how the next meeting went

In June, I said that I wouldn’t be voting to approve the LITA budget, due to a variety of unaddressed concerns. At Annual, Cindi Blyberg ran an awesome meeting where we put off the vote, to give our Financial Advisory Committee time to update things before the fiscal year close. And then I forgot to update the blog about the subsequent meeting!

Well, the FAC did outstanding work, pulling together a budget that I solidly believe in, on very little notice. (I owe you all beers. A lot of beers. Zoe Stewart-Marshall, Andrew Pace, Susan Sharpless Smith: please be thinking what kind of beverages you like.) We approved it in August with very little fuss. I was pleased to vote for it.

You can have a look yourself if you like: FY2015 budget [.xlsx].

You’ll notice the bottom line here is a deficit. I’m bummed about that, because I’m concerned about LITA’s health, but mostly I’m happy about it, because it’s honest. I think the lines above it are credible estimates of what we’ll end up doing in FY ’15, and I would a million times rather be honest about the challenges of that, so we can plan for them, than sweep them under the rug.

And now the FAC is off and running on the FY ’16 budget, with a timeline that should allow for much more deliberation at leisure than FY ’15 allowed. (Note to self: you owe them even more beers.) And Board is pondering how to fill the holes. Your ideas, as always, are welcome.

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how the meeting went

Last post, I said I wouldn’t be voting to approve the LITA budget. And then I left you all hanging as I went off to Vegas, and recovered from Vegas, and started my to-do list recovering from Vegas…

So, how’d it go?

Short version

Cindi Trainor Blyberg (now LITA past president) is a quiet meeting-running ninja. We have delayed the vote. I’m cautiously optimistic about how things went. We’ll see.

Longer version

We had a remarkably good meeting Saturday of Annual. A solid majority of the Board expressed views frankly and without hard feelings. We didn’t always agree, which I think is a good thing.

We’ve asked the Financial Advisory Committee to do a bit more work before our vote. The fiscal year begins September 1, so there’s a bit of a window for that work, though it’s definitely a time crunch. We’ve also asked them to do work toward a better process for FY2016 and beyond. The ALA budget calendar says boards voting at Annual but divisional budgets are put forward for review in late winter, which means your options are pretty much “rubber stamp”, “last minute panic”, or “go beyond the calendar to ensure a consultative process by Midwinter”, and really only one of these options is any good, so I think we’ll be working toward it.

I’m glad we delayed the vote to allow time for some issues to be addressed and I hope that, when we do meet next (time TBD), we’ll have something I can feel comfortable voting for.

Obviously there’s a lot of loose ends here. What exactly can we get done in time? How fluidly can ALA roll with late-breaking changes? I’ve asked a lot of people, gotten a lot of answers, and won’t know which ones are right until at least September — that’s the caution in my optimism.

Feeling fairly confident about FY2016, though. And really hoping that as I face FY2017, the last budget I’ll face in my Board term, that I’ll be saying what’s past is prologue, and the budget is a fluid and strategic tool we’re using to advance our goals and yours, howsoever they change. And be super excited to vote for it.

Why I won’t be voting to approve the LITA budget

Not every board member can be a financial wizard. Every board member, however, needs to be a financial inquisitor.

101 Board Basics: Fiduciary Responsibilities, BoardSource

I ran for LITA Board on a platform of inclusivity, transparency, and financial stewardship. That means I consider it my sacred trust to you, the members, to understand LITA’s financial status and sustainability; to advocate for directions that support its ability to serve you for years to come; and to communicate with you about the decisions I make in representing you.

The fiscal year 2015 budget [PDF] has been presented to the Board and I will not be voting to approve it this weekend. Here’s why.

Unanswered questions

First, the budget presents too many unanswered questions.

It does not attribute revenues and expenses to program lines, which makes it prohibitively difficult to tell whether our allocations support our strategic vision, and to monitor the status of our programs.

It quotes fiscal year 2013’s actual dues revenue as our expected dues revenue for fiscal year 2015, but this is not supportable in light of our decreasing membership trend; this dues revenue projection is overstated by approximately $20,000.

Its revenue for registration fees (a new line in this year’s budget) appears to be based on our fiscal year 2014 estimated dues revenue for the sum of Forum, web courses, webinars, preconferences, midwinter workshops, and regional institutes. However, we have not run regional institutes since 2007 and have no immediate plans to do so, and budget estimates for online education have consistently exceeded actual revenue by tens of thousands of dollars. This line is given as $234,200, but actual realized revenue for fiscal years 2011 through (projecting from year-to-date) 2014 has been between $180,000 and $190,000. Therefore this line overstates revenue by roughly $50,000.

The expenses are reported in a new format, with categories that cross-cut previous categories; therefore I cannot confidently judge whether they are accurate. (Over the past four years our expense lines have also been overestimates, usually working out to net operating deficits in the $20K range, but with large year-to-year variance.) I also cannot tell how much support we intend to give to our programs, and if that is in line with what we require.

I asked some of these questions about a previous draft of the budget at Midwinter. (And more; my unanswered-questions list is far too long to fit in either a blog post or a Board meeting.) I have not found that either Midwinter, or this new draft, have answered those questions.

The bottom line: this budget overstates our revenue by around $70,000 and makes the accuracy and relevance of our expenses impossible to analyze.

What budgets are for

Second, this budget is not an instrument for communicating or enacting LITA’s strategic goals.

Because it neither disaggregates revenues nor attributes expenses to program lines, we cannot communicate clearly with our committees and interest groups how their work fits into the big picture, what LITA needs of them, and how we will support them.

Because it does not change — it reflects programs we no longer run and revenues we no longer realize, and does not reallocate money or staff time to new programs — we cannot change. We know that — particularly as a technology association — we operate in a competitive landscape that is radically different than it was ten, even five, years ago. We know, from our membership declines (shared by ALA and many associations) and the thoughtful reporting of our Financial Strategies Task Force, that we must do a better job of articulating our vision and providing value.

We have no shortage of vision, but all our strategic planning is meaningless if we cannot operationalize it.

The budget is a prologue to the real story, which is how we serve you. Let’s set the scene correctly.

Where I stand

I am persuaded that, if I were to approve this budget, I would be failing in my duty of care toward the association, and (more importantly) my duty as a representative of the membership: elected by you, holding the trust of three thousand members carefully in my hands.

Duty of care is an obligation I submitted myself to when I accepted the nomination, but your trust? That doesn’t feel like obligation; that feels like reverence.

We can and must do better by you.

I will not be voting to approve this budget. I ask the rest of the Board to join me.


Update, 10 July 2014: how the meeting went.