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Guidelines for Writing a Clear Business Purpose

This job aid provides guidance to help properly document a Business Purpose to ensure compliance with university policy and governing regulations, and to avoid delays in processing financial transactions.

The Business Purpose provides the justification for the expense and should be written so that someone reading it at a future time would have sufficient information about the activity (for example, provide context, spell out any acronyms, include full titles and department names) and why it was a permissible Stanford expense.

Basic Elements

The Business Purpose should include six basic elements:

  1. Brief Summary of the Expense
    The first 30 characters of the business purpose will display on reports and should be a brief description of the expenditure. Your department may have specific protocol or format for the summary description.
  2. Who Was Involved in the Activity?
    Give the name(s) of the person(s) and their organization and/or department involved in the activity. For example, if a reimbursement request or Purchasing Card (PCard) transaction is related to a business meal, the who component would be a list of the attendees and their affiliation to Stanford. Supply the information for expense requests involving 5 or more attendees via an attached attendee listing. A list of specific individuals is not required if the participants can be labeled as an identifiable group, including the number of attendees (e.g., Payroll Department; 26 employees). For large seminars and conferences, it is acceptable to estimate the number of attendees and not attach a list of attendees by name.
  3. What Activity Was Performed?
    Explain the activity or circumstance that gave rise to the expenditure.
  4. When Did the Activity Occur?
    Indicate the date or inclusive dates the activity took place. Specific dates are also part of the item descriptions, and dates included in the Business Purpose can be more general (the dates of an entire trip, for instance, instead of the date of each meal).
  5. Where Did the Activity Take Place?
    Give the location of the activity, such as to/from destination, restaurant name and city or other appropriate information.
  6. Why Was the Activity Done, and How Did It Benefit Stanford?
    Describe the benefit to Stanford. For example, does it further ongoing research or teaching efforts?

Best Practices

  • If the Business Purposes exceeds the character limit, attach a word document of the Business Purpose, and refer to it in the business purpose field.
  • If there are specific restrictions on a funding source, it is recommended that preparers include information about the allowability of the expense in the Business Purpose.
  • When a single event incurs multiple transactions, for example, parking costs, table set-up, caterer and service, include the related transaction number(s) and/or the event name/title in the Business Purpose to help link related transactions.

The following examples show acceptable Business Purpose descriptions and answer each of the questions discussed above.

The first few characters (up to 30) present a brief summary that would be meaningful on an expenditure statement and will show in the reporting.

Select to See Example Business Purpose:
Travel Expenditure

Nelson WHOFR Trip, 4/16-20/19. Who: Professor Mike Nelson and two of his PhD students, Nick James and Elias Storm. What: Attendance at the WhoFR (WHales are Our FRiends) workshop where Professor Nelson presented his paper on An Analysis of the Orca Language. Why: The workshop supported Professor Nelson's research on the U.S. Navy grant Cetacean Communication, award WTALK and has been approved by the sponsor. When: April 16-20, 2019. Where: University of Puget Sound, Washington.

Business Meal Expenditure

NewNSFGrantLunch3/14/24 Who: Professor Zack Mayo and Professor Emil Foley, and PhD students, Paula Pokrifki and Sid Worley from the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability. What: Discussion of how to apply for a U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to study capybara habitat restoration projects in Brazil. When: March 14, 2024. Where: The Axe & Palm restaurant on campus, Stanford, California. Why: Dr. Mayo and Dr. Foley are studying habitat restoration in order to improve the cost and effectiveness of these projects in Brazil and would like the PhD students to participate in field research. This meeting was held during lunch as this was the only meeting time available for all parties involved.

Purchase of Goods

Quality Award Who: Dr. Peter Mitchell. What: Trophy for the Department of Homeopathy Quality Improvement Award. Why: Award presented annually to the administrative associate who made the most significant improvements in work quality, as measured by number of purchase requisitions and reimbursements that were processed without incident. When: For FY2019, awarded on December 1, 2019. Where: Department of Homeopathy, School of Wellness.

Honoraria Payment

Redford Presentation, 7/4/2019 Who: Robert Redford. What: Participation in a panel discussion on Western Movies in American Cinema. Why: Part of the Drama Department's Summer Seminar Series. When: July 4, 2019. Where: Memorial Auditorium.


Human Subject Guidelines and Examples

  • Human subject names should not be in a business purpose.
  • Study should be identified using a Protocol ID or other study identifying number.
  • Study title or subject description is optional based on the confidentiality requirement for the study.
  • Human subject advance request should include the number of participants and the amount each participant will be paid.

The application of these general guidelines will vary based on transaction type.

Select the transaction type below to see an example:
Non-PO Payment – direct payment to human subject payee

Hum Subj Payment, ID#12345 (or other study identifying number), Chronic Pancreatitis (study title optional for confidentiality), January 27, 2020 (date participation).

Human Subject Advance Request – PI or study administrator is the payee

Hum Subj Adv, ID#12345 Who: William Jones PI, What: advance for human subject incentives, 8 participants at $150 each, Why: Protocol ID #12345 (or other study identifying number), Chronic Pancreatitis, When: January 27, 2020 (date of request).

Expense Report – to request reimbursement or clear advance – PI or study administrator Is the payee

Hum Subj Adv, ID#12345 Who: William Jones PI, What: clear advance ADV87654 for human subject incentives, Why: Protocol ID #12345 (or other study identifying number), Chronic Pancreatitis, When: January 27 through February 28, 2020 (dates of study).

Reimbursement for Human Subject Travel – human subject is the payee

Hum Subj Trav Reimb, ID#12345 Human subject travel reimbursement, Protocol ID #12345 (or other study identifying number), Chronic Pancreatitis (study title optional for confidentiality), Los Angeles to Stanford, January 27 through February 2, 2020.

Reimbursement of business expenses is governed by Administrative Guide Policies:

For a summary of policy, refer to Topic Overview: Business and Travel Expense Policies.

Last Updated: Apr 9, 2024


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