Let the Sunshine In

By identifying key drivers, devising realistic targets, and paring the budgeting process, companies are learning to eliminate the disconnect between finance and operations.


When CFO last examined the budgeting-and-planning cycle, the frustration in companies was palpable. Hampered by politics, the process took up to six months to complete, and often amounted to an exercise in number crunching. Not surprisingly, it was universally hated.

But over the past several years, companies have found a way to live with the annual ritual and, in some cases, even embrace it. In fact, 47 percent of finance executives surveyed now believe their employees are completely satisfied with the B&P process. That's up from 16 percent in 1998. Moreover, 65 percent say the value of the process outweighs the cost — versus 47 percent seven years ago.

What gives? In "Budgeting in the Real World," senior writer Tim Reason reports that organizations ranging from Microsoft to the San Diego Zoo have finally made the link between budgeting and strategy. By identifying key drivers, devising realistic targets, and paring the process, they have eliminated the disconnect between finance and operations. The result: budgeting and planning actually means something these days.

Central to achieving that meaning is transparency — a term most often associated with public-company reforms. But nonprofits are hearing a similar cry for openness from their external stakeholders, including donors, taxpayers, regulators, and legislators. Increasingly, they are asking why the reforms mandated by Sarbanes-Oxley shouldn't apply to the nonprofit world. Cases in point are The Nature Conservancy and the United Way of the National Capital Area (see "Nonprofits by the Numbers"), whose woes and subsequent disclosures may be harbingers for the entire sector.

After all, as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, "Sunshine is the best disinfectant."


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