Cheeseheads and hardball fans will recognize this riff on Bob Uecker's first contract: "I signed with the Milwaukee Braves for three thousand dollars. That bothered my dad at the the time because he didn't have that kind of dough. But he eventually scraped it up."
Like Mr. Uecker, I rarely turn down a free dinner, though I'm often backed up for a year or more on such commitments. It is lovely to get paid and I sincerely appreciate it, but the real reward is in the intellectual exchange -- and, let's be honest, the rush of validation you feel when people are right there in front of you, engaging the ideas and work you've been casting into the ether from some lonely academic bunker (a/k/a the collosal ego trip).
As I recently mentioned to a friend on facebook, I charge a sliding scale. With the Deluxe Package, I'll give a presentation in exchange for airfare and a nice dinner. With my Budget Package, I'll sometimes pop for the airfare, but you have to give me a plaque of some sort and say nice things about me at the dinner. The plaque is key.
In keeping with my honoraria post five years ago, I try to redirect the bulk of the money to organizations providing direct services to people leaving prison and non-profits that conduct justice-related research. The need is great and I'm already paid pretty well to study the hard times of others. That said, it is usually a hassle for universities to redirect an honorarium to such organizations -- it is much cleaner for the staff when they can simply cut a check. The problem with cashing the check and sending it elsewhere, of course, is that it looks like income to the IRS and a good chunk is lost to taxes before it can be passed along.
These days, I'm laundering my honoraria through the Minnversity's annual community fund drive (open now through 10/31). I just cash and spend the check myself (and report it to the IRS), but use payroll deduction to direct a corresponding amount to organizations doing reentry programming and research. I'll identify the local orgs offline if any Minnversity friends are interested -- there are several available for check-off but you can also write-in your own. In truth, I haven't been redirecting the full amount of the honoraria I've received, using some of the funds to cushion unreimbursable out-of-pocket expenses (related to my editorial, advising, research, and chair duties) and to purchase certain performance-enhancing research stimulants (such as 5-pound buckets of black licorice). Still, I'm hoping this sort of model might work for others -- it is deducted painlessly from pre-tax earnings, can be spread evenly throughout the year, and shows up clearly on one's paycheck at tax time.
While my schedule is pretty full for 2011-2012, I'll keep giving talks next year and for as long as people will have me. To quote Mr. Uecker, "Anybody with ability can play in the big leagues. But to be able to trick people year in and year out the way I did, I think that was a much greater feat."