How to Implement a purchasing system for nonprofit organizations

    by ProcureDeskLast Updated : Aug-02-2022

    Bonus: Purchase order system checklist

    Nonprofit organizations must have a  stringent purchasing process to comply with 32 CFR § 37.710 or other requirements.

    The finance director of a nonprofit organization must setup up purchasing controls to ensure compliance with the requirements of the grants and awards.

    Detailed spend visibility and compliance are key to receiving the grants, especially with a cost-reimbursement contract.

    And if you are like many of our non-profit customers. You are probably dealing with the following challenges:

    Here are three common purchasing challenges that every nonprofit organization faces:

    Paper requisitions

    Paper requisition is one of the biggest challenges for nonprofits. Here is what one of our customers has to say:

    “The biggest challenge was the culture-switch, going from old school paper tracking to modernizing our purchasing practices.“  – Beatrix Koev [Read the case study here]

    Heavy credit card usage

    Most expenses are on credit cards instead of a purchase order process.

    A credit card makes it difficult to track expenses and leads to poor cash flow planning.

    Planning for expenses is a guess because you don’t know your expenses until all employees have filed their expenses reports.

    Timely reporting of expenses

    Because of paper requisitions and delayed expense reports, it is hard to close books on time, leading to delayed expense reporting.

    If you rely on a state grant where you have to submit expenses, then delayed expenses mean delayed funding.

    If you don’t have enough funds to pay your vendors, that could lead to operational issues.

    A purchasing system can help alleviate these challenges.

    This article will provide a step-by-step process to implement a purchasing system for your nonprofit organization.

    You will learn:

    1. How to set up an effective purchasing policy.
    2. How to get executive buy for purchasing process automation.
    3. Key features that you need in a nonprofit purchasing system.

    Nonprofit purchasing system considerations

    Before you start implementing a purchasing system, Here are a few pre-requisites to a successful implementation.

    Purchasing policy

    The first and foremost is to have a written purchasing policy in place. If you don’t have a purchasing policy, you can use our purchasing order policy for nonprofit companies.

    Purchasing policy is the first step in automating your procurement process.

    A purchasing policy provides clear guidelines to employees on purchasing from different vendors and when to use a purchase order.

    A clear purchasing policy defines the following for the employees:

    1. It provides clear guidelines on when to use a purchase request. We recommend a purchase request for everything, but some companies choose to create purchase requests only above a certain threshold amount.
    2. It defines a clear approval process and informs employees on who has the authority to approve a purchase.
    3. A list of preferred vendors and how to issue a purchase order to the vendor.

    Executive buy-in

    The second prerequisite is to have executive buy-in for implementing a purchasing system.

    Once you have a purchasing policy, you have the basic structure for enhancing Spend visibility and increasing compliance.

    However, the purchasing process is still manual.

    Many companies spend up to 2-3 hours per request. That is the time consumed in creating the purchase request and getting it approved by the appropriate manager.

    You can save up to 50 % of the time spent creating purchase order requests by automating the purchasing process.

    A company spends anywhere between $65 to $500 per purchase order request.

    This cost assumes the time requester and management spend on approving the purchase request.

    Suppose you have a very simple process, so your cost per purchase order might be on the lower end.

    If we assume a $65 per purchase order cost, you can save at least 40% ($26) of the cost by automating the process.

    If you create 100 purchase orders a month, it is a $2,600 per month cost savings.

    Ease of use

    If you have a purchasing policy and executive buy-in, the next step is to implement the purchasing system.

    Regarding the purchasing systems, there are multiple options available for you.

    The key is to select a system that is easy to use.

    An easy-to-use system has the following attributes:

    1. It is easy for employees to use.
    2. It is flexible to accommodate different purchasing scenarios. For example, you need expense management capabilities if your employees purchase mostly using a credit card.
    3. It is easy to manage and flexible to adjust to your changing business needs.
    4. The vendor continuously updates the system. We recommend using a cloud purchase order system, so you don’t have to worry about upgrades. The vendor manages the cloud-based system and is updated frequently by the vendor.

    Purchasing system features for a Nonprofit

    In this section, we will discuss the key features that you need in a purchasing system.

    We use ProcureDesk as an example, but these basic features are available in all good purchasing systems. Read through these features and select the best purchasing system for your nonprofit.

