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Your goals and values are reflected by how you budget

Like it or not... running an organization, just like life, is full of compromises. And sometimes contradictions. Here are a few examples of what I mean:

An organization says that their people are its top priority, but salaries and benefits are almost always on the top of the list of items to cut at budget time.

An organization says that being accessible to the community is a core value, but your lowest ticket price is out of reach for many because that’s what they need to charge to make the budget work.

With finite financial resources, an organization’s budget is not immune to tough decisions.

But you already know that.

As a leader of an arts and cultural organization, you are undoubtedly passionate about your mission and want to serve your community in the best ways possible. What you may not think about as much is how the budget reflects the goals and values of your organization.

In fact, I would go as far as to say that a budget is the best reflection of organizational values and goals. Not mission statements. Not strategic planning documents.

At one organization I worked with, there was genuine interest in strengthening their equity, diversity, and inclusion values. EDI was discussed in senior management meetings and a special task force was set up to lead those efforts. A list of ideas was developed by the task force as first steps, including internal training, audience initiatives, and community engagement.

And then came budget time. The organization included these initiatives in the first draft of the budget, along with other programs and initiatives. As often happens with first budget drafts, there was a considerable deficit at the bottom of the page. The difficult work of whittling down the deficit begins and, when it’s all over, nearly all the funding for the EDI initiatives had been removed.

How well does your organization’s budget reflect your stated goals and values? If an outsider were to look at your budget, would they see those same goals and values?

My name is J.L. Nave. I'm the principal coach and consultant at Nave Strategies where I provide practical advice and services to small and mid-size arts and cultural organizations to help my clients move from surviving to thriving. A video like this is my way of sharing what I have learned from decades in the industry.

Today I’d like to share a different way to approach making sure your budget reflects your goals and values.

Perhaps this will be a familiar scenario:

You have a staff member who contributes very positively to the bottom line. The staff member loves working for your organization. They aren’t actively looking to leave but know they could make a lot more money somewhere else. You are also aware of this and would like to show how much they are valued by the organization.

You calculate a salary increase of fifteen percent would likely keep them from entertaining other offers for a while. However, your budget is tight enough as it is. A salary increase will have to come from somewhere. You believe increasing revenue is not likely because they are already highly effective. Then you look at any expenses that could be cut to make room for the pay raise. Nothing jumps out at you, so you resign yourself to the fact you may not hang on to the staff member much longer.

What you have done, from a practical standpoint, is prioritize all other expenses over retaining the staff member. To say that another way: You have prioritized every artistic and program expense, all other staff salaries and benefits, marketing, fundraising, and administrative expenses over keeping this valued staff member.

I want to be clear – this is not about guilt or judgement. It is about having honest, candid conversations and being intentional in your budgeting. Acknowledging that something is not currently a goal or value doesn’t make it unimportant or unworthy. You can use that acknowledgement as a springboard to identify what needs to change for that goal or value to move up the priority list.

These can be difficult conversations to have on your own. I would be happy to help your organization through these discussions and make a plan to turn aspiration into reality.

There are three ways we can connect:

  • Make sure to follow me and Nave Strategies on LinkedIn

  • If you prefer to get tips and advice through email, sign up to receive my updates at Scroll to the bottom of the homepage and submit the form.

  • If you have a question about your unique circumstance, direct message me through LinkedIn with that question. I’ll make sure to get back to you.

One final thought – Being intentional about your goals and values is the difference between your organization surviving and your organization thriving. Let me know if I can help your team get there.


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