A range of goods and services are purchased to support the university's goals and mission. Below are the common categories of purchases and their preferred purchasing methods. While all purchases must be in alignment with established purchasing policies and guidelines, certain categories of purchases, such as capital purchases or other special goods or services, require additional actions or specific purchasing methods.

Goods are generally defined as tangible items such as supplies, materials or equipment. Commonly purchased goods at the university include office supplies and research or lab materials. Certain goods should be purchased through pre-negotiated supplier relationships available through the university’s catalog ordering systems (i.e., SmartMart Catalog Suppliers)  to ensure the best pricing and terms. In addition, some goods require special consideration or treatment to ensure regulatory and compliance needs are met.

The Purchase Goods page provides the recommended purchasing method and related guidance for:

  • Capital equipment 
  • Office and home office equipment and furnishings
  • Office supplies
  • Computers, printers and software
  • Lab, life science, research or medical supplies
  • Stanford-branded merchandise
  • Commissioned work

Services are generally defined as a transaction where work or action is performed and there may not be a physical good involved. At the broadest level, this includes labor, maintenance, consulting, business services and venue or facility rentals. Some services require special consideration or treatment to ensure regulatory and compliance needs are met

The Purchase Services page provides the recommended purchasing method and related guidance for:

  • Independent contractors/consultants
  • Temporary staffing services
  • Website or application development
  • Shipping
  • Moving and Relocation
  • Event venues and catering
  • Lab-coat laundering

A subaward is when a portion of Stanford's sponsored project is passed through to another entity in order to complete a portion of the sponsored project's scope of work. It does not include payments to a contractor or payments to an individual that is a beneficiary of a program.

Subawards are administered by the Office of Research Administration (ORA) but payments are made using iProcurement Purchase Orders. For information, refer to Subawards at the Office of Research Administration

The university pays directly or reimburses individuals for expenses that are necessary and appropriate to conduct university business. Expenditures must be consistent with the university’s purchasing policies and guidelines as well as the guiding principles and IRS regulations with regard to Business and Travel Expense policies. To review the policies and resources associated with business and travel expenses, visit the Topic Overview: Business and Travel Expense Policies.

Travel Bookings and Expenses

University travel booking policy, detailed in Administrative Guide Policy 5.4.2: Business and Travel Expenses, requires the use of a centralized travel booking program when faculty, staff, postdoctoral scholars and students are booking air fare, hotels, or rental cars for university-sponsored travel. Some types of travel, such as visitor or certain remote travel, are exempt from this booking policy and may be booked outside of Stanford, as long as it is within business expense guidelines. Complete booking policy details can be found on the Topic Overview: Business and Travel Expense Policies.

The centralized booking program, Stanford Travel, automatically registers travel reservations in the university’s Travel Registry, which connects to Stanford’s provider of medical, personal, travel and security assistance. This program provides the university with the ability to locate and support its travelers in the event of an emergency, supports compliance with reimbursement policies and procedures and offers discounts, waivers, and perks to travelers.

Through Stanford Travel, Stanford employees can book travel for themselves, Stanford visitors, and on behalf of other Stanford employees (with approval) as travel arrangers. For an overview of the considerations for planning and reimbursing travel, review the Travel Process.

Types of Business Expenses

Common types of business expenses include business and travel meals, conference and training fees, and employee morale. These and additional common types are covered in more detail in the Topic Overview: Other Business Expenses.

Per Administrative Guide Memo 2.2.10: Gifts and Awards for University Employees, at the discretion of each department or school, gifts or awards may be made to university employees for non-performance related recognition, such as to acknowledge years of service or celebrate retirement. The expense of such gifts or awards must come from appropriate university funds and comply with guidelines such as when gifts need to be reported as taxable income to the employee.

