Should You Charge A Speaking Fee For Churches And Other Non-Profits?

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Today’s question comes from Patty, who’s wondering about fees, and especially how to navigate fees whenever it comes to speaking to nonprofits or to faith-based organizations or organizations that may not have a lot of extra money. How do you charge? Should you not charge? Should you give a discount? How do you kind of navigate that? So let’s get into it.

Question: How do Charge (or Not Charge) Churches and Nonprofits?

Today’s question comes from Patty Missoula. Patty asked the question, “I was wondering how you handle fees for speaking at churches and nonprofit organizations. Do you speak for free? Do a love offering or charge to speak at all?”


Good question. All right, thanks for the question, Patty.

So let’s talk about a couple different things here. Let’s talk about some good news and bad news. The good news is that there are a lot of churches and nonprofits that are looking for speakers. So that’s the good news. It’s a big market. There’s a lot of opportunities that do exist in that space.

Now, the bad news is that many of them may be tight on budget as Patty kind of alluded to here, but again, many of them still need speakers. Many of you may know that I actually used to be a youth pastor in a local church, so I know firsthand that a lot of churches, they may not have tons and tons of funding and money for speakers.

So yes, in some cases that is accurate, but at the same time, many organizations, nonprofits, churches, other times they do have money for speakers. And so we’re going to get into that a little bit. Now let’s start with kind of a foundational piece.

I think this kind of gets to the heart of what Patty is asking here, but a key principle I want you to know is this: that there is nothing wrong with a speaker getting paid by a nonprofit or a church. There is nothing wrong at all. You’re not a bad person if you get paid by a nonprofit or a church. It’s not like you’re taking money from, you know, a food bank. It’s not like you’re taking food from other people.

I’ve been paid speaking fees by several nonprofits and churches and so there’s a lot of ways that they can get funding beyond just their day-to-day operations or their budget. And so we’ll talk about some of those in just a second.

So, I mean, the idea is basically that whenever you speak, you’re providing value to that audience and to that organization so it is fine to be paid and just because they’re a nonprofit or a church doesn’t mean that they don’t have money.

Oftentimes they have paid staff. Those staff are being paid, right? They pay for other products and services. So one of the things that you have to do, and I think again, this gets to a little bit of Patty’s question, is that oftentimes as speakers, we want to be able to help, right?

We want to be able to make a difference. We want to make a little dent in the world. We have this message that we want to share with people, and so we just want to help. And so sometimes what happens with speakers is that we have bigger hearts than brains.

I don’t mean that in a mean way, but we just have these big hearts if we just want to help people, right? And it is great to help people. There is nothing wrong at all, and hopefully all of the speaking that any of us are doing is coming from a place of service, of wanting to be able to help and to serve and to provide value to other people.

But if you just think with your heart and you’re just thinking about how can I help other people? And how can I make a little dent in the world? How can I make a little difference? That’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you will go broke doing that, and there’s no way to run a business.

So there’s definitely a balance of being able to think with both your heart and your head. You cannot help every person and every situation, you cannot do it. This is why, you know, like the lady who has 47 cats, that’s why she has 47 cats – because she wants to rescue every single cat. But you can’t rescue every single cat.

Getting Paid By a Nonprofit or Church

Option 1: Speak for Free (a Limited Number of Times)

Whenever you’re speaking for a church or a nonprofit, there’s a few things that you can do in regards to getting paid. Two main things that I typically would recommend. Number one would be that you choose to speak for free.

And again, there’s nothing wrong at all with doing a free gig for a nonprofit if it’s an organization or a church or just a cause that you believe in and you just want to support, it is totally fine. In the same way, there’s other, maybe local businesses that have provided donations of some type of their product or service because they just want to support a non-profit.

There’s nothing wrong with that at all. But you can’t build a business just going around and speaking out of the goodness of your heart. You just cannot do it. There’s no business that will stay in business by just doing things out of the goodness of their heart. You’re providing value, and so at some point you have to be able to charge for that value.

