Lesson Seven: Telling your Financial Story

Once you have put your budget together and are using it to make decisions for the year, you will find from time to time that it is necessary to tell your financial story. Presenting financial information can help stakeholders better understand your office, your spending and your outcomes.

There are generally a few different types of reports that can be used to tell a financial story. If you work for a government entity, these will probably be incorporated into larger financial reports that are done through the overall agency. However, putting together reports for your individual office can be helpful as well.

  1. Income and expense statements
    These reports show where funds have come from and what expenses have been incurred. Typically, there will be a monthly column and a year to date column. Some organizations prefer to include the prior year’s income and expenses in a side-by-side comparison.
  2. Budget comparison
    It is necessary to understand how the organization’s income and expenses compare on a monthly and year-to-date basis with what was projected in the budget. The budget comparison can also be included with the income and expense statement. This enables everyone concerned to see what income and expenses have been realized so far, how those compare with projected income and expenses in the budget and how those compare with actual income and expenses from the previous year.
  3. Statement of Financial Position
    Not-for-profit offices will also have a third type of report. This report is an accounting of all the assets of the organization, all the liabilities and provides a snapshot of the organization’s financial health, or net worth.

Where might you use this information?

Administrations and Governing Entities

If you are a government based film commission office, having documents that help tell you financial story can help guide conversations with “the boss” whether that is the head of an agency or the governing or law making body in your region. It allows you to help them see where you stand and what is needed to run your office.

For not-for-profit entities, the board of directors will need to fully understand not only the budget but also the financial reports. They have a responsibility to assure that the organization remains financially solvent and thus they need to have a strong understanding of the financial picture.


It is also valuable to communicate the financial picture to all employees on a regular basis, as is done with the board. Financial transparency is one of the most effective means of building employee confidence in an organization and in its leadership.


Funders want to know that the funds they give you are being used well. The goodwill you create through transparent financial reports is essential to the current and future health of your office. Financial reports to funders of any kind should be viewed as financial reports to shareholders.


Depending on the type of film commission, you may also have other stakeholders who will benefit from hearing your financial story. This might include other government agencies, the taxation and revenue department, community organizations, etc.

Reporting Formats

Equally important as the numbers is the format in which they are presented. Think about your favorite fine restaurant. It provides delicious and nourishing food that is prepared and served by professionals in a pleasant atmosphere. The server is able to answer every question and, in fact, is most likely to have already anticipated your questions about what has gone into the preparation of every dish. The preparation, attention, and presentation are all conducive to a pleasant experience.

Now compare your restaurant with the “all you can eat” buffet. For the sake of the argument, let’s say this cafeteria also serves delicious and nourishing food. You grab your tray, get your silverware and napkins, put the tray on the stainless steel track and begin selecting any and all you can put on your tray. In this case, one of the primary objectives is quantity. (These establishments are frequently visited by large families, college students, and single men.) The only presentation concern is cleanliness, and we can all think of at least one single young man who may not be as concerned with that qualification.

Just as in fine restaurants, where “presentation is everything”, the presentation of financial reports strongly comes to bear on how the information is “digested” by the intended audience. It is more important that those who receive financial reports are satisfied their questions are answered and the information is in the right proportions for understanding and retention. Stuffing them with numbers is not the objective.

Take time to really think about the story you want to tell and the information that your stakeholders really do need.

Film offices need to spend considerable time articulating their value to those that influence the funding process. This might include everyone from agency heads to members of a governing body to the industry-at-large. Sharing your story and educating others regarding the value you bring to your community (qualitatively and quantitatively*) can have a huge impact when funding decisions are being made.

*It is essential to share qualitative as well as quantitative information with your stakeholders about the success of your office and thus the success of your jurisdiction. A combination of qualitative and quantitative information is likely to reach more of your target audience as some people are most interested to know how their citizens will personally benefit, and others just want the facts and figures.

“Qualitative” in this context refers to– anecdotal information, intangible results, and/or social benefits. Examples:

  • A single mom who was bouncing from one restaurant job to another and living in a dangerous neighborhood attended an industry networking event that your office hosted that leads her to a job doing Craft Services on movies. She now has a career, not just a job, earns high wages, has health insurance, was able to move to a good neighborhood and hire a nanny to watch over her son.
  • A small lumber shop was struggling with bankruptcy due to house building being down in the region. But through your Production Guide, a movie company’s construction coordinator began buying his supplies from this mom and pop shop and not only kept the shop alive but the owner hired 10 more people and bought 2 more delivery trucks.
  • A rural town dependent upon tourism had experienced a terrible flood, damaging the center of town that drove business away for two critical summer seasons. Through your Commission’s website and Location Photo Library, a location scout recognized this town as the perfect setting for their film and: a) spent money locally; b) for their own purposes, spruced up the town; and c) brought renewed interest and exposure for tourists.

“Quantitative” information is data. This can be:

  • How many film projects last year vs the year before?
  • How many local people working in the film business?
  • How many local businesses are engaged in and benefit from the film business?
  • How much was made in aggregate wages by local people from one year to the next?

Data and figures tell a story too, so don’t be fooled into thinking that data is less subjective than anecdotal information. There are as many ways to analyze data as there is data to analyze.

Keep in mind, there are different financial stories to be told to exemplify a particular purpose. For instance, the story you may be telling makes a correlation between the economic impacts to the community from last year’s production activity with the budget increases you received for your office. Or you may be correlating the lack of productions last year due to cuts in your office’s budget.