Making the Case to Elected Officials – Webinar Recap

By: Jennifer Signs - Finance Manager/Treasurer, Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District, Washington; Chairperson of the Small Government Forum

We've all been there: You need to attend training, and there isn't money earmarked for that purpose. You're left wondering, "How do I approach my elected officials to request funding for professional development?" The answer to that question isn't always as straightforward as one would think it should be.  For whatever reason, sometimes approaching our elected officials can be quite daunting due to the unknown, fear of rejection, or merely the money just hasn't been there in the past.  However, there are some key points to consider when making the case to elected officials.

Making professional development a stated priority for you and your organization is the first step in approaching your elected officials.  Often, people will emphasize money as a way of motivating people to do their jobs.  However, by making professional development a stated priority, you are emphasizing the value you want to add to your organization rather than what's in it for you.  Be prepared to show your elected officials how it can benefit you as an employee and how further education and training can benefit your organization.  Be specific with why the training is essential and relevant to your role.  You can accomplish this with an elevator speech presented to your local official. Remember that an elevator speech is designed to be brief but persuasive by sparking an interest in what you are seeking and making that connection with your elected officials.

For an elevator speech to be persuasive and spark interest, it's important to be prepared and do your homework before approaching your elected officials.  Often elected officials don't have a lot of time and are seeking the facts. 

  • Do your homework before approaching them. 
  • Know your budget and anticipate questions they might ask in regards to the budget. 
  • What is the opportunity cost of reallocating funds for professional development? 
  • What are the hard and soft costs of reallocation? 
  • Has lack of education cost your organization in the form of fees and penalties, extra time spent on tasks due to lack of knowledge, or is there burnout among employees for having to do too much? 

These are all questions that should be asked and researched before approaching your elected officials. Head off productivity concerns by having a schedule prepared and a plan for coverage while attending the training.  Another item to research is your elected officials themselves.  Know who they are and how they have responded to requests in the past.  Understand what works for them and what doesn't in terms of requests or presentations. 

The next step in successfully making the case to your elected officials is getting the timing right.  Understand that they are busy and be willing to listen when they want to schedule a time rather than saying things like "this will only take a minute." 

  • Don't approach your elected officials with this type of request when their schedules are full, and they communicate this with you.  Effective communication goes hand-in-hand with effective listening. 
  • Determine when the best time is to approach them.  This could be during the budget season while all appropriations are under consideration or by requesting a specific time on an agenda to make the request.  Another consideration in timing could be during an annual performance review. 

Know and understand the rules before making the request. Don't overlook the details and make assumptions associated with professional development. 

  • Often, people view additional training and certifications as an automatic pay increase or promotion; unless these types of things are agreed upon prior to receiving additional training, don't assume it automatically qualifies. 

Costs associated with the training should be addressed upfront.  

  • Know who is responsible for paying upfront. 
  • Ask if your organization will pay or if you will be reimbursed. 

Other considerations should be if you will be required to stay with an organization for a stated period upon completion. 

  • Will you be required to bring what you learned back to your organization and train others, and if so, what is the time frame to implement a training program?

Like anything else, calculate the return on investment and be prepared to show that to your elected officials.  Show them how education is just as important as the new state-of-the-art equipment.  Show them how less time or money spent with contract professionals will reduce costs if you can perform the work "in-house." Show how better efficiencies and workflow are a result of education.  Often in small government, we have to wear many hats in our roles as financial professionals. Don't be afraid to show what you do to your elected officials. Don't be afraid to look outside the box when looking for ways to improve your skillset.  Look to different professional organizations that cater to the skills you need to develop.

Finally, treat this negotiation as you would any other formal negotiation.  Go into this request the same way you would if you were negotiating a contract or justifying the cost of a capital project or asset.  Investing in employees is investing in any organization's biggest asset. 

What strategies have helped you with negotiating funds for professional development? Let us know in the SGF Community Forum!