A question was brought to our team about financial things. Should an FRC team be considering getting a team credit/debit card? I have not heard of this concept before but I do think that it will allow our mentors to manage our money.
There’s sort of a larger question regarding the financial structure of the program. Is the robotics team an independent entity, or through a school? Is there a team-specific account, or just a ledger attached to a general school account?
In either case, someone has to use a card at some point to buy parts unless those are all going through POs like it’s 1987. It makes life easier if that can be in the hands of a mentor.
My team’s lead mentor has a card associated with the account that has our funds since that account is tied into the school. The one hiccup I can think of is when we tried buying a Limelight off the OG website that got flagged and shut us out of purchasing for a week or so while it got cleared up.
Our team is affiliated with our school. They do not fund us, but they do manage the money that we receive from grants and sponsorships by storing it in the school bank account. Due to an incident that took place several years ago with another club abusing their credit card privileges, none of the school clubs or teams, including us, are allowed to have a credit or debit card.
How do we get by? Consider this your guide to surviving without a team credit card.
Open Purchase Orders are your best friend
This is the closest you’re gonna get to freedom. We typically put a few thousand dollars on Open POs for our common vendors at the start of the season (Vex, AndyMark, Rev, McMaster, etc.). The process for paying with an open PO varies by vendor. Some you can just send them the PO document at the beginning of the season and then just reference it every time you make a purchase, others require that you send/upload the document each time you buy something.
Use regular Purchase Orders for vendors that you use less frequently
When we know a good amount in advance that we need to make a purchase from a vendor that we do not frequent, we request a purchase order. Examples of applications for this include purchasing team t-shirts from Custom Ink, ordering something niche from Amazon, etc.
Ask your sponsors for gift cards/store credit!
Gift cards have become the ultimate loophole for last-minute purchases. While we are not allowed to buy our own gift cards using team funds stored in the bank account (yup, tried that), we can accept gift cards as donations from sponsors. This is a great way for local businesses or individuals to support your team, and some will even give store credit to encourage you to patronize their business (we have a local hardware/lumber store that does this, shout-out to Tedford’s!). The best gift cards we’ve gotten from sponsors include Home Depot, Amazon, and Costo (team snacks!).
When in doubt, reimburse
Our school district has a sluggish but reliable process for reimbursing team members/mentors for purchases that they make on their own credit or debit cards. We try to use this as a last resort, but sometimes, it’s all you can do. I highly recommend taking turns so it’s not always one person who is emptying their pockets (albeit temporarily) to get the team what they need.
There is a school thought here…IF you are school…you have the PO’s that a district can issue. IF you have a booster club…THEY should have a debit/credit card tied to the bank they use.
We buy some stuff through the school…and we buy stuff through the booster club. IF bought through the Boosters…it must be voted on or a reimbursement to the purchaser…IF approved through a meeting.
An example: if in build season, we use both for purchases…depending on the emergency of the need or part. Outside of build season, we use the district funds before the boosters funding.
That is what the Boosters are for…to help the kids succeed. IF they need parts, equipment, food, we help. The District…depending on how financially embarrassed they are…has a budget and rules they have to follow. This why Boosters are so important. We pick up where the district fails…in regards of funding.
As for the team having their own card…I would say not. That is a direction that you don’t want to go. Rely on the boosters and the district…or whatever organization you have above you for education.
Your sanity and bank account will thank you!
To open an account you need to create a legal entity, a corporation. Then the next step is to file for 501c3 status to be a federal non-profit. There is overhead in all that but it does provide financial flexibility. You can do this if you are a community team or a school team. Many schools have a “Booster Club” to support the football team.
It’ll help with purchases of items that quickly go out of stock (everything useful)
Our school has an account that has a credit card attached to it that we can use for orders. We also have a 501c3 that could have a card but does not (yet)
Many schools now have P-Cards (purchasing cards) which are in effect centrally controlled debit cards associated with a ledger entry. They are less likely to be abused than credit cards.
Our main card was granted a certain amount of money (say $2K). In order to refill it it required a compensating control (another person) to sign off on moving the money from our actual robotics account.
… Followed by the unavoidable tedious monthly receipt matching.
Be very careful of who you give a team debit/credit card to. There have been a few infamous situations of people behaving badly with team funds.
If you need to have a card it should be a school related purchasing card with the correct safeguards on it. If you are not school affiliated you should really look into the best way to manage the funds.