American Bar Association - Division for Bar Services
Mecklenburg County Bar - Operational Review
December 5, 2008 - Download the full report here (pdf)
D. Financial Management
E. Staff Management and Administration
F. Program Administration and Development
G. Communications and Membership Outreach
D. FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT
Money may not make the world go around but member dues dollars and revenue from CLE programs and other events fuel the bar association's ability to provide services that benefit the lawyer and to contribute to the public good. Without effective and prudent financial management, the impact of the bar's work is diminished.
The MCB is financially sound. Non-dues income levels, the three-month operating reserve, and staff costs relative to program activities are commensurate with those of other bar associations. The dues level at $150 is below average when compared with other voluntary metropolitan bar associations. However, MCB's higher than the national average fees for CLE and initial LRS consultations serve as counter-weight. It is important to note however, that the MCB's CLE registration fees are lower than those of its competition. Dues have remained steady for the past eight years. The MCB has been able to fund program and staff growth with substantial increases in membership. As membership has increased, so have revenues derived from member-participation in CLE, and LRS, and other activities.
The staff are very conscientious in tracking income and expenses for program activities even though the overhead and staffing costs are not apportioned to specific program activities. There also is considerable attention paid to monitoring the budget and ensuring that the board reviews and has control over budget variances.
- There is a five year budget trendline. There is considerable attentiveness to budgeting trends, assumptions, and opportunities. The bar has been conservative in budgeting.
- The reserve policy is clear, concise, and appropriate for the association.
- There is an established sponsorship/preferred vendor program.
Recommended Areas of Attention
- Consider implementing program-based budgeting. The true cost of providing programs and services such as CLE are not reflected in the budget since overhead costs -particularly staffing- are not accounted for. It is difficult to make choices and set priorities without a thorough understanding of the return on investment.
- Consider rolling credit card carrying fees into the cost of programs or activities rather than adding the "handling fee." Continue to charge the handling fee for dues payments as may be required by court or statutory rules.
- Consider updating paper registration forms to include the option of paying by credit card. The forms direct members to the Web site to pay by credit card. This seems unnecessarily burdensome.
- Consider creating a staff team to review program registration processes. There appear to be variations among departments and tasks that are repetitive, and perhaps, unnecessary.
- Consider eliminating or renaming the "non-recurring" reserve fund; it seems at odds with the good governance practice of aligning the bar's budget with its priorities on an on-going, strategic basis. It would be more useful and appropriate to use these funds for investing in new programs or pilot projects which, if successful, could be regularly funded from general revenue.
- Consider developing a technology investment plan.
- Consider ways to diversify funding for the volunteer lawyers project. Dependence on one revenue source -such as IOLTA grants - can imperil a program. The Mecklenburg Bar Foundation should look at the priority it extends for funding those bar's projects that serve the foundation's mission.
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