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Making meetings fun

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Making meetings fun

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Case Example: The Annual Budget

Dealing with the community’s annual budget is often dreaded by many members. It can lead to intense arguments over spreadsheets, many rows of numbers, tiny minutiae that seems only to matter to the detail oriented or the ones proposing their pet projects. This is often a meeting people gladly skip. How can you make the annual budget meeting more fun? Here is one way: Make it a party!

Start by dividing your budget into 2 parts:

  • Operating expenses
  • Projects and acquisitions

Operating expenses are the bills you have to pay. This hopefully does not eat up all your money. This is usually very simple to pass because once you get past your first couple of years you will know how much insurance, taxes, utilities for the common house, etc. actually cost and you already have set a level of monthly dues. Very little debate is usually needed for this part. The operating costs are usually relatively fixed costs that you can get agreement on.

Do this part first and save all other budget items for the party. A typical budget might be 2/3rds fixed expenses, 1/3 acquisitions and projects. It is sometimes tricky to pull out projects and acquisitions from expenses. Is the cost of replacing silverware an acquisition or a fixed cost for the community center team?

Where budgeting typically gets difficult is deciding on the projects and acquisitions. Do we want to buy a lawn mower, or a tea set? Do we want to plant the play area lawn or build the deck off the community center? This is where making this into a party makes it easier and also fun to decide about these priorities.

Materials needed for a budget party

  • Displays for each project and acquisition
  • Play money
  • Pledge forms
  • Fully Funded signs

Place, time, and setting for party

Setting up the party

Give everybody notice that projects and acquisitions will be needing a display for the upcoming budget party. Each group or person that has a passion for a project or acquisition for the group is assigned to make a compelling display with information about it. They also should be ready to answer questions. The amount of money needed has to be clearly displayed.

Set a date for a budget party. One attribute that can make this fun is to make it a charity ball dress up event, where people come dressed up in fancy clothing, snacks and wine are served, elegant chamber music in the background.

To set up the play money, you will need to take the total money available for projects and acquisitions and make up play money (monopoly money works great for this) and divide this money into all the units. So for example, if you have $3,000 and 30 households, each household gets $100 in play money, which should be divided into 20, 10, 5 and 1 denominations.

The project and acquisition displays are setup around the room, each with a small box or envelope under them. People who are supporting the displays stand around and answer questions or “hawk” their display. If you really get into it, displays can be supported by drama, songs or slogans. For example, a display for a water fountain at the playset can have a couple of kids “dying” of thirst in front of the display.

Time to Party

Each household then “spends” its portion of the budget by placing an amount of money in the box or envelope for each display they want to support. When a project is fully funded a bell is rung or some other type of announcement/fanfare is done, the display is then covered with a sign which says Fully Funded!

When all the money in the room is spent the partially funded displays can be funded by taking money from the least funded and putting it into the displays that are closest to being funded. So for example, if there are 6 displays that are not fully funded, the one with the least money has its’ money put into the display closest to being fully funded. Leftover funds can be placed in a slush fund which can be used for anything the group agrees to.

If there are people in the group who are not present for the funding party you can leave the displays up and have them fund them during the week, or you can redistribute those funds to those present at the party.

One addition to the budgeted money is to allow donations to be made. If for example, a person wants to donate money above and beyond their assessments, they can write a pledge on a pledge paper and place it in the display container.

One issue that sometimes gets raised with this process is that if taken too literally, this is a form of voting and not a consensus process. Things may very well get funded that some people don’t want, or don’t like. If you find people are dissatisfied with the outcome, you could spend some time working on the issues people have about particular projects after the party… or agree to the process with some constraints – your mileage may vary.

This started as an article by Rob Sandelin, distributed in various
forms and published online by NICA. Rob gave permission to post it
here, knowing that it may morph into something new as we "wiki" it...

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