This section explains the different types of payment methods available to student organizations. These payment methods facilitate purchases that support events and activities related to your student organization’s mission and aligned with the University's values.
Some situations may require your group to complete a payment in cash. In these circumstances, you group may request a cash advance. Cash advances are granted on an exception basis and can only be requested by an executive board member of your student group. Advances are approved solely to provide payment for operational expenses associated with an event or program and not for your own personal expenses. To obtain a cash advance, you must submit your request at least four weeks before your event.
Some examples of when your group might need a cash advance include:
- When a purchase cannot be paid through a financial transaction form (FTF), P-Card, petty cash or check/invoice
- When a vendor accepts cash only, and the dollar amount exceeds $50.00
- When the nature of an expense or the location of a vendor makes the use of a cash advance a more feasible option than direct payment by the University (for example, if your student organization needs to purchase items in bulk from Costco, projects the total amount to exceed $50.00 and does not have a P-Card)
- If your group qualifies for a travel advance as a component of Columbia-supported travel
Check Requests for Invoices
If your group receives an invoice from a vendor, you can arrange payment via check or direct deposit. To cut a check from your student group's account, you must submit the invoice and an approved financial transaction form (FTF) to Administration and Planning, who will send the check on your behalf. Please coordinate with the vendor to confirm when they expect payment, and plan accordingly.
Note: If a vendor has never done business with Columbia in the past, your group must complete the vendor setup process at least four weeks before payment to the vendor is due. Learn more about vendor setup.
Vendors on our FTF-approved vendor list accept approved financial transaction forms (FTFs) as a direct form of payment for purchases of goods under $2,500 (excluding alcoholic beverages, gift cards, greeting cards, flowers, fruit baskets and personal items). FTF-approved vendors already have Columbia’s tax exemption certificate on file, and they are familiar with Undergraduate Student Life’s billing processes. Therefore, this payment method is the simplest one your group can use.
Note: Other forms of payment, including P-Card, may not be used at FTF-approved vendors.
How to Pay with an FTF
For in-store purchases at a vendor’s location: Bring a copy of your approved FTF to the vendor to use as your form of payment for goods and/or services. No money changes hands.
For purchases via shipment or delivery: Contact the vendor and explain that you wish to arrange payment via FTF on behalf of Columbia Undergraduate Student Life. Some vendors may ask you to email the approved FTF prior to shipment or delivery, while others require a hard copy at the time of delivery. Please coordinate with the vendor to confirm how they would like to receive the FTF.
If your group would like to include a tip on a food bill, be sure to factor in this cost before you submit your FTF for approval. Your purchase cost may never exceed the amount indicated on your approved purchase request. The maximum tipping percentages allowed are:
- 15% on food deliveries; and
- 20% for dining in (when service is extraordinary)
Gifts and Prizes
Gifts and prizes cannot be purchased using out-of-pocket funds or with petty cash. If you wish to procure a gift for an event or program, please refer to the guidelines below.
Note: Gifts and prizes that total $600 or more during a calendar year must be reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and may be taxable to the recipient (including students).
If you wish to present a non-cash gift as a token of appreciation, you must provide a valid and documented business purpose in advance of the gift purchase. Gifts may not be lavish or extravagant and must comply with any funding source restrictions. Common examples of non-cash gifts include cards, apparel or merchandise from the Columbia Bookstore.
If a recipient cannot be identified until the event occurs, your group must complete the form at the event and turn it in to your adviser within two business days.
Gift cards are not an allowable purchase. Your student group may not purchase gift cards for Columbia-related events.
Prizes for Contests and Competitions
If you student group would like to provide monetary prizes during an event, such as a competition, you should request a meeting with your adviser for review and approval at least six weeks prior to the event.
An honorarium is a payment made as a gesture of appreciation to non–Columbia affiliated individuals who are invited on a one-time basis to participate in an activity or an event. Payments amounts are generally modest but will vary based on the recipient's experience, availability and notoriety.
Honorarium payments may not be made to businesses, corporations or partnerships. Additionally, honorarium payments may not be used to fulfill a contractual obligation to pay for services rendered, nor can they be used to pay for services that would typically require an invoice. Honorarium payments are taxable income to the recipient and may be reportable to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
In order to process payment, the recipient of an honorarium must meet all of the following criteria:
- Individual must not be a student, employee or faculty member of Columbia University
- Individual does not ask for or require payment to participate in the event or program
- Individual may not negotiate the amount or ask for more than what was offered
- Individual is not being represented by an agency or organization
Before you offer an honorarium payment to an individual, you must consult with your adviser to ensure this is the best method of payment. In some cases, a purchase order may be more appropriate. Additionally, because honorarium offers must occur in writing, your adviser can guide you through the proper language to use when you offer the honorarium.
Honorarium requests must occur six weeks in advance of the event or program. Please prepare the following items with your honorarium request:
- Approved financial transaction form (FTF)
- Written confirmation (usually in the form of an email) that the recipient has accepted the proposed amount
- Proof/documentation of the event, which can be in the form of a Facebook event, a flyer, a brochure, etc.
