Josef Korbel School of International Studies - Ethics of Engagement


Thomas Schelling testifies before Congress in October, 1969

Date Submitted: 4/10/2022

Question summary:

Compensation for meetings/presentations

Full question:

From time to time I'm asked to give presentations to either corporate audiences or people/organizations in the NGO or foundation space. While many of these organizations are exciting to work/talk with and I always will schedule an initial meeting/chat "for free," sometimes these meetings lead to requested presentations and/or longer meetings. At what point and how do I bring up compensation? And is the answer different for firms vs. foundations/NGOs? I like doing this kind of behind-the-scenes engagement, but I don't like knowing I'm the only person in the room not being paid to be there.

Response 1

I would ask as soon as they invite you to give a presentation (i.e., just after the "chat for free" stage). You could reference the fact that sometimes academic talks are compensated and you are trying to figure out what the norm is at this organization. I do think that you have a few decisions to make. For example, are you willing to give these presentations for free? I work at a public university and so would be more willing to give an uncompensated presentation to an NGO than to a private corporation in part because I see outreach as part of the mission of my organization. And sometimes you might find participating in the conversation useful for your research, etc. BUT, if it's a panel and you are the only one not being compensated, that is a different situation. Having been in a similar situation myself, I now often ask the awkward question, and explain the backstory: "This may be awkward, but having been in a situation where I was the only one not being compensated as part of a group like this: are others being paid for this event? If so, I would be expect to be paid as well, and at the same rate." Your time is valuable, and you get to decide how to use it.

Response 2

Such a tricky question because many of us don’t like to talk about money! I think you could always politely ask something like “Are you able to offer an honorarium for this (ongoing) engagement?” in response to someone asking you for engagement beyond your initial conversation.

From my side, I do think the answer is different for firms vs. foundations or NGOs. I think it’s also different for talks vs. consultation conversations. And, in my decision, I’d also factor in my own position and potential benefits aside from compensation.

For talks, for most NGOs, I wouldn’t ask. But, that said, they are often the ones who are most forthcoming with either an offer of an honorarium, or an upfront notice to let me know that they are unable to offer me compensation. I often say no to honoraria offers from NGOs, or I’ve sometimes taken it and then given it back to the organization as a donation (I know more where it’s going + tax receipt). For talks for firms, with presumably larger budgets for this type of programming, I routinely ask (although I’d say more often than not they also offer).

For what amounts to consultancy conversations, I’ve never had that experience with firms. NGOs have asked me things like “how can I set up this grant program”, “what are your ideas for Y program” and these are often followed up with “can we talk again?” I’ve never asked for compensation, but I have set parameters for further engagement, such as “you’d need to send that to me a month in advance” or “I can dedicate another half hour to this conversation” to be realistic about what makes sense for me. I’ve sometimes come away from multiple consult-advice conversations feeling tired and like I should have been paid, and perhaps I’ll take my own advice from the first paragraph and politely ask about compensation going forward.

(A somewhat related question is how much work I’m willing to do and share during the SOW and interviewing conversations trying to get a consultancy and what to save/say you’ll only get to when you actually have the consultancy. I do usually put a stop/limit to how far I’ll go).

Another piece for me is additional benefits. How much do I want the audience to hear what I have to say? Like you, I wouldn’t want other speakers to be paid and not me, but if I’m the only speaker with a room full of employees, for example, and they’re part of a key audience to whom I want to disseminate my work/information/a message, and they didn’t offer an honorarium, I usually just do it. I also think about the other potential pros in saying yes. Are you at a stage in your career where it is advantageous to you to be speaking to different audiences to be able to highlight that in an annual review, tenure package or promotion to full package? I stand by my advice of saying, in general, you can always politely ask. None of these other potential benefits run counter to asking for an honorarium; they’re just to think about if the answer is no. I also think my answer might be different as a tenured faculty member than as a course instructor or someone juggling multiple positions.

Finally, beyond the personal benefits of asking to be paid for this kind of work, routinely asking could contribute to norm setting - important especially since women and underrepresented groups may be least likely to ask.

Response 3

I appreciate this question. Many people do not request adequate compensation for consulting work, including corporate presentations. This often includes missing out on invoicing for research, preparation time, handout printing costs, and other labor involved in preparing a presentation/lecture for an organization. Further, organizations also do not offer to compensate women and people of color equitably; therefore, it’s important for people to be prepared to have conversations about compensation.

Compensation often varies based on the presenter. Some individuals may send the requesting party a fee schedule upfront (before the initial meeting), which may include a rate for the consultation. Others provide a free consultation and fees for follow-up services (i.e., presentations, further consultation) are discussed during the consultation meeting. In your fees, be sure to consider preparation time in addition to presentation, as many speakers forget this as a form of labor.

Sie Center Ethics of Engagement