Local Government Budgeting: Linking Your Budget and Strategy

What should you focus on to link you budget to your strategy?
Local Government Budgeting: Linking Your Budget and Strategy
What should you focus on to link you budget to your strategy?

Does your organization grow weary of an eight-month long budgeting process? Does the budgeting process help your organization find value, or is everyone just recycling budget requests from previous years? By tying budget to strategy, you can help staff better understand how decisions are made and create connections to the big picture as you work toward shared goals.

Local Government Budgeting Process

No matter what approach you take to budgeting, you have an opportunity to link it to strategy to help people see the value in your budget development process. When you link budget to strategy, you can stop dreading the budget process and instead, get inspired by budgeting!

With regular management and meetings, a linked budget and strategy allows your organization to achieve its long-term priorities. In 2020, we conducted a survey amongst local governments to learn more about their budget and strategy alignment, reporting, and results. The insights shared show the positive impact of close alignment between budget and strategy as well as consistent, regular reporting processes.

Here's how to align strategy and budget in your organization:

1. Start by clearly defining long term goals (the first step in building your strategic plan).
2. Define the budgeting process. Four options for approaching your budget:
   • Priority-based budgeting (PBB)
   • Zero-based budgeting (ZBB)
   • Budgeting for outcomes (BFO)
   • Base budgeting
3. Communicate strategy and budgeting process clearly to departments.
   • Ensure department budgets link to strategy
4. Compare previous budget to plans (not to continue previous budgeting process, but to check your assumptions).
5. Consider creating a StratEx budget.
   • This is a separate part of the bigger budget
   • This type of budget is cross-departmental and designates strategic project funding
6. Manage your budget within a strategy management cadence.
   • Be aware of strategy reporting, strategy decision making, etc.
   • Adapt and change at appropriate times (revisit budgets after strategy meetings).
   • Provide appropriate reporting for decision making.

Linking Your Budget to Long-Term Goals

Just like your strategy, your budget needs to be linked to your long-term goals. Once you’ve developed those long term goals, you can start to build your 3-5 year strategic plan and a 1-2 year associated budget.

When building your strategic plan, it’s important to involve your stakeholders, including staff and residents. It’s also important to set bold, but realistic goals that take into account your organization’s strengths and weaknesses.

When creating the plan, ensuring alignment between departments and the overall strategy is critical. Each department should support the overall strategy, and departmental plans that tie departmental efforts to organizational strategic goals can make this alignment clear.

Different budgeting processes make linking budget to long-term goals easy. Any of the below approaches to budgeting can link to your strategic plan. One size does not have to fit all; however, some are more comfortable fits depending on your organization.

Four Types of Local Government Budgeting

Different budgeting processes make it easy to link your budget to your long-term goals.

Priority-based budgeting

Priority-based budgeting (PBB) involves linking budget priorities to your strategic plan goals. PBB is driven by the idea that the initiatives and programs that support an organization’s priorities are those that should be funded by the budget. This data driven approach ensures that all funding dollars help the organization work toward its high-level goals and that program budgets are allocated based on true priorities.

The great thing is that if you have done a good job communicating your strategy, and if you have a living strategic plan, your organization should already understand these goals, and thus priority-based budgeting is a natural outcome.

Zero-based budgeting

If you are using zero-based budgeting (ZBB), you take a similar approach—building your budget from the ground up based on the priorities. However, with zero-based budgets, you don’t build off of last year’s budget; you start from zero, and then build from what you need. This might be a great approach for the current environment. (Curious why I think so?)

Zero-based budgeting helps to establish an organizational culture of ongoing cost management. It relies on increased visibility into what drives the costs of each budget item and requires setting aggressive budget targets going forward to ensure a balanced budget. In addition, continuous reviews of cost management and performance are crucial to its success.

Budgeting for outcomes

Budgeting for outcomes (BFO) is similar to priority-based budgeting, but it focuses on outcomes the organization is working towards rather than priorities. Imagine your outcomes are either your strategic plan goals or the measurable results from your strategic plan. Budgeting for outcomes allows local governments to create alignment between what the public wants and what the governments provide.

A key tenet of budgeting for outcomes is a focus on what you want and how much you’re willing to pay for it (as opposed to assessing what you currently have and how much it costs). The process will demand a lot of reorganizing, but your strategy and budget will benefit as a result.

A great place to start with budgeting for outcomes is looking at how much funding you have and then ranking your goals based on priority. You can then allocate money to the outcomes with the highest priority and continue distributing money until the funds are spent.

Base budgeting

Base budgeting uses the current year’s budget as the baseline for the new budget. The current year’s budget and allocations are adjusted according to actual spending that has occurred throughout the year as well as inflation and projections for the upcoming year; this forms the basis of the new budget.

Are you starting to see a pattern in these budgeting approaches? We’re not saying they are the same; certainly, different organizations have seen different results and benefits from each. But with a little creative thinking, you should be able to guide your organization to linking its budgeting approach to the strategy management process.

Budgeting FAQs

Local Government Budgeting: Linking Your Budget and Strategy

Ted Jackson

Co-Founder & Alabama Native

Ted is a Founder and Managing Partner of ClearPoint Strategy and leads the sales and marketing teams.

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