    Note: ProcureDesk is our product, and we designed ProcureDesk to solve the key purchasing challenges faced by nonprofit companies. You can read about it in detail below or schedule a demo to see how it could help your team.

    1. Purchase requisition

    The purchase requisition feature automates the manual purchasing process for your company.

    If you have a paper-based purchasing process, the purchase requisition module automates that and provides an easy way for your employees to create purchase requests.

    Suppose an employee needs to purchase office supplies from

    They have to fill in the paper request and send it for approval.

    Once approved, they will go to and place the order.

    By the way, it is quite possible that when you go to to place the order, the item’s price has changed, and you need to send it for approval again.

    Here is how you can automate the process with ProcureDesk:

    The employee logs in to ProcureDesk and creates a new request.

    Employees can create the request from catalogs as well as free text entries.

    Catalogs significantly increase purchasing efficiency by providing an online shopping experience to employees.

    Let’s say you want to purchase office supplies from

    In this case, the employee will click on the logo within ProcureDesk.

    The system will navigate it to, where users select what they need to purchase.

    The user clicks on the “Send these items for approval” button, and the system automatically copies the data from the shopping cart to the ProcureDesk cart.

    Here is an example of how that works:

    Amazon punchout with procuredesk


    It is that simple; there is no need to copy and paste the descriptions from different websites into ProcureDesk.

    Not all vendors have capabilities like That is why we also allow you to create your catalogs.

    The purchasing experience is similar for the employees, but instead of navigating to a vendor’s website, you create a catalog in ProcureDesk.

    2. Purchase approval

    Instead of emailing a purchase order request for approval, the system automatically identifies the purchase approval process and then sends it for approval.

    Let’s say you have a purchase approval process where all purchases need to be approved by the Director of the department, and then it needs to go to CEO for certain conditions.

    All you have to do is to define the workflow once, and the system does the rest.

    Here is how to easily set up a workflow:

    Setting up an approval workflow in ProcureDesk


    Once you define the workflow, the system automatically routes the purchase for approval.

    Here is an example of how the system determines the approval workflow for a purchase request.


    Purchase Approval Workflow


    In this case, the system sends the purchase request to the department manager for approval.

    The approver gets notified for approval through email, mobile app notifications, or a slack message.

    The approver can approve the purchase request via email, mobile app, or web application.

    3. Purchase order

    The purchase order module automates the purchase order generation process.

    Nonprofit organizations lack PO automation and spend a lot of time manually generating purchase orders from spreadsheet templates.

    With a purchasing system, the process works like this:

    You first define the rules when you need a generate a purchase order. Every purchase request doesn’t need to convert into a purchase order.

    But for those that need to be, the system can do that automatically for you.

    All you have to do is to select a purchase order template and customize the look and feel of the purchase order template.

    Once the purchase order template is selected, the system generates the purchase order and sends it to the supplier.

    Here is an example of a purchase order template:



    The system can transmit purchase orders using email or through EDI (Electronic Data Interchange)

    4. Budgets

    Want to make sure your departments don’t go over budget?

    The budgets module can help with that by proactively controlling the Spend.

    Here is how you can proactively control spending with budgets.

    First, define the budget in ProcureDesk. For example, you have budgets based on the GL account and department.

    If you have budgets in QuickBooks Online, the system can automatically import that for you.

    Once the system imports the budget values, you can set up employees’ access to budgets based on the department.

    Users can select the appropriate budget and submit the purchase for approval when they create the purchase request.

    The requester can see the available budget amount, so they know upfront if a budget is available for purchase.

    Here is an example of the budget usage summary:

    Budgets and purchase order approval process

    The approvers can also see how much budget is available and what will be available after approving this purchase.

    Because the approvers can see the available budget, they can approve with confidence.

    Here is a quick summary for the approver:

    Approver view of the budgets

    ProcureDesk also provides additional controls for nonprofit organizations.

    For example, if you want to make sure that employees can’t go over budget, all you have to do is to configure the system.

    If you choose to go with a budget block setting, no user will be able to submit the purchase request when the purchase request is more than the available budget.

    5. Expense reporting

    The purchase order process is preferred for nonprofit organizations because it gives you complete visibility into your Spending and helps you plan for the cash flow.

    However, it might not always be possible to have a purchase order process for every purchase.

