When someone wants to talk about the financials, it is all too easy to use a spreadsheet as the starting off point. Said another way: A bonafide snoozefest.
For those in the public sector, it is imperative to talk with their constituency about their organization’s financial health and well being. Your community demands that. And, if it is a snoozefest, then that’s your signal that it needs to be completely rethought and reworked.
Keep in mind that I’m not talking about “dumbing down” the content. I take major issue with that and so should you. Here we are talking about tuning people in by making it relevant to them and by not talking over your public (or board) with industry jargon. Making the content relatable invites people into understanding and therefore into the conversation. Which is exactly where we want your public. Involved. Informed. Educated.
But how to talk about it? Here are three quick ways.
- Develop main headlines for what you are communicating but just say no to jargon.
Tell them what you are going to say, say it in lay person’s terms and tell them what you said. This is high school English all over again and there is a reason why: it works. Eliminate jargon. If you throw around jargon like “deficit spending” and “cash balance,” then we all walk away with what we think you mean but not actually what you mean. There are easier ways to state this. Consider “cash balance” which means “We have enough to keep our doors open and to meet payroll for 30 days.” There. That is way more clear and to the point.
- Build a financial update into all of your leadership and building meetings.
Stick with key themes and keep the focus on the finances. A graduate school professor of mine once said that a budget is a statement of your priorities. I want you to show your internal audience (staff, teachers, administrators) that you have a hand firmly on the wheel and how you are making sure the key work of the school system is funded. And, talk about ways that they can be cost-conscious such as reducing the number of copies made.
- Use the natural fiscal calendar to guide what you should be talking about.
Is it time to update your five-year financial forecast? This is a major event in the world of the organization and CFO. Take your communication show on the road by using your presentation to the board as your kickoff. Take it to the union leadership, to the school staff meetings and to Rotary groups.
When it comes to the CFOs with whom I work, I never want their financials to take a back seat. And, because of covid, understandably, they have. But things are changing. Now is the time to bust out and reclaim your school system’s financial story. But keep it relatable. To paraphrase a quote often attributed to Albert Einstein, if you cannot state it simply then you do not understand it. I know you understand it. Now show it.