Lots of parent groups steer clear of using a debit card because they worry the card will get lost, people will steal money from the group, and they’ll have to spend too much time managing the card. But our group decided to give it a try. We carefully planned out how we would use a debit card and, so far, it’s been a great asset. 

That’s when we decided to take the plunge with a debit card. We put a series of controls in place, including: 

1. Trackers and keepers. The treasurer is our primary line of defense. Because she’s the one tracking card usage, she is not the keeper of the card. She can set up alerts with the bank so that it receives an email whenever certain dollar limits are debited from our account, so the bank will know right away if the card is being used inappropriately. The bank issued cards (same account number) to two of our board members who are responsible for them and do the shopping and banking with them. 

2. Weekly review. The treasurer logs in weekly to check the bank account and check for any unusual activity that is below the alert limit.  

3. Time limits. We’ve set a time limit for when the documentation on a charge has to be turned in (generally within a week or two of the charge), or the person holding the card loses her debit card privileges.

So now that we are using a debit card, we’ve found two big advantages: 

1. We can do so much more shopping online. We’ve discovered that instead of taking the time to drive to the office supply store and buy two cases of paper for the school copying machine, we can order it while at home (working on other things!) and have delivered (for free!) directly to the school office the next day.

2. Other financial transactions are easier for our board. They can use the debit card to make deposits at an ATM if they need to. This helps us do our banking on time. 

Of course, whatever controls you put in place, it is still quite possible that your card number could be used fraudulently. My Girl Scouts troop account was completely wiped out by someone clear across the country a few years ago. But the troop had no liability whatsoever; the bank replaced the card and restored the funds within a week. Check your bank’s policies on fraudulent usage before signing up for a card.

For us, we look at the debit card as doing something for our volunteers. With so many demands on people’s time, convenience to parent volunteer can’t be discounted. Plus, while many people might be fine with charging expenses on their own cards and then being reimbursed, you can’t assume that your officers and committee chairs are willing to do that. Volunteers dedicate lots of time and energy to your group; they shouldn’t be expected to serve as your bank as well. Some people are afraid of using debit cards, but with careful planning they can be very effective.