Cautious Income Projections, Flexibility, Planning for Contingencies Key in 2021 Budgets

What are your thoughts and tips for chambers regarding budgeting for 2021?

Nancy Lindholm, ACE
Oxnard (CA) Chamber

My advice for budgeting has always been to be conservative with income projections and liberal with expenses. That’s really a great position to put yourself in if your cash flow will support it.

Also, flexibility will be key in the COVID era. I’m assuming we are going to be in a state of modified lockdown for Q1 and Q2 of 2021. I believe we will have a vaccine readily available in Q3, and we will be developing a new-normal lifestyle in Q4.

Always be ready to amend your budget if unforeseen conditions develop, and pivot your programing to reflect the demands of your investors.

Chris Romer, ACE, IOM
Vail Valley (CO) Partnership

Chambers—like all businesses—must be flexible when budgeting for 2021. Specifically, chambers can take immediate steps to improve their budgeting processes in 2021:

• Apply your learnings from 2020.
• Stress-test scenarios and assumptions to counter uncertainty.
• Reimagine the chamber from a zero base and focus on key value drivers.
• Hold back some spending as contingent resources to build flexibility into budgets and to give yourself options.
• Focus on the highest-priority areas of your organization.
• Rethink decision making to speed up and debias your decision-making processes.

A “perfect” budget for 2021 may not be achievable—but a better budgeting process certainly is.

Cathy Burwell
Helena Area (MT) Chamber

In my 30 years of managing chambers, preparing a budget for 2021 will be the most difficult. As we navigated 2020’s many challenges, the hardest part was predicting the impacts to our chamber of 750 members here in Montana’s capital city of Helena.

Our chamber depends on approximately 45% of our budget to come from our events and programs. Taking our $140,000 tourism budget out, our chamber’s budget is about $604,000. We have backfilled anticipated losses in 2020 with $123,000 in grants and stimulus dollars, plus with strong renewals (surprisingly), we anticipate ending 2020 well into the black. So, all extra dollars will be placed into reserves that may definitely be needed to fill in next year if events continue to be delayed, put on hold, or canceled.

I plan to put forth pretty much a “bare bones” budget that will limit expenditures and underestimate income. My staff has brainstormed a list of new money-making projects to help backfill lost income from canceled events. Then, we will hope and pray that our normal events and programs resume normal participation and income.

Anne Glasscock, ACE
Kaufman (TX) Chamber & Economic Development Corporation

I am cautiously optimistic budgeting for 2021. We recently lost a staff member and are looking at this as an opportunity to reconfigure our office.

We will still plan for revised versions of our fundraisers, and reduce the budgeted net, while hoping for in-person events in 2021. Our sales tax numbers this year have been above 2019 numbers and several employers are hiring. Additionally, our new memberships have been consistent this year, so we anticipate that this will continue as well. For our member events, we will likely do a mix of virtual and in person as long as guidelines can be followed.

We are ready to be with our membership and resume all the in-person networking, etc., but are aware of the shifts in business practices and want to be able to connect with those who aren’t able to attend in person yet.