    For example, if an employee purchases some supplies from Walmart, then a purchase order is not possible.

    That is why you need the expense reporting capabilities.

    The expense reporting capabilities allow employees to create and submit expense reports easily.

    The system supports both scenarios, whether a company-issued credit card or an employee’s credit card.

    Expense reporting is made easier with ProcureDesk.

    The system automatically imports the transaction from the credit card feed and creates an employee expense report.

    Here is an example of an expense report:


    Alternatively, you can import all your transactions from a spreadsheet, and the system can create expense reports for individual employees.

    Employees can then use the ProcureDesk app to take pictures of the receipts and then upload them against the transactions in the expense report.

    The employee can then send the expense for the manager’s approval before further processing.

    ProcureDesk breaks up the expenses into reimbursable and nonreimbursable expenses.

    ProcureDesk integrates with a system like QuickBooks Online and automatically creates expenses for further reconciliation.

    6. Cash flow reporting

    Many nonprofit organizations struggle with Spend visibility becuase of the manual purchase request process.

    A purchasing system captures all the spending data in a single place.

    For example, you can get a single dashboard to see what is happening in your company.

    Here is an example of a Spend dashboard:

    Spend Dashboard
    Spend Dashboard

    Here you can see what the organization is purchasing, who are your top suppliers, and who is purchasing these items.

    You can also see the monthly Spend trend and easily identify any anomalies in the spending patterns.

    monthly spend trend

    You can accurately predict your cash flow requirements by tracking the Spend patterns without tracking individual expenses.

    A common challenge for many nonprofit organizations is accurately predicting open liabilities.

    An open order report provides an accurate summary of open orders.

    The details include what has been invoiced and pending an invoice from the vendor.

    You can then use this information to identify the top supplier Spend. You can then work with stakeholders to accurately predict the cash flow based on the timing of the Spend.

    Here is an example of an open order report:

    Open Order Report


    You can also look at the RNI report to accurately predict the accruals you need to maintain.

    The RNI (Recieve Not Invoiced) report shows all delivered purchase orders without an invoice.

    The missing invoice could be a matter of timing, or the vendor has not submitted the invoice through the correct channel.

    7. Integration with accounting software

    With a nonprofit purchasing system, you have complete visibility into your Spend.

    You now have a process for Spend control and proactively authorizing the spending.

    But you need the same information in your accounting system to book the cost.

    If the purchasing system doesn’t integrate with the accounting software, the AP team must manually transfer the data, which takes a lot of effort and time.

    Integrating the purchasing system with the accounting software eliminates any manual data entry into your accounting software.

    ProcureDesk supports integration with different accounting software, so you don’t have to worry about data transfer.

    ProcureDesk supports integration with:

    QuickBooks Online

    QuickBooks Enterprise

    Sage Intacct

    The integration imports the master data like charts of accounts, suppliers, classes, and projects from the accounting software and syncs the transaction data like purchase orders and invoices.

    Now your turn

    By automating the manual purchasing process, you get an efficient purchasing process that increases compliance and productivity for the entire organization.

    Here is how to get started with a purchasing system implementation:

    1. Make a list of the key features you need in a purchasing system. Here is a purchase order system checklist to get you started.
    2. Build a high-level business case and discuss it with your CEO. For example, hours saved and improved cash flow visibility.
    3. Once you have the executive buy-in, select the best purchasing system for your organization.

    ProcureDesk has helped many nonprofit organizations increase purchasing compliance and automate the manual purchasing process. If you want to see how ProcureDesk can help you, click here to schedule a strategy call with one of our product specialists.

    What you should do now

    Whenever you’re ready… here are 4 ways we can help you scale your purchasing and Accounts payable process.

    1. Claim your Free Strategy Session. If you’d like to work with us to implement a process to control spending, and spend less time matching invoices, claim your Free Strategy Session. One of our process experts will understand your current purchasing situation and then suggest practical strategies to reduce the purchase order approval cycle.
    2. If you’d like to know the maturity of your purchasing process, download our purchasing process grader and identify exactly what you should be working on next to improve your purchasing and AP process.
    3. If you’d like to enhance your knowledgeabout the purchasing process, check out our blog or Resources section.
    4. If you know another professional who’d enjoy reading this page, share it with them via email, Linkedin, Twitter.
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