Making Budget Presentations

ALA Advocacy Library

Taking the Fear Our of the Library Budget Presentations
Laying the Groundwork
Preparing a Budget Presentation
Citizen Support- Rallying Stakeholders
Making the Budget Presentation- Do's & Don'ts
Follow Up
Budgeting Best Practices



Taking the Fear Out of Library Budget Presentations

By Keith Michael Fiels, ALA Executive Director 2002-2016

Creating and presenting a library budget is not just a matter of assigning numbers to line items on an Excel spreadsheet and presenting it to a group of officials.  Far from it!!!  Library budgeting is an ongoing activity, with many parts and many people involved.  It is a cyclical process of listening to the community, working with decision-makers, telling compelling stories about your library – and bringing all these elements together in a budget presentation….and then starting all over again.

The purpose of this website is to give you tools, examples and perspectives to make presenting a library budget easier, and to help make your budget presentations more compelling.

In creating this website, we have tapped into the wisdom of veteran librarians with years of experience drafting and presenting budgets in “good times and tough economic times”.  The examples offered in this website are from “real budgets”.  We have included everything from a Glossary of Terms for those new to library budgeting to the “Do’s and Don’ts of Making a Budget Presentation”.  There is a great feature on library budget presentations from the perspective of a decision-maker with years of experience listening to presentations and helping librarians hone their budgeting skills.  

ALA is committed to giving its members practical information and tools to help them do their jobs more effectively and efficiently.  This is your website - if you have ideas for other features or examples that would help you and others make better, stronger budget presentations - let us know. 

BACK TO TOP

Laying the Groundwork

Identifying Community Priorities

Library directors don’t create their budgets in a vacuum.  Even in today’s challenging economic times when libraries are lucky to keep their doors open and basic services covered, library directors and staff need to be continually attuned to what their community needs.

Most “formal” community needs assessments are done during a library’s strategic planning process – but it should be an ongoing task to pay attention to community needs and priorities.

What is happening in your community that your library can address with its programs or services?  How can the library be a partner in solving local problems or addressing challenging issues?  For example,

  • Helping schools deal with dropout prevention?
  • Assisting residents in finding jobs?
  • Helping New Americans master essential skills and get access to critical programs and services?

Look to community partners to help share the library’s burden of meeting community needs.

  • Can local social services provide funding for early childhood development or literacy programs?
  • Are there federal programs or grants to support the library in assisting New Americans who are integrating into the community and acquiring essential skills?
  • Are there small businesses or corporations who are willing to fund library programs or services such as a Summer Reading Program or a homework help center?
  • Showing that you’ve formed strategic partnerships to meet the community’s needs illustrates that your library is nimble, creative and willing to stretch beyond the limitations of a prescribed budget.

The strategic plan comes from your community's priorities; the budget comes from your plan.   Show how you’ve listened to what the community and your decision-makers want from the library and planned accordingly:

  • If a community’s priority is to have a library presence in every neighborhood, you may need to recommend that all branches should be open but with limited hours.
  • If the priority is efficiency and budgeting cuts, closing branches and extending hours at fewer branches may be the way to go.
  • If helping individuals find jobs is a critical issue, access to computers and a mix of daytime and evening hours is essential.
  • If low elementary and high school academic scores in your community is a problem, funding homework help centers should be part of your budget.
  • If small businesses in your community are closing, creating a small business resources center shows how your library is supporting the local economy.
     

Start with the premise that a library is providing local services that are important locally.   Unlike many other units of government (e.g. schools or transportation), budgetary decisions pertaining to libraries are almost always made at the local level.   Stay current with what’s happening in the community from a local political perspective and reflect this perspective in your library budget.

Provide opportunities (a bulletin board, comment cards, Library Appreciation Week, etc. ) for library customers to share their stories about how your library is meeting their needs.  Anecdotes from “real (voting) citizens” are powerful statements to include as part of your budget presentation.

Where Budgets and Friends Meet...

Presenting an annual budget isn’t just the job of the library director.  You’ve got Friends!

