Thompson Talks

Tommy G. Thompson Statewide Speaker Awards

“Thompson Talks”  

Frequently Asked Questions

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I. Summary

In its effort to embody “the Wisconsin Idea,” the Thompson Center funds speaker presentations that will advance public leadership and help leaders to address pressing policy challenges in venues on UW campuses and in communities outside UW-Madison (which has its own activities and grants).  Funding may be applied for by student organizations, faculty, or departments of any UW-system school outside UW-Madison, and are intended to promote local discussions of leadership and policymaking solutions in Wisconsin and beyond.

Wis. Stat. § 36.68 created the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership at UW-Madison. That statute, along with Wis. Stat. § 20.285(1)(b), appropriates state funding for the Center to operate. Pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 36.68(5), each year, the Center must allocate funds “for speaking engagements… at campuses other than the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.” Speaker funds are to be awarded by the seven-person Public Leadership Board. SeeWis. Stat. § 36.68(5).

This document specifies how entities can apply for speaker funds from the Center.

II. Applications

      A.  Who May Apply?

Requests for speaker funding may be made by the following UW System individuals and entities:

  • Chancellors and deans;
  • Academic/Administrative departments;
  • Faculty and Researchers;
  • Programs, centers, and institutes; and
  • University student organizations.*

*Student organizations at a UW System school wishing to bring in a speaker must collaborate and work with one of the other entities listed above. That entity (or entities) will serve as the fiscal agent for the award pursuant to campus policies and procedures. The Thompson Center is not allowed to transfer funds to student organizations directly; rather, it is only allowed to transfer funds to the above entities. So, student groups seeking to apply for speaker funds must find an appropriate sponsor—a parent organization or a campus department, unit, or center—willing to handle the fiscal processing of expenses associated with the speaker event. Student organizations with questions or concerns about sponsorship should contact the Thompson Center at or at 608-265-4087.

Because numerous departments and programs have significant shared interests, applicants may collaborate in funding requests and may also share the costs of speakers with other entities.

The Center disfavors applications to fund speakers who have already been scheduled and for which funding has already been planned for, secured, and/or allocated.

               B.  Requirements and Exclusions

Speaker funds are permissible only for talks that are free and open to the public.  “Thompson Talks” must take place outside a regularly scheduled class or departmental forum, and must be well-publicized both within the UW campus as well as to the broader community, consistent with the Wisconsin Idea.  Proposed speakers must bring timely political and policy issues to the attention of larger audiences and must foster public debate over critical issues regarding effective public leadership. Speakers relating to the Thompson Center’s 2020-2021 focus topic of ‘Privacy in a Digital Age’ and ‘Reforming the Administrative State’ will be looked at with particular interest.

The Center will not award funding solely to support a guest lecturer for a university course.

               C.  When to Apply?

The deadline for application submissions is 5:00 PM Central Time, March 31, 2020.

**This date has been extended to April 24 in response to the Covid-19 Virus.

Proposals should be made for the following fiscal year (2020-2021). All awards are contingent on the availability of speaker funds in the fiscal year for which they applied.

The Center will consider out-of-timeframe applications only in unusual circumstances that were unforeseen at the time of the normal filing deadline. To file an out of time application, follow all the guidelines contained in this document. Note in the subject line of the email and the cover letter of the paper copy that the application is untimely. An out-of-time application must explain in the body of the email and on the first page of the application the unusual circumstances that led to the untimely application.

               D.  Where to Apply?

Proposals must be submitted electronically and via hard copy. **Hard copies are no longer being required in response to the Covid-19 Virus.

  • Mail three copies of the proposal  to:

Tia Westhoff
Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership
University of Wisconsin – Madison
445 Henry Mall, #511
Madison, WI 53706

            Electronic and paper copies must contain identical information.

                E.  What Should Applications include?

Applications should be no more than 3 pages in length (single-spaced). Applicants should use a minimum of 12-point font, with a minimum of one-inch margins, and should include page numbers.

Funding requests must include all the following information:

  1. The name and title of the person filing the request;
  2. The name and curriculum vitae/biography of the speaker(s) for which funding is sought;  The curriculum vitae/biography does not count towards the 3 page maximum and can be sent as a separate document if desired.  The curriculum vitae should provide evidence of the speaker’s qualifications and professional standing, such as the speaker’s educational and/or professional background,  authored publications, exhibitions, films, awards received, or other pertinent works or achievements;
  3. The title of the proposed talk;
  4. Potential event date/dates;
  5. A one-paragraph summary of the proposed talk;
  6. The proposed date(s) of the talk;
  7. A one to two paragraph discussion of why the particular speaker is desired;
  8. The campus  as well as the department or entity (and, if known, the building and room) that will host the speaker, along with a discussion of the campus’s ability to host the speaker smoothly and safely;
  9. A note indicating whether the requester, or any other entities with whom the requester is affiliated, has received funding from the Thompson Center in the past.
    Previous funding do not disqualify future consideration;
  10. A list of any other sources of funding (either granted or applied for) that would support the proposed speaker(s);
  11. The target audience for the speaker;
  12. A publicity plan;
  13. A budget delineating estimated costs;
  14. Identification of which campus entity will serve as the fiscal agent and who the contact is within that entity should funds be awarded;
  15. Identification of a funding string to which Thompson Center funds can be sent via an inter-institutional agreement;
  16. For international speakers, evidence that all visa documents and other travel papers are completely in order; and
  17. A signed statement from the requester that the information contained in the request is accurate to the best of his or her knowledge.

