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Money matters: Compromise for student orgs amid financial setbacks

Since March, student organizations have largely operated online, following the University’s shift to online platforms. Over the course of the previous term, activities that were once held in classrooms and conference halls had been reconfigured to instead occupy virtual spaces.

But bringing these events to life sometimes comes with a cost, often paid for with an organization’s funds. Entering the new Academic Year (AY), raising these funds is expected to be a challenge for organizations as finances become tight. For the Council of Student Organizations (CSO) and its member organizations, rethinking financial strategies will be necessary in the face of uncertainty brought by prolonged campus closure.

Outflanking deficits

Although student activities have gotten back on track in Term 3 of AY 2019-2020, the economic downturn earlier this year has taken a toll on student organizations. Angel Smayl Sesante, the current CSO Chairperson and former Executive Vice Chairperson for Finance, confirms that over the past few months, income for student organizations has declined. Sponsorships from companies have all but dried up, while fundraising initiatives have ended with lackluster returns.

The Annual Recruitment Week (ARW), held by CSO and its member organizations every Term 1 of the AY, offers a vital opportunity to replenish their accounts. But with money expected to be tight among students, a policy shift was deemed necessary.

Sesante reveals that in a town hall meeting conducted by CSO last October 10, organizations agreed to impose price controls on membership fees for this year’s ARW. For the current term, membership fees for new members is capped at P150, while a price floor of P100 is reserved for old members. In contrast, admission fees before the shift to online classes typically hovered from P200 to P300.

Online processing will also remain in place for the time being. Documents which used to be physically submitted to CSO are now transmitted over email, while tracking systems, which are already online, remain in use. Cash transactions are also tightly-regulated: proceeds from fundraising activities are to be directly deposited to the University’s official bank accounts, while organizations may only withdraw their money through a wire transfer.

At the same time, Sesante details that CSO is planning to provide financial aid to newly-accredited organizations and to those that are expected to have a “massive” decrease in their respective depository accounts. “CSO will always be open for consultation and is open to provide suggestions to the organizations in order for them to profit and to engage their members more,” she says.

Staying above the water

As organizations prepare for the influx of ID 120 students, mapping out costs for the year is crucial. However, recent announcements from University administrators have dampened hopes of an early return to face-to-face classes. Strategic Management and Quality Assurance Office Executive Director Dr. Gerardo Largoza explained in the University General Assembly last October 23 that campus reopening may be set back until 2022.

Danica Ngo, President of the Junior Entrepreneurs’ Marketing Association (JEMA), says that fundraising has become a lot more challenging with quarantine restrictions.

JEMA’s membership fees were pegged somewhere between P250 to P280 last AY—one of the highest among student organizations, she notes. This year, however, the organization has lowered their price to P120 to encourage students to join.

The Business Management Society (BMS) is also taking a similar approach, notes BMS Vice President for Finance Sarah Veñegas. “We tried our best to limit the membership fee to at most P150 per person instead of last year’s maximum of P280.”

Moving projects to an online setting does not necessarily make it more accessible or less costly. Internet connectivity issues and participant caps on teleconferencing programs limit attendance in events, while purchasing and delivering prizes and tokens of appreciation also entails cost, Ngo says. “We have to consider a lot of things that could’ve been done easily before…These are extra finances that we didn’t need to worry much about during physical events or activities.”

Veñegas echoes Ngo’s dilemma, sharing that BMS has moved to reduce costly events while pushing for those with little to no cost. Even bank fees from money transfers can rack up a significant toll, she notes.

Despite the trend toward lowering costs, Junior Philippine Institute of Accountants (JPIA) DLSU Vice President for Finance Iolo Estanislao believes that maintaining quality is still very possible. Flagship JPIA activities like the annual EXCEED Accounting Convention will still push through in 2021.

“I believe the more appropriate way to explain it is that our major activities have just changed its setting…But they definitely are still our major activities and are still aimed at benefiting our stakeholders just as effectively,” he elaborates.

In spite of the bumpy road ahead for the organizations, Veñegas, Ngo, and Estanislao are convinced that smart planning and vigilance will prevent significant problems. “We are hoping that as we continue to work on the adjustments for the online setting, we’ll have a better grasp in operating online,” Veñegas shares.

Hoping for the best

Among the cadre of new students who intend to join organizations in Term 1, lower membership fees are a welcome development.

Dwanne Palencia (I, AE-APC), who entered DLSU in Term 3 last AY, describes academic life amid online classes as “rigorous and daunting.” Yet, she firmly believes that learning extends beyond the boundaries of the classroom.

Should student organizations charge membership fees, Palencia says that she is still willing to join, acknowledging that funds allow organizations to operate and fulfill their goals.

On the other hand, Ryan Estacio (I, CIV), a government scholar, shares that choosing an organization would be difficult since he does not have much money to spare. Because of this, his decision to join would depend on how much he is willing to pay and the purpose of the organization.

Aj Sion (I, BS-MKT), meanwhile, is willing to join organizations that are “worth it” based on the capabilities of the organization and the “sense of responsibility” in how its officers execute events. He further explains, “Joining organizations will help me feel the campus life experience that the new normal has taken away from me.”

As organizations begin to strengthen their footing on new ground, student organizations and their officers remain hopeful. Sesante expresses, “This online set up has restricted CSO and all of the organizations when it comes to our activities and year-long plans, but I know that everyone is resilient and will find creative ways in order to adjust to what we can do now.”

By Gershon De La Cruz

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