From my observations of Gail's review process of CAFRs and Budget Books, there is one thing that makes or breaks the reviewer's impression of a document.
So often we'll pass along a CAFR that is so pretty and easy to ready, it could easily be trimmed down into a PAFR. But it doesn't matter how lovely the tables are or if your municipality's logo is on every page, or if the cover and divider pages are commissioned and designed by a world-class graphic designer. Unless your publication is consistent in the following ways, your review may not go the way you want it to:
Style and formatting
Often times, when you have multiple team members working in different sections of your CAFR or Budget Book, everyone has their own preference for what they consider most legible. At the outset of a project we like to provide our clients with a questionnaire that establishes style preferences for us to apply throughout the document. If you are interested in a formatting worksheet for your own team, click here to schedule an appointment for one of our technicians to walk you through it and get a copy.
Presentation of data
With large publications it's easy to get sucked into the best presentation for individual reports and sections and forget how they fit against the backdrop of the rest of the report. When it comes to your data entry, you may overlook in what type of Case (eg. Sentence Case, Title Case, etc,) all line item descriptions are going to be, and perhaps it changes throughout the report. Deciding where and how to place dollar signs, and how you choose to organize line items in a table are all things that often wind up all over the place.
Organization of the document as a whole
There is something to be said about creativity and reinventing the wheel, I definitely attempt it on a regular basis (with mixed results); but how you organize and title sections of a report that will be reviewed by GFOA is not the place for such endeavors. When we bring entry-level workers in to help us with data entry and other such tasks, they often get tripped up on what section is which, or where certain content should be in a CAFR or a Budget Document. Of course these documents do not need to be entry-level-user-friendly, but this experience is an indication of how much variation exists. Sometimes, this variation is harmless, sometimes, however, it affects the navigability of the report even for professionals. Not sure if your report fits this description, ask a colleague from a different municipality (or one of us) to find something without using your Table of Contents and see where they look. You might be surprised!
Print and digital presentation
I will never get tired of hearing Gail's story of her first experience with governmental audits. She was essentially stuck in a basement full of shelves of binders and ledgers for a few months on end and navigating the maze of their numbers all by herself. Many municipalities (not all!) have come quite a long way from that model and have highly digitized workflows. That coupled with the reduced cost (and decrease in paper waste) means that many municipalities are publishing their reports digitally. This comes with it's own set of complications (digital paper-cuts, perhaps?). One of those problems is the disconnect between a document's metadata and what appears on the "printed" page. For instance, the PDF page versus the "printed" page can be disorienting. These bells and whistles make your reviewer's job easier, and when your reviewer is happy, you'll be happy!
"When your reviewer is happy, you'll be happy!"
For many of our municipal clients, we offer to completely replicate their existing document within their new CaseWare environment, but for consistency's sake, we wind up negotiating through the entire implementation process with our recommendations. We offer an option to let us apply your content to a cleaner skeleton that we design for your team, and client often view this as a lesser value for their investment. In fact, it is the opposite. By creating a clean base for replication, any future work your team (or ours) performs in your file is less likely to stand out or require excessive tweaks to make it match the rest of your publication. Keep this in mind
If you want to learn more about how Gray CPA's and CaseWare can help you to achieve consistency, get in touch with us!