SOFO Officer Basics
Successful officers Plan, Organize, and Communicate effectively!
- Officers should make sure group members are aware of SOFO policies and requirements BEFORE they make purchases!
- Use your advisor as a resource; ask them for clarification and guidance whenever you’re unsure!
- Call us early on in your planning process and ask us about payment options given the activity. Give us a broad idea of what you would like to do so we can think of the best solution.
- Make sure your signature is consistent across vouchers.
- Only ORIGINAL receipts, invoices and contracts may be accepted as documentation.
- Communication with your advisor and within your group is essential!
- All checks for deposit to your organization’s account should be made payable to “Northwestern University”. Checks payable to a student group may be rejected. Checks payable to an event will be refused for deposit at the Norris Cashier’s Office and you must obtain a new check.
- Plan ahead and know your options: check advances are available so that members of your group do not have to pay out-of-pocket, but are not to be used to reimburse or pay for payments that are contractual.
- Read emails from SOFO@northwestern.edu. SOFO sends emails to student organizations when there are problems with transaction requests and action is needed from the group. We also send emails regarding general information that student officers should know. Failure to read and, when necessary, respond to these emails may adversely affect a group if transactions are delayed as a result.
- Spring is our busiest time; keep in mind that check turnaround times will increase and plan accordingly!
- SOFO sends monthly audit trails to organization treasurers. If you would like a more current version please feel free to email us at email@example.com.
- Maintain a thorough and accurate ledger!
- Remember to reconcile your account promptly at the end of every quarter, including summer!
- If your group uses University Services, keep careful track of your NU Financials charges to avoid deficits and keep your account from being frozen.
- Make sure your account is up-to-date and active to avoid freezes!
- For more details on Account Maintenance refer to one of our training presentations: SOFO Account Maintenance
Frozen status is intended as only a temporary classification—usually until some prescribed action is performed, or information is presented to the entity that prompted the assignation. Accounts will be frozen for the following reasons:
- One or both officer signature cards have not been submitted to SOFO
- An officer has not yet taken and passed the SOFO quiz
- An officer has not yet attended a SOFO in-person training
- Ledgers have not been reconciled for a previous quarter (including the summer)
- The account as a whole, or an individual line-item is in deficit
- A check advance is outstanding and not reconciled for more than 30 days
- A group debit card activity has not been reconciled for the previous 30-day cycle
- The group's advisor, or recognizing body, requests that the account be frozen
- A Norris Center department requests the group be frozen and specifies cause
If your account is frozen, groups cannot:
- Pick up checks
- Rent rooms in Norris
- Use Motor Pool
- Receive tax-exempt forms
- Submit vouchers for transaction requests
- And more.
- All signatures must be pen-to-paper! Email authorizations will not be accepted.
- Electronic signatures will not be accepted.
- If you are ASG-recognized, your account executive (AE) or group executive (GE) will need to sign any voucher dealing with funds in any line items of your account other than the -00.
- Internal Transfers require a single voucher, signed by your president, treasurer, advisor and AE/GE if applicable.
- Your advisor’s signature is required on RECEIPTS (for reimbursements and check advance reconciliations); UNPAID INVOICES (for non-contractual payments); and VOUCHERS (for transfers, check advance requests, and contractual payments).
- Please note that the advisor signature listed on your account application is the only signature we will accept.
- SOFO can only conduct business with the Organization’s Treasurer and President after they have fully transitioned and have completed SOFO signature cards, passed the SOFO quiz, and attended SOFO training.
- Once your term as a SOFO Officer is complete, you must physically come to SOFO and sign out of your position!
- Make sure to pass on an organized and up-to-date ledger to your successor.
- Reconcile any outstanding issues to avoid any confusion for the new officer
Transaction & Account Action Checklist
A reimbursement is a withdrawal from an organization’s account with the purpose of paying a person back for personal funds used to help facilitate a group activity. The amount paid back will be in the form of a check, and must be over $30.00. For reimbursement amounts of less than $30.00, the reimbursements are considered “petty cash” and are generally paid in currency and coins, rather than check (See Petty Cash)
It should be noted that these reimbursements are not limited to officers of the organization. Non-administrative members may also be reimbursed for personal fund outlays as long as the expenditure is for an authorized group activity and has been approved by the group officers.
