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Making Budgets Beautiful

School finances can be complicated, but savvy school business leaders are using design to present information in a way that makes better sense. Check out our sample budget infographic for inspiration!

Nickey Pietila

AK12ET Blogger

How do you share the story behind your budget?
A budget is more than an estimate of costs – it represents a district’s values, goals, and priorities. But financial information as it’s traditionally presented – in jargon-filled documents so long they have chapters – can be all but incomprehensible to audiences outside the walls of the business office.
The hallmarks of the    new business office are the willingness to innovate, to forge unexpected partnerships, and to connect with school boards and community members in new ways. This article explores how you can bring together the skillsets of business office leaders, school communications teams, and perhaps even students to achieve better financial literacy through a design-thinking approach.


Money matters

School finances are everybody’s business. But not all stakeholders have the skills or – let’s be honest – the desire to pore over complicated budgets and financial reports. How can you help your community better understand where money comes from, where it goes, and how financial decisions impact kids?
Presenting data in a way that’s easier for audiences to consume is a great start. Whether you design an infographic, a webpage, or another interactive tool, transparency can help build trust, develop financial literacy, and encourage advocacy in your school community. Stakeholders are more likely to get involved and to support budgetary decisions when they understand the thought processes behind the numbers.
When your school board and your school community achieve a shared understanding of how and why district resources are allocated as they are, a new level of transparency, communication, and creativity becomes possible. 

Take this to the board

Good design does a lot more than increase aesthetic appeal. It can bring need-to-know information into focus, shining a spotlight on the facts and figures that impact your district. Even the simplest design elements, like deliberate use of color, shape, and size, can help audiences better understand your district’s story at a glance.   
Infographics are engaging and effective, and they hold untapped potential for school business teams. Alberta’s Lethbridge School District has been recognized by ASBO International for its excellent budget preparation, which for the past several years has included various accompanying infographics. This colorful, informative infographic is the perfect supplement to Lethbridge’s complete detailed budget.
You shouldn’t have to look far to find designers eager to tackle this project. Most comms teams will jump at the chance to bring your district’s financial story to life through the many media channels available to them. Don’t overlook student talent, either – a budget infographic contest could offer budding graphic designers, artists, and computer buffs a chance to hone their design skills and add a published piece to their resume.

Budget Infographic

Credit to Lethbridge School District #51 for the layout inspiration. See the real-life example here.

Design for understanding

When you bring together design and financial data, you’ll tell the story behind the numbers and build consensus for the data-driven decisions that will move your district forward. It’s simple: give people the information they need and present it in a way that makes sense to your audience. 
You’re likely to find some exciting side effects from this approach. People will begin wonder, “why haven’t we done this before?” Or – better yet – they’ll think, “How can we make our own communication better?” Innovation breeds innovation, and the business office is as good a place as any to turn tradition on its head.
Demonstrate next-level care by tailoring financial information to your audience, eliminating jargon, and presenting data in an attractive format. In this age of school choice, your efforts to bridge the knowledge divide can solidify your reputation for being a community that goes the extra mile.
Interested in developing a more reader-friendly budget? Check out 6 award-winning budget examples and learn 5 characteristics of a simply amazing budget, courtesy of ASBO International.

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