Last time, we started to look at the various categories that make up a church tech budget. Today, we’ll consider how to come up with the amounts that should go in each category. Before we start, I want to acknowledge that not every church will have a real church tech budget. Many small churches struggle to get by each month, and the tech teams there just do the best they can. I get that. My first church was that way.
However, I would suggest that if production technology is at all important to the mission of the church, there should be some thought given to how it gets paid for. As individuals, we typically don’t reach financial goals without doing some planning. The same is true for organizations. Not having money to invest is not an excuse for not planning for retirement years. You still need a plan to get there. Start somewhere; anything is better than nothing.
Establishing the Budget
There are many ways to go about this. Some would suggest a flat percentage of the total budget, and I’ve heard percentages ranging from 1-5%. For a church that relies very heavily on production, that number might be even higher. For churches with very large budgets, the number might be lower. But that is a rough starting point. If you are using this method, you’ll typically be allotted an amount, and it’s up to you to spend wisely.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of this as it can lead to government-style spending. “Well, I was given $50K and if I don’t spend it this year, my percentage will get cut next year, so I have to spend.” It might be a little less work, but I prefer need-based budgeting.
I’ve found that the needs for tech don’t always track flat every year. In other words, some years are rebuilding years, others are maintaining years. I would rather spend what I actually need each year, not whatever random amount was allocated. And for those who think it’s really hard to go from maintenance (a low spending year) to rebuilding (a high spending year), I can tell you it’s a lot easier when you do a great job tracking, maintaining and making a case for the need for new equipment. Take this advice—it’s more effective to ask for more when you’ve built trust. And you build trust by taking this very seriously.
Track Actual Expenses
When you come into a new church, hopefully they have some historical data you can look at to establish a baseline budget. In every situation I’ve been in, I started with previous budgets and always requested reports of actual expenses to start to see what it actually costs to run the department. Typically, I’ve been able to go in and make some tweaks right away that make things more efficient and thus more cost-effective.
Once you know what it costs to run the department, you can begin to assess what you need to upgrade and update. Unless you’re in a very special situation, you’re not going to get carte blanche to spend whatever you want to upgrade everything at once. You’ll need to develop a plan. I always attack major pain points first, trying to land some big wins right out of the gate. That builds credibility and makes it easier to keep getting more.
Best Guess, Mr. Sulu
Sometimes you don’t really know what your expenses will be. At that point, you have to take your best guess. For the equipment category, I added up the gear that I wanted to buy in the coming year, found some rough pricing on it, and used that as my budget line number. Supplies are similar; how many rolls of gaff tape might you need? How many batteries do you use a weekend, do some math and there’s your number. Of course, you should be using rechargeable batteries and that saves you a ton of money, but you need to buy chargers and batteries to start. How much will that cost?
For some categories, food for example, pick a number that seems reasonable for a month of taking your team out for lunch, coffee and bringing in snacks as needed. Multiply by 12 and you have it. Don’t go crazy with it, though, or it will look like you’re just trying to get your lunches paid for. I usually made do on $50-60 a month with my smallish team.
Sometimes it can be hard to guess how much gear you’ll rent for Christmas, especially when you have to submit your budget in March and you have no idea what the Christmas production needs will be. This is where historical data and just a gut check will come in handy. Still, it can be just a guess.
Getting It Wrong
Sometimes I hear from guys who are super-stressed out about getting their budget perfect. They are deathly afraid of under budgeting for something then going way over. Let me try to assuage those fears—it happens. Look, when you’re trying to come up with 12 months worth of repair spending, you have no real way of knowing what’s going to break. You’re not likely to get fired if something goes horribly wrong and you’re short on budget—that is if you can demonstrate that you did your best to get it right and you either A) just didn’t know the true costs of doing this or B) there were things out of your control.
For example, let’s say you buy a new bulb for your projector and it turns out to be defective. Not only is it defective, but it explodes inside the unit like a fragmentation grenade and destroys the LCD panel and half the cards. That might blow your entire budget, but it wasn’t your fault, and you had no way of knowing that would happen. It happens (it happened to a friend of mine). Remember the post I wrote a while back, Trust God and Do your Best.
There are no hard and fast rules for this as every church and situation is unique. Hopefully this gives you some guidance that will help you come up with your plan. As we continue on with this series, I’ll be stressing how important it is to pay attention to this and build trust. That cannot be overstated. More to come!