The updated Purchasing Card policy, which went into effect July 1, 2019, prohibits University of Richmond departments and offices from giving out gift cards. 

The UR Purchasing Card (P-Card) is a JPMorgan corporate Mastercard, according to the Controller's Office website. Departments use the P-Card to procure university-related goods and make business-related travel purchases. 

With the updated policy, the P-Card can no longer be used to buy gift cards. The policy applies to gift cards purchased on campus, including at the SpiderShop and the various eating establishments, as well as off-campus locations, Jean Hines, director of strategic sourcing and payments, wrote in an email.

In the past, many departments, including the Office of Alumni and Career Services, the Office of Residence Life and Undergraduate Student Housing and the Department of Athletics, used gift cards to incentivize students to complete surveys or attend events.

Hines wrote that there will be only two instances when gift cards are allowed. 

Gift certificates or cash can be given as incentives to research study participants. But pre-approval from UR's Institutional Review Board is now required. 

Additionally, UR's Office of Institutional Effectiveness can give gift cards as incentives for participants in its surveys. 

The psychology department has been using gift cards to show appreciation to the students participating in research studies. Now, the department will need to go through a more complicated process.

“It’s just an extra step to go through — to wait for approval and show the study is valuable,” said Karyn Kuhn, administrative coordinator for the psychology department.

The psychology department also used gift cards to show appreciation to the department’s student assistant, but now this use of gift cards is prohibited.

“At holiday time, we want to thank our student assistant for the hard work she does, so I used to get her an Amazon gift card," Kuhn said. "Now I have to find other ways."

This policy change also applies to gift cards obtained without using the P-Card.

Emily Phaup, administrative assistant of Parking Services, said Parking and Transportation Services did not purchase gift cards for events using a P-Card. But it has asked for donations from retailers on shuttle routes, making the retailers informal sponsors of events such as Transportation Day.

“We will not be giving out gift cards in future after the policy change," Phaup said. "For next year’s Transportation Day, we’ll just look at alternate ways to incentivize students to come."

The Office of Common Ground also used gifts cards as prizes in events such as SpiderNights.

Senior Yuwei Lin, PR and social media assistant of Common Ground, said the policy change would not influence SpiderNights much, because it was not hard to find substitutes for gift cards. 

“Gift cards sometimes expire because the winner won’t come to us to claim it," Lin said. "There’s not much of a difference."

According to the IRS and the University Policy Manual, gift cards, gift certificates and other forms of gift giving -- unless qualified as de minimis -- are considered taxable compensation, regardless of the amount and begin with the first dollar. Those gifts may also be subject to tax reporting. 

When asked whether the gift card policy change would help to reduce UR's tax spending, Hines responded that UR might realize tax savings, but that the savings are not significant.

UR's focus is to ensure resources are used more effectively, she said.

“One of the overall objectives of the new policies, which includes the purchasing of gift cards, was to emphasize proper financial stewardship of University resources, meaning more effective utilization, and not necessarily savings,” Hines wrote. 

Open forums have been offered in July, August and September to help faculty and staff members adapt to the policy change.

UR’s financial stewardship policies were approved by David Hale, executive vice president and chief operating officer, after review by the President’s Cabinet and the academic deans. The Controller’s Office is responsible for administering the policy.

“For those organizations which have provided gift cards as prizes in the past, we suggest they provide small-dollar, tangible items instead,” Hines wrote.

Contact news writer Haley Zhao at haley.zhao@richmond.edu.