A Library Friends organization can be one of the most powerful allies a library has as the director prepares for and presents an annual budget.  A good Friends group can:

  • Help the library director determine what should be in the annual budget.  A well-balanced Friends group reflects the geo-diversity of the neighborhoods the library serves.  Friends Board members can give the library director valuable input about the community’s needs and what budgeting priorities are within their own neighborhoods.
  • Mobilize a powerful Advocacy Committee that will work throughout the year to advocate on behalf of the library with local decision-makers.  Friends Board members represent their neighborhood communities and develop relationships with their elected/appointed representatives.  A good Friends advocate is a strong voice and a valuable tool in the budgeting process – and stays connected throughout the year.
  • Develop position papers that present the library’s current economic position, its value to the community, funding needs, gaps and opportunities to expand capacity.  The library’s budget spreadsheet is made up of line items and numbers.  A library platform or a “Return on Investment” piece tells the full story of the library and all its value to citizens (in general as it supports specific populations), schools, businesses, the local economy…a good library platform tells it all! Two great examples of this include the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library's 2010 Advocacy Plan and the San Francisco Public Library Advocacy Report.  
  • Represent the library to constituent groups. Friends Board members often speak and represent the library with neighborhood groups, broadening community understanding and appreciation for the library’s value.   A well-prepared Friends Board member has a lot of credibility because of their dedicated volunteer status.
  • Advocate at the grassroots level.  Friends Board members attend city and county meetings and offer testimony on behalf of the library. They connect with decision-makers regularly, keeping the library visible throughout the year.
  • Be the literary voice for the library.  Friends Board members often write Op Ed pieces for local newspapers and “letters to the editor”.
  • Open doors.  From an elected official’s standpoint, Friends Board members can create links to groups and entities where an endorsement is sought.  This mutual “back-scratching” can benefit the library and the elected official, creating a relationship that can have long-term positive effects for the library.
  • Demonstrate how money talks!  Broadly-based private funding from Friends groups demonstrates to local officials that supporters of libraries are powerful, spread out and ready to fight for their library.
  • Mobilize other library supporters.  Friends groups organize grassroots support of bonding measures, state or local set-asides or other ballot issues that have long-term effects on libraries.
  • Fill the gaps.  One of the biggest roles a library Friends group plays is to provide funding for library programs and services that are not covered by public funding of the library’s budget.  This can be anything from funding a summer reading program to conducting a capital campaign.
  • Sing the song of success.  When successes are achieved (fending off budget cuts, renewing ballot measures, etc.) Friends can go back to library supporters and say “Look what you have done through your support – you made this possible.”  There’s nothing sweeter than success achieved through a grassroots effort.

Coalition Building & Strategic Partnerships

Strength in Numbers: Leveraging Strategic Partnerships and Coalitions

Presenting a successful library budget can be greatly enhanced by demonstrating that your library has partners who work together to deliver programs and services to the community.  Working with strategic partners, or in coalition, indicates that your library is finding creative ways of sharing resources and delivering added value by collaborating with other organizations.

  • If your library works with schools, arts groups, history centers, museums or other community-based organizations, show how these partnerships allow the library to “deliver more with less” and enhances the services of your partner organizations.
  • Demonstrate that your library shares goals with community agencies.  Does your library work with a community organization, such as a workforce development program?  Show the number of individuals who receive help with resume writing, learning job skills, using the Internet for finding jobs…and then describe how your library works with the community agency to achieve shared goals.
  • Tell the story of how partnering with small business owners has an economic impact on the community.  Share anecdotes and quotes as part of a handout, or your budget presentation.
  • Libraries often share programming with community arts organizations.  In your budget presentation, share information on how such a coalition appeals to private funders, lifting some of the financial burden from the public sector.
  • Media partners are visible, powerful allies.  If your library offers sponsored programming or events with local radio or TV stations, or newspapers, illustrate the power of these partnerships by highlighting attendance, sharing audience quotes and demonstrating that your library understands the value and impact of sharing the stage with a media partner.
  • Schools and school media centers are under terrific pressure to provide needed resources for students, with shrinking budgets.   Partner with area schools through homework centers or providing books and other resources that will be used in classes or programs.  When you present your budget, show how this collaboration allows schools to expand their resources and your library to work with targeted groups of key customers.
  • Defending a budget is as much about impact as it is about the bottom line.  Look for and nurture partnerships that will allow your library to offer new, exciting programs and services and repeat (over and over) the success stories about how creative partnerships have a strong economic and “quality of life”  impact on the community.
  • “Back-scratching “can be a rich feature of a partnership or coalition.  Share the success and spread the word about community partnerships.  Speak or write in support of your strategic partners and ask them to do the same for your library.  Having members of an arts organization, or a history center at budget hearings sends the message that the library is a strong community player.
  • Other community organizations face the same challenges as the library.  Reach out to your counterparts in other organizations and learn from them, as they learn from you.  There are always strategies and tips to share and support to be enlisted.
  • Remember that strategic partners and coalitions are the way of the future.  Continually create and use these collaboratives in ways that will enhance your library and the community.