Before authorizing someone to spend personal funds, however, officers should inform the person of the restrictions and receipt requirements necessary for reimbursement. This is particularly important, because reimbursements may be rejected without proper documentation and charge specificity.
For federal income tax purposes, all people who provide services for a group must be paid directly by SOFO check and subsequently issued a Form 1099-MISC for tax purposes. Reimbursements will not be issued to group members who pay these individuals with their own money. (See Payments)
Though SOFO keeps the originals of all vouchers and their backup, treasurers are advised to keep copies of all documentation turned in to the Office.
- Receipts must be less than 85 days old — from purchase date to current date. (The date on the voucher used to request the reimbursement is irrelevant with respect to this 85-day guideline.)
- Receipts must be originals. (Photocopies, facsimiles, packing slips and vendor statements are not acceptable forms of documentation. Neither are handwritten receipts without proof of payment.)
- Receipts must show vendor contact information (name, address and phone number).
- Receipts must provide an itemized listing of the items purchased. (Signed credit card receipts, with the total purchase amount but without an itemization, are not acceptable forms of backup. This ensures that Illinois sales tax and purchases of alcohol or tobacco are not reimbursed.)
- Method of payment must be listed. (Credit card or Cash)
- Proof of payment. (If proof of payment cannot be retrieved and was paid by a credit card, a statement showing the charges as well as the person’s name who is getting reimbursed, will be sufficient.)
- Receipts must bear advisor signatures. Your faculty/staff advisor must review documents to ensure purchase was for organization or event purposes by signing and dating the receipt(s)
- SOFO cannot reimburse Illinois sales tax; Northwestern is exempt from Illinois sales tax
- To obtain a tax exempt form, stop by our office prior to making a purchase and provide us with the name of the vendor, name of the person who will be purchasing, and date of purchase. Tax exempt forms may be used for organizational purposes only.
- We WILL only reimburse IL sales tax at a restaurant if it was dine-in.
If a vendor’s receipting policy does not comply with the receipt requirements listed above, the purchaser should request that the vendor create a receipt on the company’s letterhead stationery. This letter should itemize the items purchased, specifying unit price and quantity sold. It should also state that the organization is exempt from paying Illinois sales tax. The words “PAID IN FULL” and the method of payment must be accompanied by the manager’s signature and title.
Care should be taken to include an adding machine tape that adds all the receipt totals and subtracts all Illinois sales taxes paid.Cell phone usage is generally not reimbursable.
Reimbursements & the Internet
The speed and convenience of on-line shopping can be very tempting, but care should be taken when choosing with whom you do business. Reimbursements will not be made for losses due to misrepresentation or fraud online.
Online Receipt Requirements:
The receipt requirements for online purchase reimbursements are the same. You should treat your order and shipping confirmation(s) as your receipt.
Reimbursements that are $30.00 or less will be issued as cash payments, or petty cash disbursements. A petty cash disbursement is a voucher-based transaction where funds are withdrawn from the organization’s account and a “Petty Cash—Pay-Out Form” is generated as a result. The pay-out form reflects all the information associated with the expenditure—as it was detailed on the voucher and the original receipts that support the transaction. The amount listed on the form is only payable to the trained officer on file with SOFO, who serves as proxy to the person who is seeking reimbursement.
The information needed on a voucher for a petty cash pay-out is the same as for check reimbursements. This holds true for the backup as well — e.g. Residence Halls/Communities must have their Campus Advisors sign all receipts; personal items should not appear on receipts; receipts may not be over 85 days old; a calculator tape must accompany multiple receipts, etc.
Petty Cash Process
- Once the voucher and backup for petty cash is prepared and turned over to a SOFO Attendant, the items are verified. If the voucher has been completed properly and the backup is valid, the completed pay-out form is presented to the SOFO Coordinator or SOFO Assistant for authorization.
- The treasurer may then take the approved Petty Cash Pay-out form to the Cashier’s Office. Petty Cash is generally available during regular business hours, Monday through Friday. However, only the full-time Cashier, Cash Operations Manager and the General Manager of Business Operations are authorized to distribute petty cash.
- The turnaround time is usually very short. If the SOFO Manager and Cash Manager are available, the pay-out form could be completed and the cash made available while the treasurer waits at the service counter. If either staff member is unavailable, it should take no longer than two business days for the cash to be disbursed.
