This section provides information on gift accounts, how to co-sponsor another student organization and guidelines for charitable and corporate contributions.
Charitable Contributions to External Non-Profit Organizations
Student groups may request approval to donate funds from their earned revenue (never from their allocation account) to external non-profit organizations.
Columbia is restricted in the donations that it can make to outside organizations based on the University’s nonprofit status. Before Administration and Planning can process any charitable donation, the University must review and approve the donation to ensure that the organization aligns with the University's mission and that the organization holds a 501(c)(3) or equivalent status. The University will also need to ensure that the contribution follows all applicable Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidelines and tax laws. A request for a charitable donation will always need an exception approved by the University, regardless of how the funds were raised or received.
At the time of each charitable donation request, the recipient organization must meet all of the following minimum requirements:
- Hold a 501(c)(3) or equivalent status
- Does not have a political or religious affiliation
- Willing to participate in Columbia's new vendor setup process
To donate to an organization, your student group will need the following documents:
- Approved purchase request form
- Letter of Determination from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that declares the organization's 501(c)(3) status, provided by the receiving organization
- Exemption memo for approval that will be sent forward for approval, provided by your adviser
- Justification that states specifically how the mission of the organization aligns with the mission of your student group, as well as supporting documentation about the external organization that clearly identifies their mission
- A recent tax form (typically a W-9, or a W-8 for international organizations), provided by the receiving organization
- Note: Payment address must match the address on the W-9/W-8
Your group's adviser will initially determine if the external organization meets the criteria for contribution and provide a memo to Administration and Planning that states why the group would like to donate and how this donation aligns with the mission of the group. Once the external organization is vetted and approved by the University, the payment can be processed with an approved purchase request form. Your student group should never commit or guarantee payment to the external organization until you have received written approval from your adviser.
Corporate Sponsorships from External Organizations
If a sponsorship requires an agreement or contract, the contract must be reviewed by your group’s adviser and sent to Administration and Planning for approval before you accept the sponsorship. The turnaround time for contract review can take up to eight weeks, so we encourage you to plan early. Your student group must ensure sponsors are aware of this policy and timeline for contract execution. You should verify that your sponsors do not expect to receive any benefit in return for their contribution. Students are never permitted to sign any agreement or contract on behalf of Columbia University in any capacity, including on behalf of your student group.
If your student group would like to reach out to external organizations to obtain a sponsorship, you must draft a detailed proposal for review with your group’s adviser. The proposal should list all external organizations that your student group plans to reach out to and must address the following items:
- What is the purpose of the sponsorship?
- How does the sponsorship and/or organization align with your student group’s mission?
- What is the sponsor seeking in return (i.e. what will your student group offer in return, if anything)?
- What are the details of your student group’s event/program?
- How will the sponsorship funds be used?
- Remember: Due to the University's status as a non-profit organization, student groups may not make a profit; therefore, your funds must be used within the same fiscal year you receive them, and your budget should reflect this requirement.
Co-Sponsorships for Recognized Student Groups
A co-sponsorship is when one recognized student group or Columbia department gives financial support to another student group to offset the cost of an event or program. Payments are paid by an internal transfer of funds (ITF) directly between the accounts, with the exception of Barnard and Teachers College group accounts, for which checks will need to be issued and mailed.
How do I initiate a co-sponsorship?
Between two recognized student groups: If your group would like to co-sponsor another group, you must submit a purchase request form and indicate which group you wish to co-sponsor, along with the group's chartstring. Once your adviser approves the purchase request form, you may then email the approved purchase request form to USLadmin@columbia.edu to request the transfer. Please note that groups can only transfer funds between identical accounts. In other words, a co-sponsorship request from allocation will be credited to the receiving group’s allocation, and a request from revenue will be credited to the receiving group’s revenue.
Between an administrative department and a recognized student group: The sponsoring department can initiate the transfer and email the ITF number to USLadmin@columbia.edu for approval. Alternatively, the department can send an email request to USLadmin@columbia.edu and ask us to initiate the transfer. The department must identify the name of the student group, the student group's chartstring and their own administrative chartstring.
Donations and Gift Accounts
Occasionally, a donor may want to make a contribution to your group that allows them to receive a tax benefit or that has very specific terms for the use of the funds. For a donation to be considered a gift and be processed as tax deductible, the donation must be reviewed by the University’s gift officers and approved for deposit into your student group’s gift account. You may not accept cash for tax-deductible donations to gift accounts.
What is a gift account?
A gift account is a Columbia University owned and managed account that allows the donations to be compliant with Columbia's 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. If your student group does not have an existing gift account but has a need for one, speak to your adviser to request one. Administration and Planning will review your request and work with the University’s campus partners to gain approval for the creation of a new gift account. Generally, new gift accounts will not be opened except under special circumstances.
Note: Gift accounts have a separate chartstring, distinct from your group’s general operating account chartstring.
How do I access my gift account funds?
Because gift accounts have specific terms tied to how the funds can be used, your group will need additional approval to spend from your gift account. Your adviser will seek approval from Administration and Planning to ensure the request matches the terms of the gift account. Additionally, all spending from gift accounts is assessed a 10% per transaction administrative fee.
Can I solicit alumni for donations or gifts?
If your group wishes to solicit financial support from alumni and other outside sources (such as foundations and corporations), the solicitation must be authorized by your group’s adviser and Columbia College administration. You must meet with your adviser and provide a statement that describes the purpose of the solicitation and the names and affiliations of prospective donors, as well as exact copies of all proposed solicitation communications and materials. Your adviser will refer these documents to the appropriate campus official for final approval. Your student group may not contact prospective alumni donors until you have received authorization in writing from your adviser to do so.
Fundraising is the most common way to collect funds for your student group. Examples of fundraising include bake sales or merchandise sales on the Lerner Ramps. All funds collected through fundraising go toward offsetting the cost of student-run events or programs. There is no tax benefit for the person who purchases the items or gives funds. Money raised through fundraising must be brought to Administration and Planning in 510 Lerner for deposit into your student group’s account within two business days of collection. These funds will be deposited in the group's revenue account and can be used in accordance with revenue spending guidelines.
Note: The University prohibits the use of third-party mobile payment apps such as Venmo, PayPal, Cash App, GoFundMe to conduct official University business, including that of student group operations and events. If your group is currently in possession of a third-party account for fundraising or other financial transaction purposes, you will need to close the account and transfer the funds to your Columbia account. Please see your adviser immediately for guidance on how to properly transfer the funds to your group's account. Learn more about off-campus bank account restrictions.