The purchasing function consists of business processes related to the acquisition of goods and services for Stanford University. These include, purchases of equipment, materials, gift cards, supplies and services for the university. There are several categories of purchases within Stanford University: 

At Stanford, a capital asset, or piece of capital equipment or property, is defined as an acquisition with cost of $5,000 or more, a useful life of more than 1 year and a stand-alone, moveable item. A capital project is a project involving facilities and infrastructure projects under the authority of Land Buildings and Real Estate

Capital Equipment

Any single asset which has an acquisition cost of $5,000 or more and a useful life of more than 1 year, whether purchased outright, acquired through a capital lease or through donation. It can also include certain constructed or fabricated items and certain component parts. It does not include real property (land), software or library holdings. Refer to DoResearch 9.3 Capital Equipment for more information.

Capital Project

While construction is in process, buildings, facilities and infrastructure construction projects on the Stanford University campus are accounted for as capital projects in the university's financial system to capture related expenditures. Refer to Administrative Policy Guide 8.3.1 Capital Projects for more information. 

For information about Stanford's internal loan program for capital projects or capital equipment, refer to Topic Overview: Debt Considerations.

Gift card purchases should always be in support of an identified university business purpose. Gift cards can be used for human subject payments, employee service or appreciation gifts, conference meals, and event or research study prizes. Depending upon the recipient and use case, gift cards for tangible goods or cash are appropriate. 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.

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. 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

* Note that Stanford-branded merchandise or other tangible items, including food, are recommended instead of gift cards for employee service or appreciation gifts.

Gift Card Best Practices 

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

  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • Process transactions accurately and within a timely manner to ensure that the purchase is properly applied  to the PTA that was charged.
  • Contact the Financial Support Center for assistance. 
Gift Card Purchase $5,000 and Over

There are occasions when departments need to purchase gift cards in bulk for later distribution to individuals, such as 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. The representative will then provide login credentials for the Stanford account on OmniCard’s website. To process payment for the order, departments should create an iProcurement Non-catalog Requisition

Purchase Orders

A purchase order is a payment method used to make purchases of goods or services. A requisition is used to initiate a purchase order and is created in Oracle System via iProcurement. 

Blanket Purchase Orders 

Blanket POs are to be used primarily to make payments for goods that are provided on a regular and consistent basis and in some cases for the regular delivery of a consistent quantity of product. 

Special Goods


The Veterinary Service Center (VSC) at Stanford University provides laboratory animal care. The purchase of animals is done using Animal Requisition via AnimalTrax. Purchases are limited to restricted personnel only and Petty Cash or Purchasing Cards may not be used for purchase. 


Chemicals must be purchased through SmartMart in iProcurement or a Standard Purchase Order. Chemicals cannot be purchased with a Purchasing Card or with personal funds. Refer to EH&S Chemical Safety for more information. 


Radioactive goods are available in SmartMart. When they are not available, create a Standard Radioactive Requisition. Radioactive goods cannot be ordered via Purchasing Card (PCard). You need a Controlled Radiation Authorization (CRA) number to purchase radioactive products. All radioactive products must be delivered to the Health Physics Inspection Station at 820 Quarry Road. Health Physics tracks purchases and will deliver the product after recording the physical receipt. 

Research Alcohol

Research Alcohol must be purchased via SmartMart through Gold Shield Distributors. There must be an approver on the order who is authorized to buy research alcohol, usually a chairperson, manager or principal investigator. If the department needs to appoint an alcohol approver, complete the Alcohol Purchase Authorization Form and mail original to MC 8440 (anchor point: U203).

Note: For Special Goods, the order must be received in iProcurement for the invoice to be paid. Refer to How To: Receive Goods for more information. 

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 1 month.

Real Estate

Real Estate Leases are contracts under which a lessee has committed to pay 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.


An equipment lease is considered the commitment to pay for the use of an asset for longer than 1 year, with total contracted cash payments over the term of the lease of $5,000 or greater. Refer to Equipment Leases for more information.

Services provided by a vendor to accomplish necessary functions. This includes, but is not limited to, services acquired for equipment/vehicle maintenance, systems administration, digital photography, hotel/venue space, graphic design, construction services, software-as-a-service (SAAS), consulting services, etc. 

Purchase Orders for Services

A purchase order is a payment method used to make purchases of goods or services. A requisition is used to initiate a purchase order and is created in Oracle System via iProcurement

Blanket Purchase Orders for Services

Blanket POs are to be used primarily to make payments for services (not consultants) that are provided on a regular and consistent basis and in some cases for the regular delivery of a consistent product. 


A Consultant is exceptionally qualified, by education or experience in a particular field, to render services or give advice that is unavailable from an employee of the university. The determination of whether a worker is classified as an employee or as an independent contractor is related to whether employment taxes are withheld and paid by the employer. Refer to Employee versus Independent Contractor Status for more information.

Master Service Agreements 

A contract, in which Stanford and the supplier agree to most of the terms that will govern future transactions or future agreements. A master agreement permits Stanford to quickly enact future transactions or agreements, negotiating only the points specific to the new transactions and relying on the provisions in the master agreement for common terms. Please note, as Stanford Master Services Agreements (MSA) are available for use by all university departments, a new MSA may require an extended negotiation period as the terms must reflect the highest risk potential use case, not just the use case of the requesting department (e.g. if the requesting department’s projects only involve low risk data, but the supplier offers services that could involve processing high risk data for other types of projects by other departments, the MSA must contain terms that address high risk data). 

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