Student Organization Finances

Types of Student Groups

Student organizations at the University of Pennsylvania fall into two categories: Recognized and Registered.  These categories impact how a group accesses its organizational funds. Recognized groups are funded by the Student Activities Council (SAC) and have access to a University budget code.  Registered groups are listed in the Groups Online at Penn database, but do not have any consistent financial resource given by the University and do not have access to a University budget code.  If you have any questions about your status as an organization, please contact the Office of Student Affairs at 215-898-6533.

Groups which are Recognized are not allowed to have outside bank accounts with private financial institutions.  Discovery of such an account could result in the loss of recognition status and University funding.

Groups which are Registered often open accounts with private financial institutions as a way to manage their organization's finances.  Groups with these kinds of accounts should be particularly careful to follow best practices which limit the mismanagement of organizational funds.  (See Off-Campus Bank Accounts for Student Organizations for more guidance)

Chapters of national organizations (i.e. fraternities, sororities, and social fellowships) are responsible for following established national guidelines by their governing charters for financial management in off-campus bank accounts.

Cash Handling Procedures

Regardless of status, all student groups are encouraged to practice good cash handling procedures. Student organizations have certain responsibilities when handling finances.  For example:

  • Student organizations collecting money on campus must comply with all policies set forth by the Office of Student Affairs.
  • Monies raised should be spent on student organization activities.
  • When handling cash sales, there should always be more than one person present at the point of sale.
  • Groups should utilize a cash box for the holding and transport of money. 
    • Cash boxes should never be left unattended.
    • Cash sales should be counted and reconciled at the end of each day to ensure the cash total received matches the sales total.
    • Cash should be deposited at the end of each day. Recognized groups would do this at the Office of Student Affairs and Registered groups would go to their private banking institution.
    • If online sales are being conducted, the online account should be in the name of the group so that multiple people have access.  Recognized groups should have all checks directed to the Office of Student Affairs where they will be deposited in a University account. 

Off-campus Bank Accounts for Student Organizations

Because the University does not offer University budget codes to all student organizations, it is important to establish financial controls to limit the risk of mismanaging organization funds with regard to off-campus bank accounts.  It is a good idea for your organization to establish a bank account that will provide security for the money as well as documentation for transactions. 

Student organizations may select any bank. The University does not endorse any particular bank. Banks will require a tax identification number in order for a student group to open a new account. A student group may apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS for this purpose. Student groups may not use the University of Pennsylvania tax ID number. In addition, using the name of The University of Pennsylvania, any abbreviation thereof, on or in the name of your bank account is strictly prohibited. 

If a student uses his or her Social Security Number to open the account, any interest earned in the account will be reported by the bank to the student, who should include the earnings in his/her income. When the student is no longer associated with the student organization, he or she should arrange to have his or her personal information removed from the account and to transfer the account to a current organization member.

Controls:

Follow these guidelines to prevent mismanagement of off-campus accounts for student organizations: 

  • Require double endorsement of expenses
    Requiring two signatures on checks prevents purchases by check without the consent of a second student organization officer.  Unfortunately, paper checks are used less often these days in favor of ATM or check cards.  As a result, double endorsement of all expenses is difficult to enforce.
  • Separate financial duties
    The student organization financial officer should reconcile the bank's financial statements regularly. While the financial officer could theoretically be the second signer on a check, he or she should not be the primary purchasing officer or have access to an ATM or check card. If so, another person needs to reconcile the bank statements.
  • Use a central mailing address
    Student organizations should use a central mailing address (the OSA or a campus resource center may be a good idea) to receive bank statements and notifications. This way, statements and other notifications that might identify financial mismanagement cannot be easily hidden from the student organization's membership.

    Like checks, paper statements are becoming increasingly rare. If statements are being e-mailed or require Web site access, multiple recipients or users should be authorized.
  • Keep records public
    Purposeful mismanagement of funds is difficult to conceal when financial records are made public or readily available to the student organization's members. Public records let members question all expenses, which protects against prolonged collusion.
  • Define consequences for embezzlement
    It is a good idea to address embezzlement in your organization's constitution or bylaws. Include
    • Definitions
    • Methods for policing
    • Consequences for breaking the rules

By doing so, the student organization states its intentions to police financial management of organization funds. This acts as a deterrent and leaves no ambiguity about the risk of being caught. The point is to deter the activity and outline a course of action in the rare event embezzlement occurs.

See also Fundraising Guidelines, located at http://provost.upenn.edu/policies/pennbook/2013/10/17/fundraising-guidelines.