- Petty cash funds are removed from an organization’s account shortly after the backup is verified. If the pay-out form is not cashed within one month of the withdrawal, the transaction will be voided and the funds returned to the group.
- Given the time sensitive nature of backup receipts, treasurers should take care to complete reimbursements as quickly as possible. This is especially true if the receipts were slightly less than 85 days old when submitted, and in danger of expiring if the treasurer waits too long to cash the pay-out form. Cash payments will never be given to anyone but the treasurer and president. Members wishing to be reimbursed should only contact the group treasurer. No information will be provided to these individuals regarding the organization’s finances.
When funds due can be anticipated and documentation is available before the transaction is complete, a voucher for “payment” is appropriate to pay for the requested goods or services. This payment is in the form of a check, or credit card payment made with the SOFO procurement card depending on how the group chooses to pay. If the group decides to use the SOFO procurement card they would mark "procurement card" as the type of transaction on the voucher. Payments may be used by student organizations to meet monetary obligations associated with invoices, club registrations, dues, services rendered or contractual agreements.
Payment Invoice Requirements:
- Original company invoices. (Statements, packing slips, sales orders, estimates, and faxes will not be accepted as backup. All invoice numbers should be included in the description section of the voucher. As with all transactions, treasurers should retain copies of invoices in case they are needed at a later date.)
- Invoice must have the vendor contact information listed.
- No IL sales tax. (Officers can obtain a tax exempt letter from SOFO)
- Advisor signature.
- Invoice is not paying for a contract. (Service/Rental/Individual Service) See Below.
- Registration and Dues: Backup must include the original registration/dues form as well as the number and names of the members being registered.
If a vendor requires that a document (e.g. a remittance stub, statement, etc.) be mailed with a check, the group treasurer should provide the copies to be sent and write mailing instructions along with the vendor’s address on the voucher. SOFO will not send originals and will not make copies of these for mailing.
Organizations wishing to award scholarships should work with the NU Financial Aid office. Keep in mind that scholarships are financial assistance intended to support educational activities within a formal educational program.
If a group wishes to provide financial support for other purposes, the support is not considered a scholarship. In such cases, the group will need:
- A voucher, marked as a Payment transaction, with the recipient and the academic institution that the recipient is attending listed on the PAY line.
- A memorandum must be typed that formally names the recipient and the amount of the assistance. The memo should also include a description of the purpose of the financial assistance, the method used to determine the amount of the funding, and be signed by both officers and the group’s advisor.
- If the recipient is employed by the University, a Special Pay/DCFS or Additional Pay form. The forms must be signed and dated in black ink. Forms with specialized fonts instead of signatures will not be accepted.
- If the recipient is not employed by the University, a W-9 signed and dated within the calendar year that the payment is to be made. W-9 forms must be signed and dated in black ink. Forms with specialized fonts instead of signatures will not be accepted. Since W-9s may contain Social Security Numbers, they should be treated with great care and not transmitted in an unsecured digital format nor across unsecured servers.
Questions regarding this policy should be directed to SOFO or the NU Financial Aid office. Scholarships are considered a component of financial aid and must be reported to the Financial Aid Office at the recipient’s college.
A request to make a donation from a student organization’s account requires approval from multiple University stakeholders within a broader University process. These include the advisor, the Advocate Authority/Office of the Dean of Students, and Northwestern Financial Operations.
Donations cannot use University funds (e.g., departmental transfers or grants), residential fees/dues, or funds donated to the group through the University. SAF funds are allocated for specific student activity-related purposes, as detailed in a group’s funding petition; as a result, student organizations cannot donate SAF funds to charitable organizations.
Beneficiaries cannot be involved in activities that the University is itself prohibited from participating in given its reporting status. Such activities include lobbying or supporting political candidates.
Items the group will need to submit for verification and approval include:
- Completed “Request Form to Provide Donations to or Fundraise for a Registered Charitable Not-for-Profit Organization” available at https://www.northwestern.edu/financial-operations/policies-procedures/forms/donation-fundraise-request.pdf;
- Enter your advisor's name as the Contact "on behalf of RSO" followed by the student group's name.
- The first leadership approval may be your advisor's signature
- The second leadership approval should be your group's Advocate Authority or the Dean of Students. SOFO will work on this once you submit the packet.