BACK TO TOP

Preparing a Budget Presentation

The Decision-Maker Speaks

Qualities of the Successful Budget Proposal

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Be ready to discuss changes both within the library and outside influences that may be driving changes in budget proposals.
  7. Decision makers will be most likely to approve budget proposals that are able to show balance between financing, spending, and performance.

Cautionary Tales

  • 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.

Do's & Don'ts in Making a Library Budget Presentation

From the Decision-Maker’s Perspective

Do…

  • 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.

Don’t…

  • Under-prepare.  Do not assume that wide public support will result in an easy proposal process, be ready for tough questions at every step.
  • Avoid giving a direct or frank response to questions.  Even the hint of holding back will foster negative responses from budget authorities.
  • Fake an answer!  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.
  • Commit to specific number in a public forum capriciously- if forced, offer a range and agree to follow up at a later date.
  • Respond to confrontation publicly if you can help it.  If you know that you have opposition to your proposal ahead of time, ask your opponent to meet one on one at a later time to work out any concerns or reservations.

Executive Librarians Speak

It’s easy to get caught up in the many details of budgeting, but for the Executive Librarian, the most important issues in successful budget proposal planning are community issues – how to best serve our constituents.  Consider the following to ensure that you create and present a successful budget:

Cautionary Tales

Never become so invested in the details of the budgeting process that you are caught off guard by a big-picture question.

Statistics, by themselves, do not tell the whole story:

Some years, there simply is NO money - no amount of pressure or support will be able to change this fact:

Be sure to demonstrate to the budgeting authority that you continuously strive for improvement, not just during tough times. 

Best Practices from the Viewpoint of Executive Librarians

Within the Library Community:

  • Forming panels of library administrators to advise on spending streams creates an environment of teamwork.
  • Brown-bag budgeting sessions with senior team members can be very illuminating.
  • Foster library ecosystem thinking among administrators - keep them thinking about the system as a whole, rather than focusing too closely on their own area of responsibility.
  • Help administrators to think like the budgeting authority/decision makers: how will what you are proposing "pay off"?
  • Look for opportunities to build cooperative purchasing agreements.

Outside the Library:

Utilize Friends groups:

  • To teach patrons about the best ways to communicate with elected officials,
  • To keep the public informed about the library's important events and organizational changes.

Utilize patrons:

  • Keep your budgeting authority up to date on what's happening at the library.
  • In some cases, early distribution of budget summary information (e.g. usage trending, connection to political priorities, etc.) can be very helpful.
  • Maintain good relationships with your vendors.

Keep your budgeting authority up to date on what's happening at the library.

  • Library Trustees (especially those representing the governing body) are a critical way of keeping elected officials informed about the library.
  • Request that the governing body include time in their regular meeting agenda each month for a report by the Library Director.  This prevents the feeling that “the only time we ever hear from you is when you want something.”

In some cases, early distribution of budget summary information (e.g. usage trending, connection to political priorities, etc.) can be very helpful.

  • Maintain good relationships with your vendors.
  • When times get tough, your vendors will appreciate knowing that they won't stay that way - things will improve.

If a cut has to be made, be prepared to do it.

10 Things I Know to be True about Budgeting for Libraries

Toni Garvey, former City Librarian, Phoenix, Arizona

  1. Budgeting is a year-round exercise.
    Decision makers need to hear about your services all year – not just when they’re voting on a new budget.  It’s easier to get and hold their attention when they’re not being deluged.
     
  2. You can’t make responsible decisions without the right information.
    Decide what you need to know and collect that data.  If you know you need to reduce hours, for example, find out what days and times you’re busiest with circulation, visits, phone calls and other electronic communication.  And then think about the data your library should collect next year: what will you need to know to tell the library’s story?
     
