Tips for Speakers and Workshop Presenters: Negotiating an Honorarium

Posted Friday July 5th 2013 by Jen Angel

Deanna Zandt -

This is a basic how-to on our approach to negotiating honorariums with universities and community groups, and is geared toward speakers and presenters who are organizing their own events or tours. This guide does not cover how to find or cultivate contacts, how best to organize a tour, or how to promote your event. Those and other free or low-cost resources on publicity, tour booking, and promoting events are available our resource page, or request a new resource by emailing us at If you appreciate these resources, please consider making a donation to support this work.

Download a PDF of this guide here.


Getting Started

Speaking engagements and workshops at universities and community organizations are an essential part of sharing information and building necessary social networks to support our work.

In most cases, when working with a school or community group to negotiate an honorarium, both you and the host are attempting to find an agreement that benefits everyone. This is not a win-lose situation, and good negotiations help everyone get what they need, feel good about the deal, and build or maintain a relationship. This means we approach the situation openly, sharing honest information about our needs and desires. The tone of the negotiation should be one of cooperation.

We will repeat this later in the discussion, but the key to a successful event is to find a person on campus or in a community organization who is excited about you or supports your group’s work and will truly advocate for you by exploring all of the funding channels.


What are you worth?

Before beginning your negotiation, you should know what your financial goals and logistical needs (such as lodging and travel) are. In our experience, most authors do not ask for enough money from universities or other host organizations. While there may be many reasons to do free or low-paid events, knowing what you are worth or could possibly earn from a university gig is important. Things to keep in mind:

  • While you are preparing for this event, traveling to/from the event, and participating in the event, you won’t be able to earn money from your wage job (if you have one).
  • It is unlikely that you will be able to do other work or writing while you are traveling for an event. Not only is there actual travel and preparation involved, but part of traveling is meeting and interacting with your hosts, which may include meals or hanging out in addition to the event. Regardless of whether you view this as a benefit or a drawback, most hosts will expect it.
  • The host is interested in you as a presenter because of your accumulated knowledge, analysis, or experience. You did not create or earn these things overnight—likely you spent years (or decades) working to get to where you are now.
  • You will likely have hidden costs associated with the event. Even if the host will be paying for your plane ticket or housing, you will likely need additional travel (such as bus or train fare) and have to pay for your food while traveling.
  • What are the host/s asking you to do, and what are you willing to do? Is it a workshop, or a workshop in addition to a meeting and a public presentation?
  • Will you need to create a new workshop/presentation or if will you be modifying existing material?
  • What are your reasons for doing events? Do your reasons include things such as raising money for a political organization or raising legal funds?
  • A well-paid university event will help you provide a free presentation or workshop to a community group in the future.
  • Are you willing to offer more content (a second workshop, a lunch discussion with students or staff, a strategy meeting with local activists) in exchange for a higher honorarium?

After considering all those factors, figure out the minimum amount you need is to cover all of your direct costs and lost income (from taking time away from other paid work). Basically, what are your costs plus lost income? This is the minimum amount you need to make an event cost effective, and to not, essentially, lose money. This should be the minimum amount that you ask for.

Then, consider what other speakers you know have received as honorariums. While it is still somewhat taboo to talk about money, there is nothing wrong with calling or emailing someone in your network or community who does this work and asking them directly what they have earned in the past. If they aren’t comfortable telling you, they will say so. Also think about what you have received in the past and what you would like to receive before deciding on your goal number. It is important to be realistic when setting your goal. The speakers we work with earn honorariums anywhere from $300 to $6000 for an appearance, but most of them are in the $500 to $2500 range.

These two numbers (your minimum and your goal) are important to know before you begin any negotiations.  


How much money do groups have to spend on speakers?

As you can imagine, the amount of money that groups have to spend on events and speakers varies widely, and considering the group and their resources is part of the process of negotiating.

Many (but not all) community organizations have little funding and providing an honorarium could be a stretch for them. If you want to support their work, you may be interested in working with them to raise enough money to make it a good experience—we’ve provided a few tips on fundraising at the end of this guide.

It is somewhat of a myth that universities have loads of money they are tossing around (state schools, in particular, have gone through budget crises in recent years), and often professors feel pressure to make their budgets stretch as far as possible. On the other hand, some schools have pools of money that students can apply for to host speakers and other events, and often the students just need encouragement and support to raise the necessary funds. We also know that many university departments coordinate regular speaker series or events and have already set aside funds for those events.

That said, a best case scenario is to find a person on campus who is excited about you or supports your group’s work and will truly advocate for you by exploring all of the funding channels.


When someone approaches you about a speaking/workshop event:

  • Find out what they want you to do. Do they want you to give a talk or a workshop? Or several? How many people will be there?
  • Ask about money early. Don’t make any assumptions about payment. An easy way to bring it up is to say, “What is your budget for this event?” or “Does your group have funding?” If the answer is, “I don’t know,” ask them to find out what their budget is or what their group has paid previous speakers before proceeding.
  • Get the host to name their figure. In business negotiations, this is called “anchoring.” If the host insists that you name your price, the phrasing we use is: “We have been getting around $XXXX plus travel from other schools. We’re willing to work within your budget, so just let us know what you think you can do.” The $XXXX number that you name should be close to your goal number—what you would like to receive—and should be higher than your minimum amount.