- A voucher marked as a Payment transaction. The payment will actually be generated through the University's Accounts Payable system. That is, SOFO will not issue a check directly to the beneficiary.
- A letter that expresses formally the group’s intention to donate, the purpose of the donation, the amount, and details regarding the source of the funds to be used in the donation. The letter should also contain the recipient organization’s name, address, and FEIN#, and/or cause that will be the recipient of the intended donation. The letter should be signed by both financial officers--president and treasurer--and the group’s advisor.
- Proof that the Beneficiary is an active 501(c)(3) organization. Being an active "501(c)(3)" means that a nonprofit organization has been approved by the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt, charitable organization and has filed regularly as such.
- 501(C)(3) determination letter, or
- If the determination letter is more than two years old, please ask the charitable organization if it has a more recent IRS affirmation letter
- Beneficiary’s most recent Form 990 filing.
- Beneficiary’s W-9, using the October 2018 version of the form, signed within the calendar year that the payment will be issued.
If your organization is receiving a donation, the vendor may request documentation of the group or Northwestern University. In this case, forward the email to SOFO at SOFO@northwestern.edu, to determine next steps.
A contract is used for payments for services identifying terms and conditions, personal services provided by an individual who is not employed by Northwestern University, as well as rentals. Consult SOFO on any payments involving terms and conditions. Contracts must be completed in ink and should be submitted to SOFO prior to services being provided. Student officers may not sign contracts. To do so would make the officers personally responsible for fulfilling the terms of the contract and remove the University from having any responsibility/liability with respect to the same.
(See Contracts section)
The Student Organizations & Activities (SOA) website has sample letters, terms and additional information to assist you through the contract process.
- Contract - An agreement with specific terms between two or more persons or entities in which there is a promise to do something in return for a valuable benefit known as consideration.
- Note: If an invoice involves terms and conditions it is considered a contract and should be reviewed and signed by a University Official.
- Contract rider - An attachment to the original contract that clarifies the additional terms of the agreement. Used for Northwestern University specific terms.
All ASG-recognized student groups are required to abide by the contract procedures of SOA. All other groups, seeking guidance with respect to contracts, should read the following procedures and contact SOA for further assistance at (847) 491-2350.
Important Please Read
- Students are not allowed to sign contracts. Any student who signs a contract will be financially responsible for paying the amount agreed in he document. The university is not legally obligated to pay any contract not signed by an authorized university official.
- If a student organization member signs a contract, the organization has committed financial misconduct.
- The organization may be de-recognized or demoted by ASG, and lose SAF funding.
- Allow three weeks to complete the contract procedure.
- Your organization cannot publicize, sell tickets or make travel arrangements until both parties sign the contracts.
- Start planning early.
Because a contract is between the University and the person(s) contracted, there are five preliminary items to keep in mind:
- Students may not sign contracts.
- An authorized University Official must sign all contracts. (This individual is not the groups advisor)
- Personal funds should never be used to pay for contracted services. Under no circumstances will they be reimbursed.
- All contracts for individuals must be accompanied by a pen-to-paper signed and dated W-9.
- A contract rider is need for any on-campus event.
A Contract Should Be Used For:
- Services provided by individuals. A contract must be used even if the person is not compensated for their appearance, performance, or service.
- Any service provided by a company that involves terms and conditions.
- Renting an off-campus venue for an event.
- Renting a vehicle for students. (Limo, U-Haul)
- To purchase group tickets for off-campus events or shows (Broadway in Chicago, Great America, Chicago Cubs, Dave and Busters).
- Outside caterer, sound/light company, security firm, ambulance service, and equipment rented for the event.
- A corporate sponsorship.
- Middle agent agreement to pay a “finders fee” in securing the act for the school.
- A co-promoter agreement when a promoter co-produces a concert with the school.
When booking speakers, artists and other performers, there is a specific contract approval that must be followed. The process was developed to provide legal and financial protection to student organizations in their efforts to sponsor student activity events.
The following guidelines are not legal advice and should not be the sole source of your knowledge concerning the use of contracts. If you or your organization has any legal questions concerning contracts, please contact your advisor or Student Organizations & Activities for additional assistance.
A voucher form is used to transfer money from one SOFO account to another. Supporting documentation is necessary for all transfers going outside of the groups account. Documentation is not needed for transfers between an accounts line items.