  3. Budget staffs have long memories.
    Do not play fast and loose with the numbers.  If you eliminate 5 FTE by cutting 10 hours of service, you can’t ask for 8 FTE to replace those hours in the future.  The budget folks will remember and you will look like a bad manager at best and deceitful at worst.
     
  4. It’s easier to build up than tear down…
    and it helps you focus on the future.  If you’re facing substantial cuts, make a list of all the resources the library will still have – buildings, staff, technology, collections.  Then study your usage data and design a new library system with the available resources.
     
  5. We cannot afford irrelevant excellence.
    We all have those things our libraries do well that aren’t as important as they once were.  It’s just human nature to want to do those things we’re comfortable with and good at.  Have staff at all levels help you find and eliminate those programs or processes that no longer support your service plan and are draining your resources.
     
  6. Even in bad times, you are building for the future.
    It’s tempting to drastically cut or even eliminate training funds when times are bad.  Don’t.  You’ll need motivated, skilled staff to get through hard times and prepare for the future. 
     
  7. A communication plan is essential.
    What will you tell staff, the library board, elected officials, the public about the budget … and when?  What formats will you use?  Who will speak for the library?  People need to trust that you will tell them what you can, when you can.
     
  8. You need to think like your audience.
    Whether you’re justifying a budget request to elected officials or explaining service cuts to the high school parent-teacher association, you must consider your audience and recast the message to resonate with them.  Remember, if a library’s materials budget is cut by 20% and circulation remains level, it will look to some people like a good business decision.
     
  9. It’s not always about the numbers.
    Nothing beats an anecdote from a constituent in making the case for your budget.   Letters, emails, phone calls, testifying at a budget hearing – these are all opportunities for decision makers to hear what’s important to the community.  Elected officials and other decision makers expect you to fight for the library’s budget.  What will sway them is hearing from the public.
     
  10. You can’t say “thank you” too often.
    Even when your budget is being cut, make sure decision makers are thanked publicly for the difficult work they’re doing.  At a time when they’re getting hammered from all sides, they will appreciate and remember positive words from your supporters.

Graphs to Tell the Story

Graphs can help us tell our library's story.

TREND Graphs show this library OVER TIME - are we getting better or worse?

COMPARISON Graphs show US VS. SIMILAR facilities or standards (at one point in time) - are we leading or falling behind?

  • "similar" may be based on municipal population, service population, annual circulation transactions, geographic location
  • local governments often want comparisons to neighbors, even though not "similar"
  • standards may be State quantifiable standards

Create "Normalized" Statistics:

  • Permit comparisons among libraries of different sizes (including ours if we've grown!)
  • Are we paying staff too much/too little?
    • Personnel costs per FTE: shows what each full-time equivalent staff member costs in pay and benefits - so we don't have to be concerned with size of staff, how many are part-time, etc. (No matter how many hours we're open, the number of FTE's = total staff hours/40.)
  • Are we over/under staffed?
    Circulation per FTE: shows how many circulation transactions each full-time equivalent staff member handles annually
  • Are our operating expenses high compared to others? Have we gotten more or less efficient?
    • Cost per circ.: shows operating costs expended for each circulation transaction. (with or without personnel costs)
  • How does our municipal funding compare to other (different-sized) communities?
    • Municipal allocation/Equalized Assessed Value: shows funding in relation to community wealth
    • Municipal allocation per capita: shows funding per citizen.
    • Municipal allocation plus State funding per circ.: compare to cost per circ to see shortfall

Determine Other Info Important to Our Audience: Funding besides municipal allocation (how are we doing at generating other revenues?), Population changes inside/outside of municipality, etc.

(Equalized Assessed Value is available from local, county or State government. All other info above is available from State's agency in charge of libraries.)

Group the statistics to make graphs with IMPACT!

TREND Graphs

  • Support Graph (PDF): municipal support per capita vs. per $1,000 in EAV (trend, last 5 years)

COMPARISON Graphs

Other possibilities:

  • Programs (COMPARISON or TREND) Graph: number of programs and total annual program attendance. Or, normalize to: number of programs per capita and attendance per program.
  • Expenditures and Support (TREND) Graph: total operating and materials expenditures and municipal allocation (are they rising/falling together?)
  • Summarize graph results in a box below each graph, so no one misses the message!

Remember: this info can also help in planning!

