Speaker Event Grants

In its effort to embody the Wisconsin Idea, the Thompson Center funds speaker(s) events 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 campus outside UW-Madison with the intention of promoting 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.” Funds are to be awarded by the seven-person Public Leadership Board. See Wis. Stat. § 36.68(5).


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Eligible Recipients

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. 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 thompsoncenter@wisc.edu.

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.

Requirements and Exclusions

Funds are only permissible for speaker(s) events that are free and open to the public. Speaker events 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 about critical issues regarding effective public leadership. Speakers relating to the Thompson Center’s current focus topics of Preparing for Public Emergencies, Privacy in a Digital Age, and Reforming the Administrative State will be evaluated with particular interest.

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


The deadline for FY2022 has passed. The deadline for academic year 2021-2022 application submissions was May 20, 2021 at 5:00 PM CT. Proposals should be made for the following fiscal year. 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.

Complete the Application

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 page numbers centered at the bottom of the page. Applications must include:

  1. The name and title of the person filing the application;
  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. 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 event;
  4. A one paragraph summary of the proposed event;
  5. A one to two paragraph discussion of why the particular speaker is desired;
  6. The campus and 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. Due to the pandemic, we are asking campuses to negotiate in-person and virtual plans. The campus may provide an online platform or Thompson Center can provide a Zoom webinar platform if needed;
  7. The target audience for the speaker;
  8. Potential event date/dates;
  9. A publicity plan;
  10. A budget delineating estimated costs including a quote for both an in-person and a virtual event;
  11. A list of any other sources of funding (either granted or applied for) that would support the proposed speaker(s);
  12. 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 does not disqualify future consideration;
  13. Identification of which campus entity will serve as the fiscal agent and a contact for that entity;
  14. Identification of a Department and Project ID (optional) which Thompson Center funds can be sent via budget transfer;
  15. For international speakers, evidence that all visa documents and other travel papers are completely in order; and
  16. A signed statement from the requester that the information contained in the request is accurate to the best of his or her knowledge.

Submit the Application

Applications must be emailed Tia Westhoff at thompsoncenter@wisc.edu. Subject line should read UW-(Campus) Speaker Grant Application. The deadline for application submissions May 20, 2021 at 5:00 PM CT.

While no automated response will be generated, an acknowledgment of application submission will be forthcoming within 24 hours or by the end of the next business day. If you do not receive an acknowledgment via email, please resubmit your application materials or feel free to call us at 608-265-4087 between 8:00am and 4:30pm.


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.

Scheduling Speakers

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Maximizing Attendance

Entities receiving funding for speakers should schedule those events 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. Events 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.

A UW-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 events on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays tended to attract larger audiences than lectures on Mondays and Wednesdays.


The event must be held at a location on or near campus that is easily accessible to the general audience, compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and open to the public without charge. If the event must be held virtually, the event must be held on a platform that is free and accessible to the public.


If the date, time, and/or location of an event 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 event, the sponsoring unit(s) will bear the full financial responsibility for its costs.

Sponsor Responsibilities

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

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.

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.


The sponsor is responsible for publicizing the event with sufficient notice to ensure interested audiences have the ability to plan ahead to attend. 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.

The sponsor must include advertising costs in the proposed budget. A publicity plan must be submitted prior to the event 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 thompsoncenter@wisc.edu.


Wherever possible with speaker permission, sponsors should record the event for later viewing to be posted on the Thompson Center YouTube channel and website. Contact thompsoncenter@wisc.edu with any questions.


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


Review our Frequently Asked 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