Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The fiscal communicator’s credibility checklist

When it comes to the credibility of the organization you represent as a communicator, it’s not age, position, board member prominence, revenues, media coverage or shareholder satisfaction that matter most. Instead, the bottom line should be your bottom line. Yet too many top communicators aren’t familiar with their company, organization or agency’s financial standing and statements—and scrutiny may be even higher in a recession. Here’s a short checklist to use to start that conversation and inquiry, not only with your team, but with your CFO:

• Do we receive public funds? Can we account for and show results from R&D grants, bailouts, subsidies, incentive payments and partnership funds? Are we setting a record in any way? Are we a “Fleecing of America” news expose or IgNobel Prize in the making?

• Are we exempt from certain taxes, fees and fines? If we’re well-funded and visible, or have a large footprint in town, are we ready for those exemptions to be questioned? Have we thought about paying, anyway?

• What’s our executive compensation policy? Do we break out all aspects of executive compensation on our tax filings, so that a package of benefits, moving expenses, and other categories don’t inflate what looks like a salary number? Are men, women and minorities compensated at comparable senior levels? What are the details of retirement plans? Where do we rank compared to similar institutions? What’s our bonus pool and how is it determined? What steps have we taken during the recession to scale back on compensation and benefits? Have we laid off workers but retained executive bonuses? Why?

• Have we contributed to the community? How can we quantify volunteer time, donations in kind or in funds, and use of our facilities by local charities? What donation drives do we support as a company or organization? What’s our policy on employee volunteers? Do we loan executives? How many jobs did we create or retain this year? What did we pay in taxes and fees?

• How do our public fiscal filings look from the outside? Have I seen all soon-to-be-public documents, from tax filings to regulatory submissions? What would a shareholder, board member, donor, neighbor or local public official see that would confuse, interest or annoy her? What’s the timing of our filings? Will any other known events at that time cause confusion or the appearance of an issue? Are we ready to answer questions once the filing is made?

There are many more questions to add to this starter list. Please add yours in the comments so we can crowdsource a list, or add financial issues you've faced as a communicator.
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