Now, if you’re choosing to speak for free for a nonprofit, and again, there’s nothing wrong at all with doing that, there are two things that I would recommend that you do. One would be that you limit the number of free engagements that you do.

This is both for you and for potential inquiries, meaning that maybe you only do, let’s say three to five free things. And again, there’s a difference there between doing something for free because it’s a pro bono and just because you want to help versus doing something for free that is more of a marketing event for you where you’re going to develop business in other ways.

But in the context of this conversation of just, “I just want to speak to this nonprofit and I just want to help,” you just want to limit the number of those things that you can do. Again not only for yourself, but that way when other inquiries come up, you can say, “Hey, I only do a few pro bono events per year. Those are already taken – if you’d like to follow up with us another time, that’s fine.” Again, you’re providing value and there’s nothing wrong with being paid a fee for that.

So again, if you’re going to speak for free, one, limit the number of events that you’re going to do for free and the number of pro bono events that you would do. The second thing I would say about that would be if you’re going to speak for free, I would recommend that you keep them local.

Meaning if I’m going to do something for free, I just don’t want to travel halfway across the country to do it. My time, your time, our time is very, very, valuable, you can’t get that time back. So I’m a lot more likely to do something for free if it’s in my backyard, if it’s a 30 minute driveway versus if it’s a nine hour travel day with two flights.

So that’s just me, that’s my personal preference. But if I’m going to do something for free, I would prefer that it would be local and that I limit the number of those free engagements that I’m going to do. And so by having some of these criteria in place, it just becomes a heck of a lot easier for you to know when to say yes and no.

Otherwise, every opportunity that comes up, you’re likely to cave in because again, it’s a good cause and you just want to help and you just want to make a little difference. So have some of those parameters in place. Nothing wrong with doing some for free – just have some of those parameters in.

Option 2: Charge a Discounted Speaking Fee

So one option is to speak for free. The other option, and I know a lot of speakers that do this, is if they’re going to be speaking to a church or a nonprofit, they just choose to speak for a discounted rate. So my fee is normally $5,000, but for a nonprofit, I’ll do it for $4,000 or for $3,500 or something.

Now you don’t need to come all the way down to like, “I’m going to do it for $5 and a little pat on the back and we’ll call it good.” No, again, you’re providing value there. You’re choosing to help that organization by offering some type of discount.

So again, you may still choose to do free ones that are in your backyard, but for others, you’re at least willing to offer them at least some type of discount. That’s totally, totally fine if you choose to do that.

Now, having said all of that, it’s also important to know that just because an organization may be a nonprofit, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t have money to spend on speakers. Again, they pay for other services and products, so there is nothing wrong with you getting paid.

Six Ways a Church or Nonprofit Can Pay for a Speaker

So I want to quickly just walk through six different ways that an organization or a nonprofit can pay for for speakers.

#1: The Organization’s Personal Budget

Number one is going to be just their own budget, meaning that they have specifically allocated money in their budget, and most likely their annual budget, for speakers or events or outside training or resources. That, again, is set aside for people like you.

So it doesn’t affect their operational budget in any way. It’s not like they’re robbing Peter to pay Paul. Just their budget has money set aside for speakers or outside people like yourself.

#2: Grants

The second way that nonprofits can pay for speakers is grants. And now this is pretty common and actually works well with my own name, having been named Grant. Thanks, Mom.

But I’ve had many nonprofits that have hired me to speak before and my fee didn’t come out of their budget at all. They were able to get some type of outside grant or donation that paid for my fee. That way it works. The organization goes out, they find the money, they find the funding, they apply for that grant, and it doesn’t affect them in any way.

And so, although I’ve been paid many times by a nonprofit from grant funding, I can’t think of any time where I’ve personally been involved in the process to find and apply for the grant. A lot of times that happens by the organization itself.

