By Jennifer Wright Cook
Do you hate budgets? Do you get hives when you are asked to do one for a grant or a presenter?
I love budgets! Yes, I do. Budgets are just numbers really. And numbers are just numbers. They won’t judge you. They won’t tell you how much you are worth. They won’t reject you.
Budgets are information that you can use to make strategic decisions about your creative projects or your personal life or anything involving money. Without a budget plan you risk making last minute decisions and using your credit card to finance your show or your life.
Budgets are mutable. As your creative project unfolds over time you can update your budget with new information. For instance, if you estimated that you could raise $3,000 from Individual Giving and you actually raised $3,500 that means you have $500 more for your work! Amazing. Maybe that means you can afford a consultation with a Costume Designer or you can pay your artists a tad more.
And if you raise less than you estimated then you can make strategic decisions in advance about what you can cut. Rather than going into debt yourself (again and again and again).
A budget is also a moral document. It shows what you believe in and what you value. If you show that you are paying your artists a decent fee for their time then that shows your donors and presenters that paying your artists is vital to you. Conversely, if you don’t have artist fees then that shows something else. (Yes, of course, whether you can afford to pay your artists or yourself is another matter. But most funders and many presenters want to see that you aspire to that. And, yes, you should aspire to that. And you can make it happen. Maybe it’s all inkind/donated for now but maybe you start small with a stipend for a show. And then you grow from there….)
Ok fine. So in terms of your artistic life: how do I make a budget for my show?
Start with expenses by projecting what you will need and researching or figuring out how much each of those needs will cost. Ask people you know, use your contacts and resources to find this information, and tackle it one item at a time. Think about your whole project and any possible expenses. Is your show outside for example? Then you might have expenses for permits, sound amplification, port-a-potties, etc! You might also consider adding a Contingency or Miscellaneous line item (FYI some funders want to see detail on such lines and some won’t let you have any lines like these though).
Your budgeted income should realistically include a variety of sources of support, including individuals, fundraising events, ticket sales, grants, in-kind (free) donations etc. Count all possible sources, noting any sources already “secured,” or "received." If you list any grants please be realistic and do your research. For instance, if you list Jerome Foundation at $25,000 that’s crazy town. Jerome (and any other arts funder) would think you don’t know what you are doing. You want them to trust that you know what you are doing.
It’s really that simple. Income and expenses. Not your worth. Not your value. Just plans and ideas.
Some other things to consider:
· Make sure that your overall budget is not too large or too small for your level of experience, scope of the project, and your history of carrying out similar projects. Do research on your peers’ budgets.
· Inkind income must be matched in expense. So if you show $5,000 in donated rehearsal space you must show at least $5,000 in expenses for rehearsal space.
· For internal purposes I often have 3 budgets! My big dream budget, my realistic budget and my sh*t hits the fan budget. As the project unfolds I tweak my budget as needed.
· Your final budget should always balance—meaning that income equals expenses.
And if you want an app or a program to help you deal with budgets? Our amazing choreographic colleague, Yanira Castro, recently pointed me to YNAB (aka You Need A Budget). She swears by it for her home budgeting. And understanding your personal finances is key in knowing what you need for your artistic work!