing in a bar chart here and there!
But here’s the good news: City services, you know, the things that are funded by all those boring budget numbers, now those are pretty cool. Recreation programs, police officers, economic development, parks, even street maintenance and snow removal - City services are what people really care about.
So why do so many of our budgeting processes focus on the numbers, and not what those numbers enable a City to do?
Context is Important
We're not advocating that you ignore the numbers completely. In fact, quite the opposite! A base level of knowledge regarding revenues and expenditures is critical. At their core, balanced budgets reflect priorities and tradeoffs. Helping residents understand the financial playing field boils down to two steps: simplify and visualize. Let’s get rid of those intimidating Excel files and move on to something that is clean, streamlined, and easy to understand!
Bang for the Buck
Armed with a better understanding of limitations and possibilities, residents can fully comprehend what they get for their money. Our job is to first and foremost highlight the services provided. This is why we exist as local government! Budgets are a blueprint for which service we are going to provide and how we plan to provide them. In short, how we spend our money says a lot about who we are as a community.
Every Budget Has a Story
At the end of the day, every budget has a story to tell that is bigger than simply money in and money out. Maybe the community has gone through tough times and has cut services and staff. Perhaps the City was able to implement efficiencies to increase services without additional funds. Or maybe this is a year of revenue growth and opportunity and the City can now make much needed investments in the community’s future.
Your budget has a narrative and sharing that with your residents is much more meaningful than sharing endless charts and spreadsheets.
Remember, the numbers aren’t the story, they help tell a story. Budgets have to be shared publicly, why not give them a makeover to make them more interesting?