So I think of this kind of like applying for a college scholarship. If you were to apply for a scholarship for college, it doesn’t really affect the finances of you or the school. That money came from a third party, and so that’s typically how grants are going to work. It doesn’t really affect me. It doesn’t really affect the organization. It’s a third party that is paying for it by a grant that they had applied for.

#3: Government Funding

So number one would be their own budget. Number two would be grants. Number three would be government funding. Now, this is pretty common with nonprofits, typically not in the church world, but with nonprofits, depending on the market or their industry, sometimes they’re going to get some type of outside government funding.

So since I’ve done a lot of speaking in the education market, I know a lot of their funding comes from some type of state or federal government agency, so that could be common as well.

#4: Sponsorships and Donors

Number four is going to be sponsorships and donors. So sometimes a nonprofit or a church will get funding from a local business or an individual who either just wants to help or wants to be associated with the good cause that that nonprofit or that church is involved with.

You see sometimes when a nonprofit may host an event or a fundraiser and they may have a lot of local businesses who have donated funds for the event.

#5: Fundraising

Another one, number five is going to be fundraising. I’ve had a few smaller nonprofits or churches do some type of fundraiser to cover my fee. I’ll give you a quick example.

I remember several years ago, I was just getting started and there was a church in Michigan who wanted me to come speak at their high school. And so what they ended up doing was they ended up doing a huge garage sale to cover my fee as a speaker, which is crazy.

I couldn’t believe that they went to that effort, but again, it didn’t affect their internal budget in any way. It was a fundraiser that they did in order to pay for my speaking fee. So that’s an option as well.

#6: Love Offering

So again, let’s kind of recap here. We’ve got, uh, from their own budget, from grants, from government funding, from sponsorships and donors from fundraising

And then finally number six is going to be a love offering. Now, Patty mentioned this in her question, and this is something that happens sometimes in the church world, not so much in the nonprofit world, but in the church world, this is somewhat common.

And so the way that this would work is let’s say you go speak at a weekend service. So instead of you just going to speak and you just getting a check, what usually would happen is either before or after you would speak, the pastor or the minister would get up and take an offering for you, the speaker, and be very clear that the money that’s being collected goes to pay your fee, that you’re not getting a fee in any other way.

So this happens sometimes. If you’re going to do this, I would recommend that you do this after you speak, because if they take the offering before you speak, nobody’s heard you speak. Nobody knows anything about you. And also as a general rule, it’s good to have the pastor or the minister do this so it doesn’t put you in this awkward spot of having to ask the congregation for money.

So you don’t want to be in that place, that would be kind of awkward. So again, if you’re going to do it, I would prefer that you do it after, have the offering taken after you speak, and have it done by the pastor or minister.

Now, having said all of that about a love offering, I’m not a big fan of this method, primarily because for you as the speaker, this is a horrible way to run your business. This would not work in any other industry. I mean, imagine going to Walmart at the grocery store and you’re getting ready to buy some products, and when you go to check out, the entire thing was just based on just paying whatever you want. Walmart would not stay in business.

Or imagine that you owned some type of service business. Let’s imagine that you owned a lawn care business, all right? And every time you mowed a customer’s grass, you didn’t charge a fee. They just paid you whatever they felt like paying you that day – you cannot possibly run a business like that.

And so the same thing is true with a love offering. Like how could you possibly build your business if every time you speak you had no idea how much you were getting? That doesn’t work. So that’s why I’m not a fan of it. And again, that kind of goes back to what we were talking about earlier – that there’s a real balance there between running the business and speaking with both your heart and your head.

So I want to make a difference, want to make an impact. I want to do something that kind of tugs at those heartstrings. That’s good. But at the same time, again, I also want to eat and live indoors. I want to provide for my family, and so therefore, because I’m providing a service, because I’m providing value, there is nothing wrong with being paid as a speaker for the value that I offer.

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