With the end of the fiscal year quickly approaching, we find ourselves in conversations with various departments trying to allocate the last few dollars from our budgets. We subconsciously follow the thought process “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” Why is it that we encourage spending by increasing funding for those that go over budget instead of rewarding those who have been frugal and budget conscious all along? We all have special projects. Projects that we would like to implement, but that often die at the chopping block of next year’s budget. These new adventures, while critical to the development of innovative thinking at any institution, are usually a hard sell. Ideas that propel these particular projects often fall outside the norm, and we, as humans, have difficulty approving them. We probably all agree that people have a tendendancy to resist change. But after all, isn’t thinking outside the box what ultimately drives us forward? I would encourage the finance department of any institution to earmark savings realized during the year and establish a pool to sponsor these diverse projects. Departments that did their homework throughout the year and sought new ways to save, those who went above and beyond, should see their efforts rewarded by funding their special projects.
Department heads may think, we already have a tied budget and there is no way to find additional savings. I would dare to disagree. I challenge you to look at existing contracts, check their expiration dates, and question their need for renewal. Each department should justify the need to renew a contract by providing an assessment need. Ask your IT department for help to check the usage of a particular software. Often we find that software packages brought into an institution by a faculty member are automatically renewed, even if they are obsolete, or the faculty member advocating for their use has moved on. If they are truly needed, then it is a great time to renegotiate for better terms. More than likely there are competitors interested in your business.
Additionally, work with your grant office. But work with them not to look for additional funding to purchse new equipment, but rather to ensure that all stakeholders are aware of what is being proposed and, more importantly, to decide as a group what not to buy. A grant does not automatically translate into free resources. Think about all the add-ons associated with goods received from a grant; i.e., maintenance, licenses, replacement, etc., and add the cost of those associated goods to the grant proposal, but more importantly, make sure that they are wanted goods that will be used. There is nothing more frustrating than opening a closet or storage area and seeing a few dozen smart boards or a large number of expensive video conferencing cameras collecting dust. After passing the initial “we didn’t pay for them” justification, one learns that they are the fruit of a grant but were never requested by the faculty. At the end of the day, you will be a hero — not if you buy the latest tool or approve an automatic renewal of an abandoned system, but rather if you provide your constituents with the tools that they will actually use.
There are still plenty of areas to search for savings, but there are little incentives. As long as we reward expending over saving, we will continue to see increasing budget requests. Be vocal about incentivizing savings and promote thinking outside the box. Your institution could be more open to exciting special projects.