Nonprofit budgeting and Transformational Giving

Received a query about how a Transformational Giving approach to development impacts the nonprofit budgeting process.

It’s a great question, since it recognizes that how and what a nonprofit budgets largely determines how and why it will relate to its partners and champions.

Think about it like this:

Nonprofit A is working on its budget for the coming year. It says, ‘We really need that new vehicle this year. Plus new computers. Plus we need to give our executive team a raise now that the feds raised the minimum wage. Dang! We’re going to have to increase our budget 25% over last year. Where are we going to get the money?’

Note in this process that neither the services provided nor the income anticipated is connected to the growth of the nonprofit’s champions and partners in relation to the cause. Rather, the nonprofit simply determines how much it ‘must’ have to provide the service it ‘must’ do, and the part of the equation that ‘must’ flex…is the champion/partner apparatus, otherwise known as the Income line on the budget.

But is there an alternative?

Consider Voice of The Martyrs (especially if you are thinking that Transformational Giving-type approaches can only work with small ministries).

VOM automatically sets next year’s budget equal to the previous year’s actuals.

In other words, if in 2008 VOM partners and champions gave $25 million, it automatically sets 2009’s budget at $25 million. Everything it raises above and beyond $25 million in 2009 it allocates to reserves, which it then uses for capital projects and/or unanticipated expenses.

What makes such an approach a TG approach?

The fact that the one piece that doesn’t flex is the champion/partner allocation. VOM works according to the assumption that the most accurate predictor of the maturity level of its champions and partners is their present level of giving.

Now, they could of course budget an increased amount of giving predicated on the idea that their champions and partners will grow in maturity from the previous year, and that certainly wouldn’t be counter to a Transformational Giving mindset. But by budgeting the same amount as last year’s actuals, VOM ensures that the motivation for champions and partners to grow will be intrinsic to the cause rather than extrinsic (i.e., VOM’s organizational budget needs).

That way, should this year’s giving exceeds last year (and, praise God, it typically always has for VOM, because they do a tremendous job coaching their champions and partners), the fruit of that is resources available for new initiatives that reflect the fact that the new resources are the fruit of new understanding and growth on the part of champions…which will likely take the organization into new areas of endeavor.

Ergo, what drives VOM into new areas is not perceived organizational need, but rather actual champion/partner maturity, reflected in increased giving.

The organization, in other words, is nothing other than its network of champions and partners. Champions and partners are coached in service purely to the cause, not the budget. And when you act in such a way that income needed and services provided are a function of the maturity of your champions and partners, you’ll look at the importance of fostering that maturity in a whole new light.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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5 Responses to Nonprofit budgeting and Transformational Giving

  1. Matt Bates says:

    As great as VOM’s model is, they still presume that partner/champion interest will be the same or better than the previous year. What would a third alternative look like, where VOM had a year “in the bank”, and set their budget based on money sitting in their account? For example, in ’08 they raise $25M, which becomes their budget for ’10. In ’11, they spend whatever they raised in ’09 and so on. In the current model, VOM, like everyone else, is committing to spend money that they’ve not yet raised, presuming that donors will supply their need.

  2. Crusher says:

    So how does that work exactly – I’m not sure I get it. For a new ministry, I need to raise twice as much as my first year budget, make the extra my second year budget and make the money I raise in year 2 be the funds I actually spend in year 3?

    That would seem to be no real difference in principle from the VOM model, I just have a year’s cushion. Why settle on 1 year, maybe I should have two year’s of cushion or maybe 5 years if I am doing really large projects. I just don’t see the reserve aspect being any more transformational than involving donors in the activities they need to engage in and fund right now.

    Contrarily, it seems that building a signficant reserve could mean that 1) I am taking funds from donors (rather than champions) for projects that I have no intention of doing in the near future, which is why they are donors as they are not able to participate in those projects now; and 2) building a funds reserve that is disconnected from teh actual champion work taking place so that I can have money to do things I want to do next year whether champions are participating in that activity or not. Maybe I am misunderstanding your point though….

  3. Suzanne says:

    This makes sense except how do you manage uncontrollable expenses (whereas wanting to buy a new car or new computer is controllable)? If you base your budget on the prior year, how do you handle known costs that will rise in the following year? For example, energy costs for heating your building are going up 15%. Cost of gas going up 20% – particularly a problem if part of the ministry work is transportation. Cost of food that you serve to the homeless is going to cost you 10% more. Etc.

    Would you start the year by cutting back on things within your control (staff, programs, etc.) in order to balance your prior year’s income with the coming year’s expenses?

  4. EFoley says:

    Good question, Suzanne. The answer is that you’re basing the budget for the coming year off of last year’s ACTUALS rather than last year’s BUDGET. So there shouldn’t be a flatline from year to year if you’re coaching your champions and partners in the grace of giving as related to the cause.

  5. Pingback: So what does the God of Measure measure?, part II « Transformational Giving

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