- Completion of the vendor setup request process on behalf of the honorarium recipient, which includes a signed copy of the honoraria acknowledgement letter
Internal Transfer of Funds (ITFs)
An internal transfer of funds (ITF) allows you to send funds directly to and from Columbia departments and/or recognized student groups. Typically, your group will request an ITF if you wish to co-sponsor another recognized student group or if you receive a co-sponsorship from an administrative department.
ITFs also occur when a Columbia department charges your group a fee for services. A common example of this type of charge occurs when you request audio and visual (AV) services from University Event Management (UEM). Other departments that may charge fees include Columbia Dining and Catering, Facilities, Public Safety and Printing Services. All internal departments are paid through ITFs directly from your group account once you request services.
Internal charges can often take groups by surprise when they aren’t factored into the overall cost of an event, so please plan accordingly! Whenever possible, your student group should first secure a quote from the internal vendor in advance, then submit a financial transaction form (FTF) for approval with the quote included. Some internal service providers may not be able to provide a quote. In these cases, make note that you have requested these services for budget-tracking purposes.
Note: For work orders from Facilities, you may visit the Facilities website to access work order details and ensure your group's account was charged properly.
Members of recognized student organizations may request to purchase single-use, round-trip or 7-Day Unlimited MetroCards for approved programs and events. MetroCard requests require five business days to process. However, they are sold on a first-come, first-served basis. Therefore, we may require more time to fulfill your request if there are not enough cards currently available. You must upload a completed and approved financial transaction form (FTF) with your submission. Submissions without an approved FTF will not be processed.
Note: Be sure to include the names of travelers should be submitted with your FTF. If you cannot obtain the names in advance, Administration and Planning will provide you with a form to complete after your trip.
Petty cash is a method of payment for small-dollar-amount items of $50 or less but is frequently not the most cost effective way to make purchases. Petty cash should be used for small or emergency business expenses where it would be impractical to be billed or when use of a P-Card is not an option. The use of petty cash should be considered as an absolute last resort when other payment options are not feasible. Failure to plan accordingly does not constitute an emergency or a last resort. Petty cash requests require advance notice of at least three business days, as funding is limited.
All petty cash requests are subject to the following guidelines:
- Petty cash purchases must follow Columbia University's policy on business expenses
- You must receive approval from your adviser and Administration and Planning prior to making the purchase
- You may only use petty cash locally in New York City
- You may not use petty cash at an FTF-approved vendor
- You may not use petty cash to purchase restricted items, such as food eaten off campus, flowers, alcohol, personal items and gifts
- The vendor must acknowledge our 501(c)(3) status and honor our tax exempt certificate
- You must submit itemized receipts and any remaining cash to Administration and Planning within two business days of the purchase (failure to do so may preclude you from future use of petty cash, impact your group's spending account and result in group adjudication)
A purchase order (PO) is a contractual document required to make specific purchases. Purchase orders protect Columbia’s interests and define the terms and conditions of the purchase.
Purchase orders are required for:
- Any purchase of goods or services from a single vendor that totals $2,500 or more
- Promotional product purchases that total $2,500 or more
For purchases under $2,500, a purchase order is still required for:
- On-site catering services (in which vendor serves the food)
- Food deliveries if the vendor is involved in the setup (in which the vendor provides or lights sternos, sets the tables, etc.)
- Contracted services (e.g. consultants and service providers, videographer/cinematographer, graphic/web designers, lighting installation and services, advertising/marketing, illustrators, interpreters, photographers other than Columbia students, etc.)
- Education and training services (e.g. classes, seminars, workshops, coaching, facilitation, presentations)
- Major equipment and specialized supplies
- Any case wherein the vendor requires a contract or agreement
If your purchase requires a purchase order, your group must begin the process six to eight weeks in advance. The work and/or services cannot take place before purchase order approval. Similarly, for on-campus services such as food trucks, Facilities and Public Safety will not allow the vendor onto campus if a purchase order has not been generated.
Procurement Cards (P-Cards)
Procurement cards (P-Cards) are Bank of America-issued Visa cards that allow cardholders to make purchases of goods and some services under $1,000. Your adviser has access to a P-Card to complete these types of purchases on your group's behalf. Learn more about P-Cards, approved and restricted purchases and policies for P-Card holders.
Student groups should not make out-of-pocket purchases and expect to be reimbursed. A reimbursement can only occur if you have discussed your circumstances with your adviser in advance, and the reimbursement request has been approved by Administration and Planning. Lack of preparedness or last-minute planning do not constitute grounds for reimbursement.
To book certain types of travel, such as transportation via bus and rail, your student group must request to use the travel card. Because the travel card is in high demand, we require that you book a travel card appointment at least two weeks in advance of your departure date. Learn more about travel appointments.
Restricted travel card purchases include:
- Flights and lodging
- Ticket purchases via mobile app
- Conference registration
- Meals, supplies and local transportation
In some circumstances and with approval from Administration and Planning, you can transfer funds from your student group account to a vendor in a foreign country to complete a transaction or purchase. Please note that wire transfers are not commonly used or approved. Wire transfers are paid in the currency that is listed on the invoice or payment request, unless the payee has advised otherwise. Be sure to submit your request along with the required documentation at least four to six weeks in advance.
Required materials for a wire transfer include: