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Purchasing During COVID-19

Buying supplies, equipment, and mission-critical resources have always been an art as well as a science for many nonprofits. Nonprofit leaders strive to be the best stewards of their resources and work diligently to get the most for their money while having just the right amount of inventory on hand at all times.

In these times, when we’re all in the midst of the pandemic, the purchasing needs have likely changed dramatically for a lot of nonprofits. For nonprofits providing around the clock care and services to individuals in need, their purchasing needs have likely increased dramatically.  Items that were not on the “regular” procurement lists, such as hard to find personal protective equipment (“PPE”) of all types, are suddenly on the purchasing list.   And, not only do we need to find ways to pay for the items, but we need to find suppliers willing and available to help us obtain these crucial items.  These nonprofits have been working hard to make the connections and do the research to buy the items needed to keep their staff and the people they serve safe and healthy.

For some nonprofits like ours, we have been working in a remote environment for more than two months and now face a future reality where we will eventually be moving back to our office environment in a way that promises to be “anything but normal.”  Like nonprofits around the world, my colleagues have been working to source personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and equipment for health screenings.  Some of these items will be straightforward and simple to procure.  Other items will be trickier to obtain.

As I sat on my computer a few nights ago, I was genuinely tempted to buy hundreds and hundreds of one particular product needed in these times.  I had to intentionally check myself and asked, what’s the purchasing policy at our organization?  How does our process for making purchases inform how decisions should be made about what to purchase and how to determine the best vendor to select?  I know that a good purchasing policy serves as a tool for maximizing available resources of funds, personnel and time and generally cover topics like:

  • Researching sources
  • Selecting vendors (addressing when competitive bidding should be employed)
  • Negotiating prices
  • Using consultants
  • Documenting the selection process
  • Separating responsibilities for the various steps in purchasing
  • Using staff time efficiently
  • Considering community or environmental conditions (such as buying local or buying from sources that are reflective of our mission)

These are trying times and nonprofits are making heroic efforts to secure the items they need to have on hand immediately to keep their staff, volunteers, and the people they serve safe and healthy, and strong purchasing policies can provide some important insight for our organizations.

For more information on purchasing policies for nonprofits, we encourage you to check out the Standards for Excellence educational resource packet Financial Policies and Internal Controls which includes helpful resources and discussion around purchasing and also provides a model purchasing policy.

This educational resource packet and the full series of all packets  – including sample policies, tools, and model procedures to help nonprofits achieve best practices in their governance and management – can be accessed by contacting a Licensed Standards for Excellence replication partner, one of the over 150 Standards for Excellence Licensed Consultants, or by becoming a member of the Standards for Excellence Institute.

We share our sincere wishes for your continued good health and patience as we all navigate these challenging and uncertain times.

By Amy Coates Madsen | May 26, 2020 | Nonprofit
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About the Author: Amy Coates Madsen

Amy Coates Madsen is the Director of the Standards for Excellence Institute, a national initiative to promote the highest standards of ethics and accountability in nonprofit governance, management, and operations, and to facilitate adherence to standards by all organizations. The Standards for Excellence Institute is a program of the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations where Amy has served for more than twenty-two years. Amy is responsible for coordinating all aspects of the association’s comprehensive ethics and accountability program and efforts to replicate the program nationally. She serves as a frequent trainer and writer in the areas of board conduct, program evaluation, program replication, fundraising ethics, and nonprofit management. She has taught courses on nonprofit ethics and accountability at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies Certificate Program on Nonprofit Management. She has held positions at the Trenton lobbying firm of the Princeton Public Affairs Group, and the Public Policy Liaison Unit at the world headquarters of Catholic Relief Services. Amy received her Master of Arts in Policy Studies degree from the Johns Hopkins University – Institute for Policy Studies in Baltimore, Maryland; and her Bachelors degree from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. Amy is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Amy serves on the Internal Revenue Service Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities (ACT). Amy is a former member of the Disaster Action Team of the Central Maryland Chapter of the American Red Cross and is qualified to provide disaster preparedness training to children and adults. She has also served as the former President of Central Maryland CAN TOO and was a member of the Board of Trustees of the largest United Methodist Church in Baltimore City. She serves on the board of her children’s preschool PTA and is a volunteer with the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland. Amy is currently leading an effort to establish an endowment for the Virginia Tech University Honors Program.