Ep 71: A Smart Nonprofit Budgeting Process (with Hilda Polanco)

by Joan Garry

Is your nonprofit budgeting process a royal pain or a living, breathing plan for your leaders to determine your organization’s priorities?


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Your budgeting process can go one of two ways. It’s either a royal pain, or it’s a living, breathing plan for your leaders to determine and support priorities of your organization.

Sometimes on my podcast we wax philosophical. Today, we’re going to get nuts and bolts practical.

My guest, Hilda Polanco, discusses the elements of a good budgeting process, the difference between a zero-based budget and other types of budgets, and how planning is critical throughout the year – not just when funds are lacking, but even when there is excess.

Reflecting on risks and opportunities, Hilda describes how inclusiveness, clarity of assumptions, and reality checks must be balanced against your wishlist.

She shares tips and advice such as how to handle restricted grants, the roles and responsibilities of the various entities from treasurer, to board, to management, and how to deal with projecting, forecasting and… yes, recalibrating.

About Hilda Polanco

As Founder and CEO, Hilda has led FMA to become the go-to capacity builder foundation and nonprofit leaders seek to address nonprofit financial management issues. A nationally recognized and sought after leader in the field, Hilda serves the sector in many ways. Hilda was a founding member of the selection committee of the New York Nonprofit Excellence Awards, established by the New York Times and the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee. Hilda has served as an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Department of Health Policy and Management and is on the faculty of Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation’s Board Leadership Training Series.

When not speaking publicly or leading FMA’s team, she provides direct capacity building, training and coaching services to foundations and nonprofits throughout the country. Hilda served on the NYC Human Services Council’s special commission to study the closure of high-profile human services organizations. She also serves as Chair of the Board of Directors for the New York Better Business Bureau Foundation, as well as on the Board (as Audit Committee Chair) for Acelero Learning, an organization that works with local communities to support high quality Head Start programs.

Additionally, she serves on the National Advisory Board of the Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy and is Treasurer of the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers. In 2016, Hilda was recognized as a Leap of Reason Ambassador for being a nonprofit thought leader and practitioner. Her previous honors include SmartCEO magazine’s New York Brava! award for Top Female CEO, the Social Entrepreneur Award from the National Association of Women Business Owners-New York City, an award from WHEDCO for outstanding leadership in the field of nonprofit finance, and the Latina Excellence Award in Community Service from HISPANIC Magazine.

In this episode

  • How can you call it a plan if it’s constantly changing?
  • Who needs to be involved?
  • What are the best ways to mitigate tension between program and development staff?
  • What is a zero-based budget?
  • What is the board’s role?
  • What type of communication should follow a board-approved budgeting process?
  • Should you break down elements of a program based budget prior to seeking funding?
  • What is a working capital credit line and what’s the criteria around applying for one?
  • Forecast vs. Actual… when do you revise a budget?