Some high level guidance for employee gifts includes:

  • Gifts for regular employees (50% full time equivalent, FTE, or more) should be occasional, non-recurring and are expected to recognize an employee for an immediate, short-term task or accomplishment. 
  • For employee service or appreciation gifts, purchases of Stanford-branded merchandise or other tangible items, including food, is recommended by the university over the use of gift cards.
  • Gifts cannot be in lieu of compensation for services performed or extra earnings, i.e., overtime pay or retroactive pay. Gifts should not be given for assuming additional duties while another employee is on leave or for a vacant position. In these instances, managers should consider the bonus & incentive program and have a conversation with the school or unit human resources manager to determine the appropriate option.

To review the policies and resources associated with business expenses, visit the Topic Overview: Business and Travel Expense Policies.

Gift card purchases should always be in support of an identified university business purpose. Gift cards, including electronic gift cards, can be used for human subject payments, employee length of service or appreciation gifts, conference meals, and event or research study prizes. Stanford-branded merchandise or other tangible items, including food, are recommended instead of gift cards for employee service or appreciation gifts.

Refer to the following university policies:

Tax Implications

The tax treatment of gift cards depends on the business purpose. Under IRS rules, gift cards are considered as cash or cash equivalent items and are taxable to the recipient with only certain exceptions.

Purchasing Methods

It is recommended that purchases of gift cards of a total amount less than $5,000 be made using a Purchasing Card (PCard). Other methods of purchasing gift cards for university business include using personal funds and getting reimbursed through an expense report, requesting an advance or a non-PO payment request. Please note that Stanford’s Amazon Business account does not support the purchasing of gift cards.

Refer to the table below for specific gift card use cases and appropriate purchasing methods. 

Gift Card Use Case Stanford Purchasing Card (PCard) Expense Requests - Expense Report Expense Requests - Advance Expense Requests - Non PO Payment
Human Subject Payments - Visitors Yes Yes Yes N/A - used for direct human subject payments only.
Human Subject Payments - Employees Stanford Payroll is the preferred method. Contact the department HR Manager.
Employee Gifts (service awards and appreciation*) Yes Yes No No
Gift Card Best Practices 

To safeguard university assets, the following best practices are recommended when purchasing and stewarding gift cards:

  • Tracking: Track all gift card recipients and include the name of recipient and amount received in backup documentation to be stored locally and attached to applicable transactions. This enables purchasing traceability and alignment with financial stewardship expectations. 
  • Documentation: For Human Subject gift card payments, attach the Human Subject Incentive Certification Form to the transaction as backup documentation. Doing so ensures accurate record-keeping, traceability and transactional integrity. 
  • Timing: Process transactions accurately and within a timely manner to ensure that the purchase is properly applied  to the PTA that was charged.
  • Support: Contact the Financial Support Center for assistance. 
Gift Card Purchases Exceeding $5,000

There are occasions when departments need to purchase gift cards in bulk for later distribution to individuals, such as for Human Subjects participating in forthcoming research studies. When purchasing bulk gift cards totaling $5,000 or more, departments may use an iProcurement Non-catalog Requisition

Storage of large purchases of gift cards presents a risk to the university. Gift cards must be appropriately secured and tracked in the same manner as cash. Departments must ensure proper local controls are in place for dual custody of the gift cards, throughout the purchasing, storage and distribution processes.

Optional Gift Card Supplier - OmniCard

There are many programs available for departments to purchase gift cards in bulk. Procurement Services has worked with OmniCard LLC to support bulk purchases of gift cards. Departments may contact the Stanford Account Manager, David Murphy, to request a purchase quote and to receive login credentials for the Stanford account on OmniCard’s website. To process payment for the order, departments should create an iProcurement Non-catalog Requisition

A lease agreement (sometimes referred to as a "rental agreement") is established when Stanford funds are used to rent, borrow or use an asset for a specific period of time greater than one month.

Real Estate

Real Estate Leases are contracts under which a lessee has committed to stipulated cash payments for the use of real estate for a specific period of time. Real Estate leases are considered long-term financial obligations of the university. Refer to Real Estate Leases for more information. Leases cannot be established using a PCard.

Equipment

An equipment lease is considered the commitment to pay for the use of an asset for longer than one year, with total contracted cash payments over the term of the lease of $5,000 or greater. Refer to Equipment Leases for more information.

Last Updated: Aug 2, 2022