  • At what point will we need more personnel? When our Circ/FTE gets too high…
  • How much will another person cost? Use Personnel Cost/FTE to estimate…
  • If circulation grows (due to expansion, population growth, etc.) how much will our expenses go up? Use Cost/Circ. (adjusting as necessary for personnel costs!)…..

Use the Right Data to Get Your Budget Passed!

Powerful data in your budget presentation can pave the way to support from your funding sources.  It can tell your story – where you have been, where you are now, and where you hope to go with library services in your community.  It can give them reasons to support your efforts, and ways to justify this to constituents.  Some things to consider:

  • Find sources of data to use in presentations. 
    • The Public Library Association prepares an annual report with extensive data on library services ( www.pla.org).  Information includes annual funding and expenditures, collection size and services, etc. for a large sample of libraries in the U.S. and Canada.
    • Many states collect similar data through their library oversight departments and make it available to the public – for example, Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction has annual data going back many years for every library in the state, available in Excel format on their website.  Even if your library is not in Wisconsin, this information can show how libraries of various sizes serve their communities. 
    • More local data may also be available from your library consortium or city and county library service. 
    • Don’t forget non-library data!  You may want to compare your library’s budget requests to cost of living increases or discuss how rising unemployment drives increased need for your services, etc.
       
  • Consider presenting information on the market value of your library’s services to the community.  Check out:  www.maine.gov/msl/services/customcal.htm to see what a bargain libraries are!
     
  • Graphs and charts can make it easier to show the relationships between data points, either for your library compared to others, or your library over time.  (See separate section of this website on graphs.) 
    • Here is an example of a chart that would give some perspective on how the “Presenting Library” stacks up to others on key indicators (data from PLDS Statistical Report 2009, for libraries serving population of 25,000 to 49,999).  Note how we have provided the conclusion that we’d like drawn from the information presented:
Library Expenses on a Per Capita Basis
  Materials Expenditure
per capita
Circulation per capita Operating expenditure
per capita

Staff FTE

Mean $7.01 11.79 $56.86 87
Median $5.26 9.30 $40.53 82
Presenting Library $22.57 40.19 $53.40 80

As this chart shows, high materials expenditure achieves exceptional circulation. Yet total expenditure and FTE's are responable.

  • Consider presenting how well your library is meeting generally-accepted standards or how your library has progressed (or regressed) over the last few years.  Also consider presenting information on how you intend to better meet those standards in the future with adequate funding.
    • Wisconsin, for example, has Quantitative Standards for Materials Expenditures, Hours Open, etc. based on population served.  Any library anywhere could measure itself against such standards. 
    • A chart or graph that demonstrates meeting or exceeding many standards while failing at others can be a powerful way to support funding for those areas.
       
  • Data showing what other libraries are doing: services offered, building size, collection size, etc. can highlight your library’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as show funding sources what is needed for your library to “keep up.” 
    • You can compare your library to those in similarly-sized communities or those with similar circulation. 
    • Budgeting authorities are often especially interested in how your library compares to those in neighboring communities.
       
  • Create normative/derivative data to make your case.  Some examples:
    • Restating total Materials Expenditures into Materials Expenditures per Capita makes it possible to compare libraries serving different sized populations. 
    • Restating total Operating Expenditures into Operating Expenditures per Circulation enables you to show how economically you deliver your services (or use it to support a request for funding for efficiency improvements, like self-service kiosks).  
    • Funders concerned with your personnel costs may be reassured by seeing your Staff Costs per Circulation, or FTE per Public Service Hour compared to those of similarly-sized libraries.
       
  • Finally, remember that all this data can do more than just directly support your budget request.  It can also help you to gain the perspective (which you can also share with funding authorities and patrons) that will enable your library to continually monitor its performance and strive to improve its services to the community.  

BACK TO TOP

Citizen Support- Rallying Stakeholders Around the Library

It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t believe in libraries.  Getting people to raise their voices in support of the library is another story.  Rallying stakeholder support is a powerful tool in passing library budgets, keeping libraries open and keeping a library’s value to the community highly visible.

There are several ways to bring individual citizens and constituent groups out in support of the library and plenty of things stakeholders can do to apply critical pressure on the library’s behalf.

