Speaker Fees

Kenflower.JPG I am a great admirer of Helen F.M. Leary. She’s is a thinking person’s genealogist. I’d hire her in a flash if I was faced with a research problem in her corner of the world.  Helen wrote an excellant chapter in Elizabeth Shown Mills, Professional Genealogy (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 2001) entitled,  “Lecturing” and filled wiith excellant advice for professional genealogists interested in genealogy education as an aspect of their work.  She says some interesting things about speaker’s fees.

Speakers could set their fees based on what other genealogy speakers of similar experience charge.

Speakers could set a fee based on what they think the market will bear and risk pricing themselves out of the market.

Speakers can develop  a formula based on their individual lecturing expertise.

Here’s one formula based on the hourly research rate charged by a professional genealogist. Let’s call her Sue.

Sue is an expert in tracing people who entered the US from Canada. She has solved dozens of problems in these records, written articles for her local genealogical society journal and is now being ask to speak on this topic.

As a researcher Sue charges only $35 an hour, and works at this part time.  Helen Leary suggests we treat a one hour lecture as eqivalent to an 8 hour day. So Sue figures she should charge $280 for the lecture.

While attending a conference she meets Esther, a specialist in tracing immigrant Jewish families back to their European homeland.  Esther tells Sue she charges her clients $100 per hour for research and she works full time as a genealogist. Sue does the math in her head, figures Esther must charge $800 for a 60 minute lecture. So she asks. Esther tells her that she does one lecture a month for $200. Esther is confused. She feels her lecture is worth $240, and Esther’s must be worth $800. However, Sue wants to do at least 25 lectures a year to supplement her research business.

What is a reasonable fee for Sue to set for her lectures?

What would your local society pay for a speaker?
Should she accept offers at a lower fee from  her local society?

What do you think ?


7 responses to “Speaker Fees

  1. Hi Ken,

    I think that if Sue wants to do 25 lectures each year, she needs to be flexible with her fees.

    If she plans to speak at national conferences, state societies and local societies, she should tailor her fees to the expected audience and ability of the organization to pay. A fee of $200 or more is probably the norm for speakers at national conferences (I don’t know, but I’m guessing, perhaps it’s much higher?) or at large state/local societies with a large attendance and a per-program registration fee.

    But if she expects to get $200 or more from a small local society (say under 200 members) as part of a program provided free to members, she won’t have many opportunities. As an example, a small society with 100 members and $20 yearly membership rate (pretty common I think) has a total budget for the year of say $2,500. The society must pay for a regular newsletter, publicity, the meeting venue, speakers and other society costs from that income.

    I’m involved in a society of this nature. My budget as Program Chairman can cover 4 speakers at $50 each or 5 at $40 each. We pay an honorarium to professional genealogists and speakers who request one (and I generally know who they are, and offer one for return engagements). The balance of our programs have speakers from our own society or other local societies that do not request honorariums but speak out of good will and an understanding that speakers from our society, such as myself, will speak to their groups at no cost also. The arrangement also provides an opportunity for new speakers to practice their talks to receptive and appreciative audiences.

    So my answers to your questions are:

    1) A reasonable fee that Sue should request depends on the venue. She’s not likely to receive $200 from 25 societies in a year, but she may well do one national conference, ten large society talks and 15 small society talks for various fees.

    2) My small local society will pay a $40 to $50 honrorarium to a professional genealogist

    3) Sue should consider accepting a lower fee from her local society. She might even consider waiving a fee if she is a member of the local society. Is that unprofessional?

    Cheers — Randy

  2. Randy
    Market forces, of course, will impact on what a genealogical speaker would charge. And I can see that many groups would be stretched to pay a speaker $50 for a 60 minute lecture at a regular meeting. However, many societies host one, two or four one-day events each year and charge their members a fee for the event. They offer these events to increase the calibre of the instruction their members receive. For these events these societies find themselves brining in speakers who charge $100 to $250 per lecture.

    Our intrepid speaker Sue might decide her lecture fee was $125. A Society might offer her $50 in cash, plus $75 adverizing in their newsletter or journal. Sue would want to know the advertising fees for various sizes of ads, and the circulation of the newsletter, then consider the offer. If Sue has something to advertise, and she suspects there is a market in that area, she might accept that compromise.

    What do people think? Would this be workable?


  3. barbara schenck

    well, yes, I realize you posted this a month ago, but a month ago I had no opinion at all. Now I have spent a Saturday with our local Family History Center director who is trying to get a day long “family history fair” going in October. It will be the first one and is being hosted in conjunction with the local (small) genealogical society. So I am interested in the prospect of how one approaches a “fair” of this nature.

    First of all, there will be no vendors because it will be held at the church and they will not allow any sales on church property. So that’s already a problem, as far as I can see. Second, there is no money at all, which pretty much means they want those of us who have done genealogical research for years to talk to a) each other and b) newbies.
    And they don’t want to charge at all because “then people won’t come.”

    My initial reaction to this is, why do we want to talk to people who won’t pay a pittance to learn something? What’s the point? What is our goal? I can’t answer that because I was just hauled in as a possible speaker — and have now been deputized to come up with 24 lecture topics (four tracks: beginning, intermediate, advanced and local of six lectures apiece).

    Is this feasible or is it a disaster in the making? I have no idea because I’ve never done anything to do with genealogical conferences before. Next week I’m going to one where James Hansen of Wisconsin State Historical Society is giving FOUR lectures. He’s the whole show for the whole day. Plus there will be vendors. Sounds like a better deal to me.

    I think we’d be lucky to get $50 to give a speaker, so James Hansen is obviously out of our league. But does it make sense to start at this point doing what has been suggested above? Or not?

    PS: I think Helen F.M. Leary is fantastic. Genealogically I want to grow up to be Helen Leary.

  4. Our local Regional Family History Center is giving another Family History Fair. The only charge will be for a box lunch and the Syllabus of speakers notes. It is from 9 AM to 4:40 PM. It has five sessions with seven different speakers and topics. It is a great way to spend the day!

    Local Genealogical Societies will be able to put out flyers about their society and programs.

    The speakers are excellant, and we have used several of them at our own Genealogical Society.

    It is a chance to get lessons from experts and meet other like minded people on a Saturday.

    I felt it was well worth my time as a speaker and an attendent.

    Liz Stookesberry Myers
    Los Alamitos, CA

  5. Barbara Schenck

    Thanks, Liz, for your comment on the family history fair you have had experience with. It gives me hope that we will be able to pull this off if we work hard at it.

  6. Connie Moretti

    Our local Family History Center has held several one day seminars. Like the one Liz mentioned, the small fee covers expenses and a very nice syllabus. Lunch is provided for the speakers and the attendees are on their own (several eating places are nearby.) The Center director who organizes the seminar is a good friend, since I use their facility a lot. She often chooses a theme for the event such as “A Family History Vacation” or “Getting to Know You” and suggests topics the speakers might consider. I enjoy this because 1) it nudges me to organize new lectures for my repertoire and 2)many local societies use the syllabus as a catalog for booking their speakers. I consider it time and effort well spent.

    Connie Moretti
    Redondo Beach, CA

  7. Beverly Yackel

    Our county genealogy society meets 6 times a year. We have a speaker at each meeting. Some are members of our society and others are “national speakers”.

    Our society is known in NJ as the “teaching society”. We give courses 3-4 times a year (as a fundraiser).

    We also have a “Speakers Bureau” whose function is to give talks to other genealogy and historical societies, libraries, Scout groups, etc. An extensive list of available topics is posted on our website. Scout groups are normally not charged. We charge $100 for a speaker, but our fee is negotiable.

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