October 17, 2012

Don't Kill Your 1%

Cutting the office budget - and especially the print newsletter - is an easy target.

It seemed every year I served as the administrator at a parish, I would be put to task to advocate that my office budget was already running as leanly as could and I had to make the case for the print newsletter to be kept in place. This was despite the fact that the majority of the congregation read the newsletter and valued it. As a print publication in our digital age, some in the congregation still viewed the newsletter as something that could simply be digitized.

The trouble is that for most parishes, office and newsletter expenses are usually small when you place them in the larger context of the whole budget. Striking the print newsletter will likely not solve your underlying budget issues and risks cutting a valuable resource and tool for your congregation. I’m all for being eco-friendly and conserving financial resources, but congregations need to consider how much print publications serve the mission of the church. Print and electronic communications are vital to a congregation’s communications and in an ideal setting, you will do both. For further information on why print newsletters are valuable, I recommend reading Susan Elliott’s “Newsletter Makeover.”

Take a different lens to your budget

How did I make the case for keeping our print newsletter to the budget committee? One of the best ways is to toss aside the print vs. digital argument and just look at the hard data of the budget. I would recommend that all parishes look at their budget through different lenses every year to take stock of where your resources are being allocated. It was an enlightening experience for me and ultimately we used it as a tool in our parish’s stewardship campaign.

An example of what we did was taking our individual line items and regrouping them into two entirely different budgets: ‘Missional’ and ‘Operational’. The Missional budget was to break out and see where our dollars went toward mission. Operational was to break out the office budget and consisted of: Rector Salary & Benefits, Staff Salary & Benefits, Mission & Outreach, Buildings & Grounds, and Operational Costs.

You may be surprised at how little your parish spends on your office and newsletters. In the case of my parish, only 5% of the operational budget was being put into the entire office budget (‘Operational Costs’), while Buildings and Grounds accounted for 31%.

Cutting the newsletter would have been a small dent in the overall budget - in our case not even 1% of the entire budget. My guess is that most congregations would be spending something close to this 1% of their budget on the newsletter and feel similar pressure to kill it off. And yet this 1% makes such a significant impact on the life of most congregations that I believe it’s worth preserving.