  • Grassroots advocacy efforts are one of the oldest and most effective tools for persuading decision-makers.  Libraries of all sizes should have Advocacy Committees made up of citizens from every neighborhood.
  • The Advocacy Committee should meet with the Library Director and be educated on all aspects of the library’s budget, library needs, the budgeting cycle and all of the library’s sources of funding.  An advocate who knows what they’re talking about is really powerful.
  • Anyone speaking in public on the library’s behalf should have talking points and fast facts about the library and its budget needs. 
  • Supporting the library’s budget isn’t just the task of an Advocacy Committee.  Library supporters from all neighborhoods should be encouraged to attend public meetings and budget hearings and, if appropriate, give testimony.
  • Central and branch libraries should post notices about budget hearings and public meetings that focus on library issues.
  • Even if citizens don’t speak at public meetings, their presence is valuable.  A self-identified group of library supporters carries a strong message: “I’m a library supporter…and I vote.”  This is what decision-makers need to see and hear.
  • Buttons abound…libraries across the country have developed buttons for getting their message across.  Wearing a button that tells anyone and everyone that you are a library supporter spreads the word quickly and pervasively.
  • Constituent groups served by the library can form a strong advocacy group.  Teenagers who use the library for homework help can learn about the civic process by testifying on their library’s behalf, or by meeting with their elected official (make sure they’re prepared!).  Seniors who view the library as the go-to place for life-long learning are often eager to speak up for the library.  New Americans have powerful, emotional stories to tell about how the library impacts their lives and the importance of supporting the library’s budget.
  • Working with the media is another powerful tool to encourage support of a library’s budget.   Press releases, Letters to the Editor, Op-Ed pieces focusing on facts and impact are great ways to garner support for the library and its needs.
  • Choose well-known, respected community leaders to write or speak on the library’s budget.  (For an excellent example of “two mayors” speaking on behalf of a library’s budget, read the Viewpoints article from the Saint Paul Pioneer Press (PDF).
  • Keeping information about the library and how it supports the community should be an ongoing priority…not just when the budget is on the table.  

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Making the Budget Presentation- Do's & Don'ts

Budget Presentation 101 and Beyond

Considering that your budget presentation is an opportunity both to improve your audience’s understanding of library operations and to achieve passage of your funding request, a well-designed presentation is well worth the work!

Let’s assume that you will be presenting your budget request in person and have decided to do so via a handout and a PowerPoint presentation.  Here are suggestions for a basic presentation, then how to “rise above” that level for a more powerful presentation. There is also a PowerPoint template showing, slide-by-slide, how to structure your presentation to maximize your audience’s understanding and support.

At a minimum, your budget presentation should…

  • Start (both the hand-out and the Power Point) with the Library’s Mission Statement, to remind your audience of the library’s purpose and role in the community.
  • Provide your detailed budget in a hand-out spreadsheet.  For each revenue and expenditure, show
    • Current Budget
    • Current Year’s Projected (or Actual, if the entire year’s transactions are already known) revenue and expenses.
    • Next Year’s Budget (the one you’re submitting for funding)
    • Then, two columns for “Change in $$” and “Change as a %.”  There is some variation in how this is done, but it is recommend that you compare Next Year’s Budget to Current Year’s Projected, as this is more current than the budget created a year ago.
  • Then, you will need some analysis of these figures.  The most basic way to do this is to group revenue and expenditure accounts, such as Personnel (salaries, wages, benefits), Materials/ Programming (books, periodicals, speaker fees), etc.  Then discuss your budget rationale for each group, for example, “Health insurance premiums increased 14%, but we plan to reduce hours and freeze wages so we can hold Personnel costs steady for next year.”

Following these steps would constitute a bare minimum presentation.  This may be sufficient but it can waste an opportunity to showcase your achievements or garner support for your challenges!

Let’s expand our presentation –so that it stimulates the response we seek – better understanding and stronger support. 

To start on this path, carefully determine one or two key messages you would like to convey to your audience related to this budget .  For example, you may wish to show how the community has increased its demand and response to Library programming.  Or, you may wish to convey that limited funding has left you with stale collections that are of diminishing value to the community. 

  • Your library can’t do everything for everyone, and your funding authority has multiple demands on it, as well.  Focusing your presentation on a couple of issues can make it possible to reach a consensus on what is most important in your budget request. 

Next, you’ll need to decide how to get those messages across to your audience. 