               F.  Who Decides Whether to Approve?

Pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 36.68(5), the seven-person Public Leadership Board determines how to allocate speaker funds. The Board does so by simple majority rule voting. Pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 990.001(8m), four members of the Board make a quorum.

The Board itself does not initiate speaker arrangements through this process.  Rather, it receives and acts on requests from eligible entities that are interested in inviting speakers.

III. Scheduling Speakers

Entities receiving funding for speakers should schedule those talks so as to maximize attendance. When selecting a speaker’s date, requestors should give careful consideration to cycles in the university’s academic calendar and events in the community. Talks proposed during vacations, near vacations (e.g., Thanksgiving week, the Friday before Easter), during or near examination periods, or on a major religious holiday will not be approved without compelling justification.   The talk must be held at a location on or immediately adjacent to the campus, that is easily accessible to the general audience, and that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the talk must be open to the public without charge.

If the date, time, and/or location of a talk must be changed from what the Center approves, a written request and justification for the change must be submitted to the Center Director. The Director may approve or deny such a request electronically, telephonically, or otherwise without a full in-person meeting. If the Center withdraws its support of the talk, the sponsoring unit(s) will bear the full financial responsibility for its costs.

As an additional note, a University of Wisconsin-Madison analysis showed that early afternoon (between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.) and early evening (between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.) lecture times were more likely than other times during the day to attract audience participants. It also found that talks on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays tended to attract larger audiences than lectures on Mondays and Wednesdays.

IV. Responsibilities of the Sponsoring Unit

The sponsor is responsible for ensuring UW policies and procedures are fully adhered to in arranging for, and hosting a speaker.  The sponsor is responsible for making any needed travel arrangements, for bringing the speaker to the campus, and for the talk itself.

The sponsor is responsible for publicizing the talk with sufficient notice to ensure interested audiences have the ability to engage in advance planning to attend.  The sponsor must include advertising costs in the proposed budget. A publicity plan must be submitted prior to the talk describing efforts to maximize attendance.

The Thompson Center’s support of the lecture should be noted on all publicity, along with its logo, which can be obtained by contacting the Thompson Center at

Within 30 calendar days after the speaking engagement, the sponsor must submit an attendance report, photographs from the event, and a summary of the event to the Center for posting on the Center’s website (

Where possible, sponsors should strive to engage with policymakers in the relevant branches of government regarding the speech, disseminating invitations to the event as broadly as possible.

Funds must be expended within the fiscal year in which they are awarded.


V. Special Arrangements, Travel, Hotel, and Meal Expenses

The Center recognizes that some speakers may require accommodations in travel, lodging, or presentations due to health conditions or other physical limitations. If your speaker requires such accommodations, please state the accommodation and the reason the accommodation is required in the budget of estimated costs.

Lodging, travel, and meal expenses for speakers must adhere to UW travel requirements in place at the time of booking. Sponsors should refer to UW Systems policies laid out here, as well as to any additional campus-specific requirements.

While the Board’s policy is to grant a one-day hotel/meal allowance, if the speaker provides other services of a public (i.e., university-wide) nature on another day, the sponsor may request additional hotel/meal allowance expenses. In such cases, the applicant must detail and fully justify the request for additional amount.


VI. International Speakers

Entities that wish to invite international speakers to the campus should be advised that such speakers are covered by special federal laws related to travel and immigration documentation, payments that can be made by the state or university, and the speaker’s U.S. tax liability.

An international speaker’s visa class dictates the individual’s eligibility to receive payment for speaking engagements and to receive reimbursement for travel expenses; therefore, it is critical that the speaker obtain an appropriate visa. Some visas do not cover honorariums.

It is the sponsor’s responsibility to ensure all visa and related documents are compiled accurately. The Board accepts no responsibility for facilitating international travelers and reserves the right to withdraw its support for an international speaker if all visa and related documents are not in order.

VII. Questions

Please direct all questions to:

Tia Westhoff
Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership
University of Wisconsin – Madison
445 Henry Mall
Room 511
Madison, WI 53706
Office: 608-265-4087