One of the most important duties State Bar leadership and staff have is developing an annual budget and managing the organization’s ongoing financial health. When done right, an annual budget should reflect the organization’s values and priorities and set the course and direction for the coming year.
When I became executive director, I laid out a new approach to budgeting and managing our finances. We’ve made tremendous progress in the past three years by following some basic principles and rules.
We make sure our budget balances each year, with our operational expenses never exceeding our annual revenues. My dad used to say “don’t spend what you don’t have” (in other words, don’t use savings to buy this week’s groceries). It’s sound advice. For the State Bar, this means not using our reserves to fund ongoing expenses.
At the same time, we’ve not been afraid to use reserves for one-time, significant expenses and smart investments in programs, products, and services that serve members’ needs and will have positive, long-term financial effects. WisBar’s new online Marketplace is a great example.
We’ve also shifted existing resources to invest in programs you told us are vital. These include the Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program (WisLAP), grassroots advocacy efforts, sections, and high-quality continuing legal education. We have done so while reducing the size of our staff and eliminating underused programs, products, and services.
We’ve disciplined ourselves at the front end of the budgeting process to provide more accurate projections, being cautious not to be overly rosy with anticipated revenue nor building too much cushion into expenditure lines.
This approach has served us well. We have managed to the bottom line in each of the last two budgets without making draconian mid-year cuts to services and added modest amounts at the end of each year to our reserves.
We take a hard look at all expenses, with a focus on ensuring we are funding items of greatest value. At the same time, we are willing to let go of programs and products that have run their course or are of lower value in helping members in their practices.
This coming year’s budget will be tight. In the last three years, we’ve reduced our staffing and management footprint. The low-hanging fruit is gone, and we can no longer keep reducing our staff support if we expect to maintain the same, let alone a higher, level of services to you. The bottom line – we must continue to manage our expenses while making sure our revenue keeps pace with basic inflation.
We take a hard look at all expenses, with a focus on ensuring we are funding items of greatest value.
Over the next few months, the State Bar’s Finance and Strategic Planning committees will work together to develop and present to the Board of Governors a plan that best moves us forward.
If we do this right, we will continue to build budgets that position us to best serve you in your practice and ensure the State Bar’s long-term sustainability.
I encourage you to see for yourself. We now post on WisBar key financial information, including our annual budget, quarterly financial reports, and the yearly audit. It’s easy to find: Click on the “forMembers” tab and go to “Financial Reports.”
One thing will never change: We will always be good stewards of your money.