    The goal here is to make them understand that you are willing to work with them—this is actually a negotiation and not a simple transaction. First you need to establish that they are willing to spend some money, and then once they are committed to spending some money, if it is not enough, you can work with them to increase the amount (more on that later).

    If you name a number and the host says yes right away, it’s a good indication that you could have probably gotten more, and you should keep that in mind for future negotiations. Having in mind a goal number that you feel good about will help you from having regrets at suggesting a number that is actually too low. That is why we advocate asking for a number high in your acceptable range and indicating that you are willing to compromise if necessary.
  • Don’t forget about travel and expenses. Always communicate to hosts that you are expecting that travel is a consideration, whether paid separately or included in an honorarium. Some hosts will say “our total budget, including travel, is $XXXX.” It’s a good idea to know in advance what you think your travel expenses will be—a quick online search will give you a ballpark estimate for airfare and other costs.


Additional considerations for when you initiate the conversation:

Sometimes, you’ll want to approach a school or community group about hosting an event with you, and you’ll initiate the conversation. The most important consideration is to plan ahead. Some student organizations, community groups, or academic departments allocate their funding a semester or even a year in advance. If you are hoping for an honorarium that is significant, or even just more than a few hundred dollars, contact them as far in advance as possible, at least a semester before your target date, before they have had a chance to allocate all of their funds to other activities.


Accepting a good offer

Now that you know what constitutes a “good” offer (now that you know your minimum and your goal), if a group makes an offer that is in your acceptable range, great! Make sure to double check what exactly it covers—like travel, housing, or some meals—and what other things you will have to pay for out of pocket. You can move on to planning the logistics of the event. Our resource section provides help on contracts and event checklists.  


Responding to an offer that is too low

If the offer is lower than your minimum, don’t be afraid to ask for more, suggest ways to fundraise, or to decline the offer if it is too low.

  • What to say
    We always acknowledge and appreciate the offer first, saying something like, “That’s a great offer and I appreciate you coordinating that. However…” and then move on to stating why we think we need more, such as, “This presentation will be a lot of work for me,” or “I’ll be creating a new/custom presentation,” or “I’ll need to miss several days of work at my job for this,” and then finish by saying something like, “Would you consider increasing the honorarium to $XXXX?” Other reasons could include: you are raising money to cover legal fees, or you know that another specific comparable speaker has received a higher honorarium.
  • Encourage the host to fundraise
    We often follow up with suggestions for finding funding, such as asking another group or department to cosponsor (see additional suggestions below). Another way to phrase it would be: “I really can’t do the event given your proposed fee. (State your reason here), is there some way I can work with you to get more money from the university?”
  • Offer additional programming
    Tell the host that you are willing to offer more content (a second workshop, a lunch discussion with students or staff, a strategy meeting with local activists) if it will increase the honorarium or allow for a partnership with another group or department.
  • Postpone the event
    You might also consider postponing the event until you are in the area for another reason and some of your expenses are already covered—be sure to keep good notes so that you can follow up later.


Accepting a low/unpaid speaking gig

There may be plenty of reasons to accept an offer that is low—perhaps the event is in a city where your sister or best friend lives, and an offer that pays for a plane ticket and not much else could allow you to visit him/her. Maybe you want to support the work of the host organization, or you have other opportunities for work or gigs in the same area. If there is a good reason to accept a low offer or agree to an unpaid gig—it won’t hurt your chances of getting an honorarium in the future.

Some speakers advocate never doing gigs for free. They argue that it sets a bad precedent (someone may know that you did a free event at another school and expect you to do a free event at theirs), and that hosts don’t put in enough effort to make the event good. That hasn’t been our experience, especially when you can justify to yourself and other hosts why you made an exception. Also, your responsibility for the event doesn’t end when you accept their offer—regardless of how much you are getting paid, you need to continue working with the host—never assume that the host is promoting the event or has coordinated all of the logistics.  


If a group wants you to speak but does not have funding, or if the funding is not sufficient

New students or young organizers can be unaware of what funding resources exist at their school or within their group. Often, with some encouragement and ideas, students can do the legwork necessary to secure solid funding. We’re working on developing a handout for student activists on how to raise money for speakers and events, but in the meantime, some avenues for students to try are:

  • Approach friendly professors / teachers and find out what funds are available through their department(s). Remember that many speakers and presentations are intersectional/interdisciplinary and will appeal to several different campus departments or student groups—approach all of them for co-sponsorship.
  • Form a new student group so you can apply for funding from whatever central office organizes official student groups, such as Student Affairs, Office of Student Life, etc. Sometimes there is funding available, you just need to ask or apply for it—every school is different.
  • Approach several student groups and ask them to cosponsor and contribute some or all of the funding for an event.
  • Ask local nonprofits or companies to make a donation in exchange for having a table at the event
  • Look at what big events are happening on campus and see who is sponsoring them. Approach those groups and ask them where their funding comes from.
  • Hold a fundraiser (a dinner, a dance, a performance, a Kickstarter, a bakesale, ask for donations, etc), “Help us bring John Doe to town!”
  • Charge admission at your event to help raise funds for the event or future events.


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If you earn a significant portion of your income from speaking or presenting, consider reading a business negotiation book such as Getting Past No or Getting to Yes by William Ury.