  • The message, itself, will determine to a large degree the best way you can justify support for your goal. 
    • For the first message, above, you could:
      • show increases in numbers of programs offered per capita and numbers of attendees, both for just your library over some period of time
      • compare your library’s programs (numbers or, perhaps, variety)and cost per capita  to those of similar libraries. 
      • Finally, you would show exactly how your proposed budget will enable you to improve this service (e.g., another weekly story hour costs $1,000/yr).
    • For the second message, above, you could
      • compare your collections (size, age) to those of similar libraries or accepted standards
      • compare materials expenditures and annual circulation per capita, either to those of similar libraries or  for just your library over a period of time (or both!). 
      • Finally, you would show (again) exactly how your proposed budget will enable you to make the improvements you seek (e.g., 3-year plan to update geography reference materials at $5,000/yr).
    • See the Using Comparative Data and the Graphs to Tell the Story sections of this website for more ideas.
  • Consider a brief handout that gives a snapshot of your library for the past year. This handout is a good take-away for your audience to be able to think about what the library has accomplished in the past year in a succinct format.
  • As you think about how best to convey your message, remember your audience.  Consider how much time will you have, how comfortable they may be with numbers/charts/graphs, whether they are likely to be overwhelmed if you provide too much data or suspicious if you provide not enough, etc.  In general, limit the number of PowerPoint slides, and keep each one “short and sweet.”
  • Note that the beauty of this “message” approach is that your presentations will offer a fresh perspective from year to year as your messages change, enabling you to build over time a fuller understanding within your audience of the library’s services and needs.

Finally, remember to maintain an upbeat, “can do” attitude throughout your presentation.  Keep in mind the Mission Statement and the community you serve.  If presentation is done at a public meeting, you should have encouraged Friends, etc. to attend to demonstrate support for the Library’s service to the community.  Whatever response you get from your funding authority, be sure to thank them for their attention.

Check out the PowerPoint Budget Presentation to view a template for structuring your budget presentation.

Qualities of A Successful Budget Presentation

From the Decision-Maker’s Perspective

  • 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.

Best Practices for Budget Presentations

  • Be ready to answer the most unexpected of questions (e.g. “What could you do with half of that?”).
  • Understand that the budget details, about which you care deeply, will never be as important to the budget authority; accept this and figure out what is important to its members.
  • Remember that your presentation has to be layered – the budget authority might approve your proposal without a single question, having only seen the executive summary.
  • Remember that you better have a second (and possibly a third) layer of detail to present to your budget authority.  They just might have a lot of questions for you.
  • Avoid any kind of public confrontation – agree to meet personally with a questioner who isn’t satisfied with your answer.
  • Do not commit to a specific number in an open forum; if you’re backed into a corner, agree to a range or to discuss it at a follow up meeting.
  • Balance is the key for budget authorities who are accountable to voters – if financing, spending, and performance are balanced, your budget will appeal to everyone.
  • Know that people who work with numbers for a living want to see how things compare with other things (e.g. year-over-year, per capita performance, increase of total services, etc.); give them what they want.
  • Use whatever tools you need to get your message across, but be sure that your message gets through.  Graphs and charts, PowerPoint presentations and executive summaries are great visual aids, but if your message is muddled the process of approval will be unnecessarily complicated.

Main Street Library At a Glance

PowerPoint for Main Street Library

Description and Purpose of Activity

The Main Street Public Library strengthens community, supports literacy, provides access to information, and fosters lifelong learning and enrichment.

 Library activities include selecting, purchasing, cataloging, processing and circulating books, magazines, newspapers, audiobooks, DVDs and music CDs for the use of the community.  Library staff members strive to fully answer requests for information and to locate needed items and articles.  They actively participate in community efforts to improve literacy by offering programs for all ages, particularly pre-school children and their caregivers.  The Library is also a place where free access to the Internet and computing is available.  The Library provides outreach bookmobile service to daycares and other stops within the City and offers a large number of electronic resource subscriptions. 

