The Budget Process

Every fiscal year PASS creates a detailed budget.  This helps us set priorities and communicate to our members what we’re going to do in the upcoming year.  You can review the current budget on the PASS Governance page.  That page currently requires you to login but I’m talking with HQ to see if there are any legal issues with opening that up.

The Accounting Team

The PASS accounting team is two people.  The Executive Vice-President of Finance (“EVP”) and the PASS Accounting Manager.  Sandy Cherry is the accounting manager and works at PASS HQ.  Sandy has been with PASS since we switched management companies in 2007.  Throughout this document when I talk about any actual work related to the budget that’s all Sandy :)  She’s the glue that gets us through this process.  Last year we went through 32 iterations of the budget before the Board approved so it’s a pretty busy time for her us – well, mostly her.

Fiscal Year

The PASS fiscal year runs from July 1st through June 30th the following year.  Right now we’re in fiscal year 2011.  Our 2010 Summit actually occurred in FY2011.  We switched to this schedule from a calendar year in 2006.  Our goal was to have the Summit occur early in our fiscal year.  That gives us the rest of the year to handle any significant financial impact from the Summit.  If registrations are down we can reduce spending.  If registrations are up we can decide how much to increase our reserves and how much to spend.  Keep in mind that the Summit is budgeted to generate 82% of our revenue this year.  How it performs has a significant impact on our financials. 

The other benefit of this fiscal year is that it matches the Microsoft fiscal year.  We sign an annual sponsorship agreement with Microsoft and it’s very helpful that our fiscal years match.

This year our budget process will probably start in earnest in March or April.  I’d like to be done in early June so we can publish before July 1st.  I was late publishing it this year and I’m trying not to repeat that.

Our Budget

Our actual budget is an Excel spreadsheet with 36 sheets.  We remove some of those when we publish it since they include salary information.  The budget is broken up into various portfolios or departments.  We have 20 portfolios.  They include chapters, marketing, virtual chapters, marketing, etc.  Ideally each portfolio is assigned to a Board member.  Each portfolio also typically has a staff person assigned to it.  Portfolios that aren’t assigned to a Board member are monitored by HQ and the ExecVP-Finance (me).  These are typically smaller portfolios such as deferred membership or Summit futures.  (More on those in a later post.)  All portfolios are reviewed by all Board members during the budget approval process, when interim financials are released internally and at year-end.

The Process

Our first step is to budget revenues.  The Board determines a target attendee number.  We have formulas based on historical performance that convert that to an overall attendee revenue number.  Other revenue projections (such as vendor sponsorships) come from different parts of the organization.  I hope to have another post with more details on how we project revenues.

The next step is to budget expenses.  Board members fill out a sample spreadsheet with their budget for the year.  They can add line items and notes describing what the amounts are for.  Each Board portfolio typically has from 10 to 30 line items.  Any new initiatives they want to pursue needs to be budgeted.  The Summit operations budget is managed by HQ.  It includes the cost for food, electrical, internet, etc.  Most of these come from our estimate of attendees and our contract with the convention center.  During this process the Board can ask for more or less to be spent on various line items.  For example, if we weren’t happy with the Internet at the last Summit we can ask them to look into different options and/or increasing the budget.  HQ will also make adjustments to these numbers based on what they see at the events and the feedback we receive on the surveys.

After we have all the initial estimates we start reviewing the entire budget.  It is sent out to the Board and we can see what each portfolio requested and what the overall profit and loss number is.  We usually start with too much in expenses and need to cut.  In years past the Board started haggling over these numbers as a group.  This past year they decided I should take a first cut and present them with a reasonable budget and a list of what I changed.  That worked well and I think we’ll continue to do that in the future.

We go through a number of iterations on the budget.  If I remember correctly, we went through 32 iterations before we passed the budget.  At each iteration various revenue and expense numbers can change.  Keep in mind that the PASS budget has 200+ line items spread over 20 portfolios.  Many of these depend on other numbers.  For example, if we decide increase the projected attendees that cascades through our budget.  At each iteration we list what changed and the impact. 

Ideally these discussions will take place at a face-to-face Board meeting.  Many of them also take place over the phone.  Board members explain any increase they are asking for while performing due diligence on other budget requests.  Eventually a budget emerges and is passed.

Publishing

After the budget is passed we create a version without the formulas and salaries for posting on the web site.  Sandy also creates some charts to help our members understand the budget.  The EVP writes a nice little letter describing some of the changes from last year’s budget.  You can see my letter and our budget on the PASS Governance page.

And then, eight months later, we start all over again.