For most of us in youth ministry January marks the new budget season. For some of us that is like getting a late arrival Christmas present where we got exactly what we asked for and the whole rest of the year we will get to play with this gift. For others, it can feel like that bad post resolution January where we give up chocolate, fatty foods and head to the gym because we don’t like what we see.
In my time as a youth worker I have always felt an immense pressure regarding the annual budget. It seems like in every church I’ve worked at I am somehow haunted by the Ghost of Bad Youth Budgets Past where people remind me about the camp that went way over budget 15 years ago or the Mission Trip that needed to run 3 extra fundraisers to make ends meet. Or just the general stigma that youth workers are “bad with money”.
To be fair there is a reason many of us are youth workers and not investment bankers. We tend to get more excited about planning games for summer camp than we do about the Dow or what percent of interest our 401k will earn. Just because we as a group are not known for our financial prowess doesn’t mean we can’t be really good with our budgets. In fact, I think it is because of this that we need to know how to budget well and exactly what we are doing with our congregation’s money. I would like to share with you some new year budget resolutions I make to ensure that when I reach the end of the budget year next year I stay on the finance committees nice list.
First, plan your budget out on what you will be spending it on. Hopefully you did something like this when you proposed your budget for the coming year to give you the number you were asking for. How much will you spend on the weekly programming? For example, if I were to just pick up $50 worth of snacks and drinks a week and I ran weekly programming roughly 40 weeks a year that means I am spending $2,000 just on food and drink. That may be right on point for my budget or that could be my whole budget. It is important to estimate your spending for the whole year.
I recommend making a chart with your budget. Make three categories one for the things you need no matter what, second for the things you would like, and third I call “dream big”. Put all the essentials, whatever they may be, in the first category. This may include big events, trips, weekly operating expenses, meeting expenses, coffee budget etc. Look at what this cost you last year (I guarantee your finance person would be happy to pull the totals up for you!) Plan conservatively for this year. For example, if the cost of your winter retreat tends to go up $15 a head each year you should budget what you spent last year or you will find yourself cringing with every new sign up.
Hopefully, after you have finished all the needs you can cover the likes. These may be an expanded budget for meeting with youth, a budget to hire in guest speakers for special nights, or even an education budget so you can attend NYWC 2018! Prioritize this list and fill in the rest of your budget, again being conservative on what you think things will cost you.
By now you have likely used up %90-95 of your budget and you might be looking disheartened at the “Dream Big” section. Some of these dream big items might be that youth room update you have pleaded for since the late 80’s or that big new event you have wanted to see happen. If you can’t afford to pay for these items now don’t worry! Hopefully if you have planned well and budgeted conservatively other items on your budget will come in at or under cost. The old adage of “A penny saved is a penny earned” comes into play here. Even coming $5 under budget on a weekly expense adds up to $260 over a year. Or a well-run retreat where you got creative and saved funds could mean an entire extra “Dream Big” item on the list.
Even if you spend every cent of your budget just to cover the needs list if you do it well you are building up a different currency, trust. If you can prove to the people who dole out the budget each year that they can trust you to spend exactly what you ask for without going over you are developing trust so that you can ask them for extra next year to take care of the wants and to give you room to “Dream Big”. Finance people are generally pretty competent and they like to pay into a good investment. Even if they don’t understand anything about youth ministry if you have made them trust you then you have good standing to ask for support for the things you think the ministry needs to grow or get better. They may not understand how an all-night lock in or an extra $10 a week for pizza helps your ministry but, if they trust you they will want to invest in you because they understand that if you grow so does the ministry.
Denny Burda is the Senior Youth Minister at St. Paul’s Howell Hill in the United Kingdom. After over a decade in youth ministry in the States, Denny, his wife Merina and their cat Elliott followed God on their big adventure of a new life in a new culture.