Budgeting Foward vs Backward

A budget is an essential strategic tool for organizations, serving as a detailed plan that outlines expected income and costs. It not only anticipates the resources needed for various projects and activities but also determines the source of funds. Whether structured for a specific timeframe or dedicated to a particular project or event, budgets play a pivotal role in coordinating expenditures among employees with budgetary authority. They form the foundation of an organization’s action plan, ensuring financial decisions align with organizational goals and providing a safeguard against the depletion of funds for operational expenses and future initiatives.

Traditional Approach: Incremental Budgeting:

The most prevalent traditional budgeting method is Incremental Budgeting. This backward-looking approach involves adjusting the prior period’s budget or actual results by adding or subtracting a predetermined percentage. While straightforward and user-friendly, Incremental Budgeting may perpetuate inefficiencies and introduce budgetary slack. Moreover, its reliance on historical data might lead to oversight regarding new developments in activities and performance. It is best suited for situations where operational expenses remain relatively consistent from one period to another.

Forward-Looking Approaches:

We strongly recommend prioritizing a forward-looking approach to budgeting, emphasizing the anticipation of future activities within the organization. This strategic perspective not only allows for a more proactive response to evolving circumstances but also aligns financial planning with the overarching goals and vision of the organization.

When adopting a forward-looking approach to budget development, it is critical not only to project future activities and expenditures but also to assess the adequacy of the organization’s cash resources to support these endeavors. It’s important to delve into the nature of available organizational resources, understand the intricacies of cash collection, and carefully timing incurred expenses. Organizations should scrutinize their business development pipeline, and revenue-generating activities, evaluating whether existing cash reserves, signed contracts, or commitments from customers or funders are in place, or if revenue needs to be generated throughout the year as activities unfold.

Equally crucial is the incorporation of contingency planning within the forward-looking budgeting strategy, especially in cases where organizational revenue is not secured or remains uncertain. In such scenarios, organizations should strategize corrective actions within their operational framework, outlining approximate timeframes for implementation to ensure adaptability in the face of evolving financial circumstances.

Contrary to traditional methods, forward-looking budgeting approaches focus on planning for future activities. Several techniques cater to this perspective, each with distinct advantages:


  1. Zero-Based Budgeting (ZBB):

Zero-Based Budgeting takes a radical approach by assuming that all department budgets start at zero and must be justified from the ground up. In this bottom-up methodology, managers are required to provide justifications for every expense. ZBB is particularly effective for cost containment, especially in addressing discretionary costs. However, its meticulous nature can be time-consuming, making it more suitable for urgent financial adjustments than for routine budgeting.

  1. Activity-Based Budgeting (ABB):

Activity-Based Budgeting aligns financial resources with organizational goals by identifying specific activities necessary to achieve those goals. It involves determining the costs associated with these activities, and ensuring that resource allocation is precisely tailored to meet the actual needs of the organization. ABB provides a detailed and strategic perspective on budgeting, enhancing the alignment of financial planning with operational objectives. However, ABB can be expensive and more time-consuming than traditional methods therefore is important to weigh the pros and cons of ABB before deciding whether to implement it.

  1. Value Proposition Budgeting (VPB):

Value Proposition Budgeting goes beyond merely allocating funds; it focuses on ensuring that every budgeted item delivers tangible value to the organization. VPB encourages a meticulous examination of the significance and justification of each activity’s cost. This approach aims to eliminate unnecessary expenditures and enhance overall budget efficiency by questioning whether the value derived justifies the associated costs.


Benchmarking and Analysis:

Beyond the initial budgeting process, ongoing analysis and benchmarking against actual spending are crucial components. This comparison facilitates the production of more accurate projections for future months and provides benchmarks for long-term financial goals. By breaking down long-term goals into monthly expenditures, organizations gain a practical framework for measuring progress and can make timely operational adjustments as needed.

Choosing the most suitable budgeting method requires a nuanced understanding of organizational goals, priorities, and the nature of expenses. While Incremental Budgeting offers simplicity, forward-looking techniques such as Zero-Based Budgeting, Activity-Based Budgeting, and Value Proposition Budgeting provide a strategic and proactive approach, aligning budgets with the organization’s future activities and goals. A thoughtful combination of these methods empowers organizations to make informed financial decisions, enhance efficiency, and achieve sustainable growth.

~Imran Babayev, CPA


The Consonance Group provides expert level of budgeting for small non-profits and for-profit organization. Please reach out to Jonathan at jonathan@consonance.group.