Recession Budgeting Blues

Recession Budgeting Blues

October and November are budgeting months for many of us: the annual exercise of trying to match our sense of mission urgency and programmatic ambition with available resources.

If your organization is like most, this year presents some special challenges – and opportunities – because it’s smaller now than it used to be. Members – especially those at the lowest levels – have left, foundation support has dried up, travel budgets have been slashed, new equipment purchases have been put on hold, and hardest of all, staff have been let go.

Will 2010 be better? There are certainly encouraging signs out there. Have we hit bottom? Is the Great Recession over? Maybe, maybe not. But at least one economist I heard on the radio the other day suggested that we not expect the economy to simply return to where we left off. This isn’t a “market correction”. It’s more like a complete reboot.

We have a great opportunity to reboot our organizations now as well. As money starts to flow again, rather than scrambling to replace all we “lost” in the last 15 months, we should reset our organizational baselines to THIS current reality and plan to grow thoughtfully and deliberately into organizations that are more sustainable, more resilient, and, to borrow a phrase I like a lot from Kelli Bishof, more potent than before.

I suggest you start by returning to your organization’s mission, vision, and strategy – not a full strategic planning exercise necessarily, but refreshing in your mind “why we’re here and what we’re doing”. Before you take the next few steps up the ladder, make sure the ladder is still leaning against the most important wall. Is the current strategy still valid? Are your priorities straight? Are your annual goals realistic?

Then take a moment and reflect on your pre-recession wish list. Are there items that you can take care of now that will be more difficult to do later? Such as:

  • Building an endowment
  • Setting aside operating reserve funds
  • Replacing an antiquated server
  • Investing in membership recruitment to reduce dependency on a single large grant
  • Building or re-building your website
  • Launching a more formal planned giving program
  • Identifying a priority project or geographic area to focus outreach and effort

I suggest presenting a balanced budget to the full Board for approval that is based on ZERO growth in 2010. Anything you raise in excess of this amount can be made available for one of these important-but-not-necessarily-urgent wish list items.

What’s on your important-but-not-necessarily-urgent list that you have been putting off? As always, your comments, responses, and questions are welcomed here and by email at



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