Q: We have a volunteer speakers’ bureau, where people go out into the community to speak on behalf of our organization. We’ve learned that in a number of cases, some of these individuals were given honorarium checks, made out in their names. This has raised the question, to whom does the check belong. We don’t have a policy that deals with this, but we see that we need one. Any thoughts on what that should read? We are leaning toward requiring that all such checks belong to the organization.

Also, how should we respond if we’re asked about honorariums by groups that are booking our speakers? What should we do if a speaker is handed an honorarium made out to him or her personally?

A: This is an issue that few organizations think about before facing the very situation you are raising. While the individuals are the ones giving their time, in reality, the only reason they are being booked is as spokespersons of the organization and advocates of its mission. In that regard, it makes sense that the money belongs to the organization. Also, is it fair that some speakers get paid and others don’t for doing essentially the exact same thing? Making sure the money goes to the organization evens this out.

You don’t say who comprises your speakers’ bureau, but payments both to board members and staff can be problematic. Just one example: if the staff member is speaking on the clock the honorarium check can be considered double-dipping. Having honorarium monies go to the organization eliminates any potentially embarrassing questions from the public about payments to individuals and is another reason for directing these monies.

That being said, you can set whatever kind of policy your board desires. There are examples out there. However, if you are leaning toward having the monies go to the organization, your policy statement can merely read, “All honorariums are the property of the organization and should be made out to ________ or endorsed to ___________.”

As to what to tell people making requests for speakers, I would coach everyone taking such requests to say, “Our speakers are sent out free as a public service. In the past, we have had situations where organizations provided our speakers with small honorariums as a thank you. Our speakers are not allowed to accept such gifts. If you feel you must respond with some sort of financial thank you, a gift to our organization (give legal name) is always appreciated, but, again, is totally unnecessary.” If after that, a speaker is still handed a check made out in his or her name, according to your policy he or she should endorse it over to the organization.

Of course, if someone or an organization gives you a check, you’ll want to send a thank you and put a stewardship plan in place!