Building Church Budgets

Photo Courtesy of GotCredit

Photo Courtesy of GotCredit

My friend Van and I get quite a few requests to help out with younger TDs who are charged with coming up with a church tech budget for the first time. To be sure, there’s a lot to it, and the process can be intimidating if you’ve not done much with budgets before. I am thankful that when I became a TD, I had already worked in several roles that required me to develop and stick to budgets. Today, we’ll talk about some things that will help you through this process.

Basic Budget Categories

Some churches use standard accounting categories for every purchase, while others leave it up to each department to come up with their own. I’ve worked in both. Here is a list of some standard categories you should probably have in your budget. They may be named something slightly different, but they should be here.

  • Equipment & Furniture Purchase
  • Rent & Lease
  • Repairs & Maintenance
  • Supplies

Those are the basic four. Obviously, Equipment & Furniture is a standard accounting term; you probably won’t be buying much furniture. Unless it’s new chairs for the tech booth. Equipment is just what it sounds like—gear. This would be mic’s, lighting fixtures, cameras, computers, audio interfaces, speakers, cables, etc. Anything that you will use over and over is likely an equipment purchase. Now, some churches make a distinction between capital expenses and regular E&F purchases, but we’ll get to that in a minute. 

Rent & Lease is typically where I put rental gear. We didn’t rent a lot, but we did for Christmas, Easter and VBS. VBS rental came out of the Kid’s Min budget, but Christmas & Easter were mine. Usually it was more light fixtures, but there was sometimes audio gear as well. Chances are you’re not leasing anything.

Repairs & Maintenance—the equipment you purchased needs to be maintained. Projectors need service, lighting fixtures need to be tech’d, consoles need to be cleaned. Sometimes stuff breaks and will need to be sent back in. Don’t short yourself on this category. 

Supplies are things that get used up and discarded. Batteries, gaff tape, bulbs, filters, hardware bits, things like that. Sometimes in a tech budget, weird stuff like aircraft cable and spray paint show up here. 

Optional Budget Categories

  • Books & Subscriptions
  • Conference & Travel
  • Food & Beverage
  • Independent Contractors
  • Leadership Appreciation
  • Postage & Shipping
  • Software

I used to put a little money in the budget ever year to buy a few books and maybe subscribe to a training site or online service. Some years I never spent anything, others it was a few hundred dollars. It’s good to have, though.

Conference & Travel is one that typically gets cut when money is tight. I fought for this every year for 5 years and lost every year. Some churches don’t see the value in their employees getting better at what they do, some just don’t have the money. Still, I submitted it every year because I think it’s important. 

Food & Beverage is a big one. Tech people love to eat. There are not many better ways to encourage and thank your tech team than to feed them. I spent several hundred dollars a year on F&B for my team, and they knew they were cared for.

Not every church hires independent contractors, but even if you don’t, it’s not a bad idea to budget for some. Occasionally it’s a good idea to bring an outside expert in for a weekend to help your team get better. Or maybe you have one main audio volunteer and he wants to go on vacation once in a while. Some churches pay their whole tech team, so this number is going to be bigger.

Leadership Appreciation was a nebulous category for me. I sometimes put some money in there because hey, who wants to cut appreciating leaders? I would then slide this money into something more useful like F&B and appreciate my leaders that way. 

Postage & Shipping is one many churches forget. Ever had to overnight an antenna combiner from CA to IL for repair? You’ll wish you had some money in the budget for that. Now, some might argue that the freight charge should come from repair and maybe it should. But you may have to ship back demo gear, stuff that didn’t work out or send your team a nice set of thank you cards. 

Software is often broken out because it is handled differently from an accounting perspective. We don’t buy a lot of software as TDs, but you may be looking for a new DAW, an upgrade to your video editing software, or a measurement application. 

Keeping Track

In last week’s post, I mentioned it’s important to manage your budget well. To do so, you have to keep track of your spending. Most churches will issue accounting reports each month, but I always found those hard to read, and always at least several weeks behind. So I built my own spreadsheet. I’m including my actual 2013-2014 budget spreadsheet below so you can take a look. It’s a Numbers file originally, and while I converted it to Excel for you Office users, it’s not the same. 

I tracked every single purchase and knew at any given moment where I was percentage-wise for the year. Because of this, I could come in pretty much right on or slightly under budget every year. That makes the money people very happy. Look through that spreadsheet and you can see how it works. I enter the expenses in the appropriate category tab, and it’s all tabulated on my overview sheet. The percent of year calculator is broken as we’ve gone a few years past the end of fiscal 2014, but you’ll get the idea. By knowing where we were in the year (55% left, 34% left, 21% left), I could track my remaining budget. The cells even changed color when I hit various limits.

This is getting long, so I’ll stop here. Next time, I’ll pick up with more on developing and tracking your budget.

Budget Tracking Spreadsheet (Numbers Version)

Budget Tracking Spreadsheet (Excel Version) (Not as Cool)

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