Driven by Data

Four Things to Consider Before Beginning the Budgeting Process

A well-conceived budget will serve as a “map” when making financial decisions throughout the year. It will reflect what you value as an organization, communicate your priorities to key stakeholders (board, staff, authorizer, families, funders), and highlight any new or changed priorities. Before the more technical work of the budgeting process begins, there are a number of broad concepts that we recommend every school focus on.


Define your goals.

A strategic budget will align with your school goals. If funds are not properly allocated at the beginning of the school year, it will be difficult to follow through on your plans for advancing and improving your school. Think through the changes you want to make to your program, and then how the budget should reflect those changes, i.e., where funds will need to be correspondingly allocated.

Form your budgeting team.

A fully-functioning school budget has many moving pieces. To coordinate these pieces, your team needs to figure out who is involved and what roles each of them will play. 

  • Who is responsible for creating the budget? Who is accountable for the overall budget accuracy and feasibility? Who is providing input and who is merely informed?
  • Will one or more persons oversee the budgeting process? 
  • Will a committee have final approval? Who is part of this committee?
  • Which members of your team can provide the level of detail that you may need? Do you need to recruit more team members?

Set the timeline.

Ensure that all levels of stakeholders have ample time to provide input. Use the final approved budget due date to backward plan intermediate check-in dates. Once those dates are defined, inform relevant parties about when input is needed from them throughout the process.

Key dates to keep in mind:

  • Authorizer due date for the approved budget
  • Board meeting for budget approval
  • Finance Committee meeting for budget approval
  • The ideal time for releasing offer letters and intent to return letters to staff

Track against your budget throughout the year.

Your budgeting method should be informed by the way you want to track your spending. If you want to be able to understand spending against budget throughout the year on a vendor level, be sure to budget on a vendor level. If you want to be able to report on a program/department level, flag those expenses accordingly in the overall school budget.