The Decision-Maker Speaks
Qualities of the Successful Budget Proposal
- The best budgets are always tied to the best spending plans. Instead of just asking for more, budget presentations must tie performance and justification to requests for increases.
- Decision makers look for the level of production per unit. When an increase is granted, how will the additional dollars translate into improvements? If additional staffing dollars are granted, how will the services be improved? Make sure that your budgeting authority can see, in real-world terms, how the money improves the work.
- In public library systems, budget analysis needs to be weighted to reflect how dollars will make the most impact in the places that are most in need. Not all things are equal and not all things are fair; understand that the delivery of the dollars need to be weighted with demographics in mind.
- The library world can sometimes be insular. Good budget directors will work with executive librarians out to ensure that a budget is responsive to constituents.
- Is the budget proposal balanced? The proposal for the year will reflect an increase, a decrease, or a status quo proposal - the librarian needs to be able to discuss the cause of any changes with the budgeting authority.
- Be ready to discuss changes both within the library and outside influences that may be driving changes in budget proposals.
- Decision makers will be most likely to approve budget proposals that are able to show balance between financing, spending, and performance.
- Any lack of direct or frank responses to questions, or even the hint of holding back, will foster negative responses from budget authorities.
- Lack of preparation. Do not assume that wide public support will result in an easy proposal process, be ready for tough questions at every step.
- During the public presentation, know when to say that you don't know the answer and that you will get the answer to the budgeting authority as soon as possible.
- Be careful of committing to specific numbers in a public forum - if forced, offer a range and agree to follow up at a later date.
- If you know that you have opposition to your proposal ahead of time, avoid any type of confrontation. Ask your opponent to meet one on one at a later time to work out any concerns or reservations.
Best Practices for the Executive Librarian's Proposal
- Start your presentation with simple graphs and charts that anyone can understand - the lowest level of detail. You may have your whole proposal approved at a minimal level of discussion.
- Be prepared to add layers of detail should the need arise, but do not offer anything more than you have to. Work in stages with your detail and supporting materials.
- In your first (lowest) level of detailed graphs and charts, the following are minimal components of an executive summary:
- Dollar amount changes, year-over-year, with brief explanations of each line item that reflects a change.
- Service differences, year-over-year, with a similar level of detail to dollar changes.
- Staffing differences based on pay-grade with the same level of detail about changes year-over-year.
- A direct assessment of the changes and the forces driving the changes (dollars, services, staffing, and performance).
- Once this executive-level presentation has been completed, the nature of the questions should be assessed and the next step will depend on the result of the assessment:
- If the questions require the next level of detail, if possible, try to refer them to the departmental Accountant or to the Assistant Librarian.
- If there are lots of questions, try to get the budget authority to send their questions, in writing, so that they may be answered with the level of detail they deserve - this puts the responsibility back on the questioners.
- Only offer what is needed AS it is needed. Offering too much information can tend to lengthen the questioning period.
- Remember, start with broad information and be ready to drill down, but at some point, the authority should be willing to move the questioning out of the public venue if it has many detailed questions.
- Be a good listener. Restate the questions to make sure that they are really what the authority wants to know.
- A good Budget Director will have worked with and coached the person making the proposal in advance, obviating many possible pitfalls.
- Know how to say NO. Keep the budgeting authority realistic and on track, some things just can not be done. Make a compromise offer of what you can do with the resources allocated and offer to report back periodically.
- A great deal of compromise may be required. Always remember that your ideal may not match perfectly with those of your budgeting authority.
- Positivity, no matter the circumstance, is critical
- Prepare and present a document that summarizes what the library is NOT doing or could be doing better. Use data from other systems and offer comparisons with similarly sized systems. Use per capita or per unit service comparisons to strengthen your arguments.