Accomplishments & Highlights 2009 

  • Increased service levels, experiencing the busiest days in the library’s history, following a trend that began in 2007.
  • Working with the local work force center, developed a Business and Employment Resource Area in the library.  The collection for this Resource Area was provided with the assistance of the Friends of the Library.
  • Replaced furniture in the Teen area with assistance from the Friends of the Library.  Finished repainting Teen area and added display shelving and slat wall (end cap display) in many places throughout the library.
  • Continued to gather information (particularly related to fundraising) and plan for a library expansion.
Activity Measures

Activity- 2009

Numbers completed- 2009

Registered cardholders

19,974

New items selected, ordered, catalogued and processed 

9,446

Reference questions answered

16,156

Circulated (checked out)

395,226

Hours of service (library)

65.5 hours/wk; 3,342 hours/year

Hours of service

1000 hours (approximately)

Visitors

220,551

Programs offered (including Books & Stars)

677

Attendance at programs

13,421

Interlibrary loans sent to other libraries

18,635

Interlibrary loans received from other libraries

22,847

Uses of public Internet computers

29,580

Use of wireless Internet connection

3,596

Electronic (online) resources provided

36

Users of electronic resources

16,964

 

Initiatives in 2010 

  • Continue to implement the steps outlined in the 2008-2012 Library Long-Range Plan; evaluate progress towards goals and revise as needed.  Major goals of the plan are:  foster lifelong learning support information literacy and collaboration; the library as a welcoming, accessible and convenient public gathering place; diverse collections of print, media and electronic resources; information related to work and employment, school, business and personal life; developing a library facility that will support the services the Main Street Library community needs
  • Cut county bookmobile stops and proportionately reduce bookmobile staff hours accordingly.
  • Cut Sunday hours in order to reduce staff expenditures.
  • Celebrate the centennial of the Carnegie Library Building.
  • Continue to contribute substantially to the economic vitality of the community.

Follow Up

Once the Budget Presentation Is Over

Once the Budget Presentation Is Over

  • Once your budget has been approved, the cycle begins again.  There are steps you should take to smooth the way for the next budgeting process.
  • Say “Thank you!” to decision-makers who have been part of the budgeting process.  Call or write and let them know that you appreciate their time and consideration of your library’s needs.
  • Thank your Advocacy Committee members and other volunteers and stakeholders for their support of your library in the budgeting process.
  • Let your staff know your appreciation for their efforts in creating your library’s budget.  Share any specific feedback you may have received from decision-makers.
  • Debrief the process with your staff.  What went well?  What could have made the process more efficient?  What should you change in the next budgeting process?
  • Begin again the ongoing progress of scanning the community to monitor needs, priorities, challenges and opportunities for providing service.  Keep a budget file that you add notes to that will help inform the next budgeting process.
  • If you are requested to come back with a revised budget, respond quickly.  You should always go into a budget presentation with a “Plan B” in the event that your budget doesn’t receive approval.
  • Budgeting can be a stressful process.  When your presentation is over, celebrate your efforts with your staff so that everyone feels they’ve participated in a good team effort.

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Budgeting Best Practices

Best Practices for Creating a Successful Budget

  • The library budget is the result of local money funding an important local function.  Remind your budgeting authority how its library returns value to the community and aligns with the community’s priorities during every budget cycle (and at every other opportunity).
  • A community’s priorities are the priorities of the community’s library – library patrons and their elected officials need to know exactly how everyone benefits by supporting this community asset.  Patrons (voters) need to let politicians know that they support libraries.  Politicians will gain votes using the same message to voters.
  • Understand how to use comparative data (from similar library communities or against your own library’s historical data) that support your budget narrative.  Have a strong understanding of contemporary and past budget events in your community; learn how to use statistical trends to support your arguments.
  • Your profession is collegial and filled with people who love learning and helping others – remember there are many librarians out there who are willing to share their experiences with you.  Your greatest resource for budgeting advice could be your professional colleagues.
  • Work with the community’s representatives – board members, Trustees, Friends groups, and elected officials.  Whether the economy is waxing or waning, these groups support and care about libraries and will help you to align the budget with the community’s priorities.
  • Budgeting is a year-round practice that requires constant attention; teach staff members and non-staff supporters always to keep their eyes open for opportunities to fine-tune the processes and efficiencies of your library.
  • The community’s library is always about the future of the community – your budget proposal relates directly to the youth of your community.
  • Always keep your message positive - be ready and willing to compromise.
  • You have multitudes of patrons who will never set foot in your library (accessing the library’s resources via the Internet).  Figure out creative ways for  reaching these cyber-patrons to ask for their support.

 

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ALA Advocacy Library