All transfers are assigned a unique journal entry number (je#). Despite the presence of a unique voucher number, the je# is what SOFO uses to identify the transaction in its accounting system. Once assigned, treasurers should record je#’s in their ledger book and on their yellow copy of the voucher.
Line Item Transfer Requirements
- Enter account line item being transferred to on the PAY line of the voucher.
- Provide explanation on the DESCRIPTION line.
- Acquire all signatures: Both officers, advisor, and AE or GE.
External Transfer Requirements
- Entering the receiving organization’s name on the PAY line of the voucher
- For transfers to University departments, the treasurer must provide the receiving department’s complete chart string (generally 20 digits), including its five-digit revenue (account) code.
- Providing an explanation for the transaction on the DESCRIPTION line.
- Necessary signatures - Officers, and Advisor (AE/GE if needed).
See Payment requirements for transfers functioning as payments.
See Reimbursement requirements for transfers functioning as reimbursements.
The SOFO Attendant, processing the transfer to an organization, will fill in the receiving organization’s account number on the voucher, following the name on the PAY line.
Student Organization Resource Center (SOURCE) Copier Charges: Copier accounts are issued to student organizations by request. The SOFO Manager will initiate transfer transactions to charge groups that have copier accounts. The paperwork associated with these payment transfers will appear in the organization’s mailbox and SOFO will automatically charge the group's account.
A “check advance” is simply a check issued from an organization’s account to buy goods. It differs from what SOFO recognizes as a “payment” in that advances are used when an invoice, or receipt, is not generated until after the sale is complete. The funds are said to be “advanced” until the invoice or receipt is presented to SOFO as documentation for the issued check.
Student officers use check advances when they do not want to commingle personal funds with those of the organization. Rather than spend their own money for the purchase and request a reimbursement later, they use their organization’s funds for the entire transaction.
- Check advances may be obtained for amounts ranging from $31.00 to $500.00.
- They are not restricted in terms of the number of vendors that can be paid from a single advance or the number of receipts (or invoices) that can be submitted as backup. The number of cash advances an organization has outstanding is only limited by the total amount they represent and the balance in its SOFO account (see “Residence Hall Organizations” below for an exception).
- They may be used for any authorized expenditures (for example, “munchies,” group dinners, etc.) that fall within University/organizational guidelines.
- Check advances can only be made payable to an organization’s treasurer or president.
- They may not be used to pay Illinois sales tax.
- Advances will be refused if they would put the organization’s account in deficit.
- They cannot be used to reimburse officers on past purchases. (A “reimbursement” transaction should be initiated by voucher instead.)
- Receipts or invoices dated prior to the check’s distribution from the SOFO service counter will be refused as backup. (A "reimbursement" or “payment” transaction should be initiated by voucher instead.)
Residence Hall Organizations
Residence Halls are only allowed one check advance at a time. Any outstanding check advance must be cleared before another can be requested. The voucher used to request a check advance should provide a detailed description of the planned expenditure as well as having the group’s advisor’s signature, to attest the use of the advance. At minimum, it should provide a description of what will be purchased and for what activity or purpose. The more information included, however, the greater the chance that relevant issues are not overlooked. For example, since advances may not be used to pay Illinois sales tax, including the name of the intended vendors may help the SOFO Attendant determine whether issuing the organization tax-exempt letters to present to the vendors would be appropriate.
All advances must be cleared, or reconciled, within 30 days from the date the check is printed. They can only be cleared by an officer of the student group.
The reconciliation occurs at SOFO and requires:
- A completed Check Advance Reconciliation Form
- All receipts associated with the expenditure listed on the original voucher. (Reviewed and signed by the group advisor)
- Receipt submissions should follow document formatting guidelines. When turning over multiple receipts, an adding machine tape—listing receipt totals less Illinois sales taxes paid—should be included as part of the backup.
If SOFO does not receive this documentation within the designated time frame, the account will be assigned frozen status. An email will be sent to the organization’s officers and advisor informing them of the situation.
Student Organization Debit Cards
How to Find Student Organization Funding
Student organizations at Northwestern earn money a number of ways including fundraising, collecting dues, and submitting requests for financial support. Student organizations also have the opportunity to apply for grants from the Student Organizations & Activities department. In addition, student organizations recognized by ASG may request funds from their respective funding body.
Visit the Office of Student Organizations & Activities webpage to find out more.