Empowering Budgets for Small Libraries
By Asha Vyas
A budget is more than just a series of numbers on a page; it is an embodiment of our values. President Barack Obama.
A well-planned budget reflects your library’s community footprint. The process to create this real-world, library-mission-focused budget happens all year long. It’s more than just a planning tool for Directors, Fiscal Officers, and Boards; it’s an educational tool for staff and the community. Simple shifts can help ensure an accurate, relevant accounting of expenses to create an effective budget while also serving as a tool to educate and inform.
Accurately Record Expenses
A commitment to accurately recording all expenses will not only make the budget process easy it will also provide guidance for your strategic plan. Both the Director and Fiscal Officer should purposefully categorize each expense into the correct account. Ensuring expenses are categorized correctly will set your library up for positive public perception and accurate long-term budgeting. For example, even small hardware or software costs for public use should not be expensed into an overhead account like office supplies. Further, if it’s a fixed asset, like laptops for the public, make sure there is an expense category that represents technology for patron services. This habit supports a positive return on investment [ROI]. An ROI is a reflection of the stewardship of library funds. It is a real number for the public, voters, and donors to see the value of their dollars in action. An accurate budget will show a clear picture of where the money is going. That clear picture, especially over several years, provides the needed information to guide your long-term strategic plan.
Involve Staff in the Process
Personnel costs are and will continue to be libraries’ largest expense. Thoughtful budgeting based on past spending and future plans will allow room for pay increases, job training, and growth. Including staff in the budget process will educate these employees. Helping your staff understand how to categorize expenses will ensure that everyone has a stake in the process and empowers employees to spend with the library’s mission and budget in mind. The dissemination of basic budget information to librarians, for example, could help them refine their collection development to ensure the community has the resources it needs. Additionally, explaining a budget shift, like moving dollars from physical materials to digital materials, will allow staff to educate the public on new options and fresh services.
Consider Outside Resources
As the library needs change, consider outside resources. Not many libraries needed a technology specialist 30 years ago. Now, most patrons would appreciate help with their e-reader or phone. Employing these and other niche specialists to provide support and services is a luxury for some institutions. Often, outside services can be more cost-effective and provide the same internal and patron support. Examples of outside resources are cleaning services, maintenance, benefits administration, information technology, recruiting, month-end financials, policy development, and strategic planning. An accurate budget can be used to evaluate the cost-benefit of these services. Remember, outside services could be ongoing or a one-time project like assistance with budget prep, workforce strategy, or grant writing. Outside resources are also excellent temporary help while the library searches for additional in-house personnel.
A perq to educating your staff, board, and the public is transparency, and transparency fosters trust. Libraries are traditionally ‘safe spaces’ and implementing budget education as a deliberate part of your management plan encourages transparency and collaboration from all library partners. What message does your library’s budget send? Used correctly, a budget doesn’t restrict you; it empowers you.
Asha Vyas is a Staff Accountant with Your Part-Time Controller, LLC. Your Part-Time Controller [YPTC] provides customized accounting and financial management services for over 1,200 nonprofits nationwide. Since 1993, YPTC has built transformative, personalized solutions based on clients’ financial needs, including cash flows, funding streams, financial concerns, and internal control challenges. YPTC is committed to educating organizations through webinars and resources that provide relevant takeaways and best practices. To learn more about YPTC and browse our content, visit www.yptc.com.