At a recent Public Funds Seminar hosted by the Michigan CLASS administrator and investment advisor Public Trust Advisors, LLC, an educational session featured a panel of local government representatives responsible for presenting to boards, answering to stakeholders and community members, and making investment decisions on behalf of their constituents. Here are some important takeaways for communicating with your stakeholders about your local government’s investments:
Understand what your stakeholders are looking to get out of the conversation.
It is important to distinguish the level of detail desired for the individual with whom you are speaking; council and board members will likely know more specifics about your organization and therefore want more detail than the general public. If you are presenting, decide the level of detail provided beforehand based on your audience. Remember that when dealing with members of the public, they are the customer. Give them a positive client experience and reassure them you are working hard to meet their needs.
Make sure you understand the role of the person that has asked a question or requested a meeting. If you’re communicating with a Board of Trustees, get to know each Board Member; find out their personality, constituent base, and perspective. Define each of those for each member and work to build a relationship with them based on that knowledge.
Be transparent in your conversations, website, and reporting, but know the right time and place for a conversation.
Know what conversations to have in what location. Some discussions and questions may not be best suited for a public forum. There is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t have that information; let me get back to you” or “I’d love to speak with you in detail on this; can we schedule a meeting?” but make sure you actually follow up with these individuals.
Sometimes there is so much information on subjects, but it might not be what people want to know. Answer their quick questions; seek out community members and ask what their issues are. Then make the answers to these questions available online. If permitted, publish your budget on your website and have open discussions about it.
You can provide a great deal of transparency through your website. Publish as much information as possible including council meetings, agendas, frequently asked questions, data, and more. You can also utilize your Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) as an opportunity to talk about economic growth in your area, what has changed in your community, how the property taxes have altered, and more. A CAFR allows you to publish a great deal of information about your organization in a clear and concise format.
Make this relationship as easy as possible by utilizing tools and policies.
As a public finance official, you likely have to answer tough questions on budgets, investments, and how tax dollars are being spent on a frequent basis. Having a Board-adopted investment policy that is reviewed at least annually by yourself and your Board will give you something concrete to refer back to and use as backing for your answers to questions. When creating your investment policy, make sure it addresses safety, liquidity, and yield at a minimum. Include what securities are permitted for investment. When a board or council member questions a certain investment, point them back to the policy that the board approved.
Encouraging your staff to complete continuing professional education (CPE) courses, advanced certifications, and master’s programs is a great way to invest in your team and your organization while working to reduce staff turnover.