Top Tips for Hiring Financial Literacy Speakers & Authors

Michigan State University's Gast Business Library partners with the College of Social Science’s Go for the Green financial literacy team to cosponsor MSU’s participation in Money Smart Week, a national program sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. As part of this weeklong event, the Go for the Green team hires a financial literacy-focused author to come to campus and speak with students about managing their money.

The following are recommendations based on the (sometimes slightly surprising) hiccups that were encountered during the first year of hiring outside experts and authors. 


Think outside the search box when looking for experts

One of the goals that the Go for the Green team set for creating Money Smart Week programming was to engage students in creative ways and with relatable people. Financial literacy (FinLit) is an extremely personal topic, so why not let students engage with it as facilitated by someone who looks like them or who has been through the same experiences?

Unfortunately, we found that these speakers were more difficult to find using online search engines, so we turned to social media to identify FinLit experts and authors. Twitter and Instagram have numerous diverse Millennial and Gen Z financial literacy experts who excel at providing accurate and engaging content, and many are open to or are already offering speaking services.

In our first year of programming, we used a recently purchased book, "Broke Millennial" by Erin Lowry (@brokemillennial), to identify a speaker and then used her social media to identify other Millennial and Gen Z creators such as The Financial Diet (@thefinancialdiet), Tonya Rapley (@myfabfinance) and Berna Anat (@heyberna).

Hashtags that might be helpful include, but aren’t limited to, #PersonalFinance, #MillennialMoney and #PersonalFinanceForWomen.

Be clear about your goals for diversity and inclusion

A successful financial literacy program respects the lived experiences, values and aspirations of your community in its full diversity. Look for speakers who embrace diversity, make it a priority in all dimensions of their presentations, and who reflect the diversity of your community. Ask potential speakers to define diversity and inclusion in the context of financial empowerment. Do their responses reflect a deep understanding of this topic or rely on assumptions?

Have a budget in mind and be prepared to pay speakers' fees and other compensation

We need to be respectful of people’s time, expertise and value. Things that you should expect to be asked to pay for or reimburse include:

  • speakers' fees
  • travel
  • accommodation
  • copies of an author’s book

One speaker hired for MSU’s Money Smart Week had multiple speakers’ fees of differing amounts, but all included the expectation that we would purchase a minimum of 50 books, at the wholesale price, to distribute to students at the speaking event.

Be sure you understand your institution’s rules for payment and reimbursement

It is important that you understand what your institution can pay for and when it can pay for it. Communicate this to your planned speaker to avoid any issues or missed payments.

Our planning group was unaware of MSU’s reimbursement rules and signed a speaking contract with our very first speaker that included a clause about being reimbursed for these costs before the event and let them book their own travel and accommodation. When we submitted their receipts for what we thought would be a speedy reimbursement prior to the speaker’s trip to East Lansing, we were told that it needed to wait until after the event; MSU can’t reimburse for travel until after it happens. Cut to a sheepish email to our speaker apologizing profusely and explaining the situation.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Reach out to your potential speakers and have a phone or video interview with them. It is important to hear from them and talk through what the programming event is going to entail, including your and the speaker’s expectations. If you can, have more than one member from your planning team or library in on the call so you can get a few different thoughts.

Be sure your speaker knows exactly what they are being asked to do and deliver and how they will be presenting their information. It has been our experience that most FinLit speakers and authors want to create something that is going to be customized and relevant to your audience, so don’t be shy in communicating information about your patrons and audience and what you hope they’ll get out of the program.

And don’t forget to consult your patrons before selecting a speaker. A quick survey can do wonders for helping you understand their top priorities. The results may surprise you and minimize the possibility of spending time, effort, and money on a program that falls short of expectations.

Be thorough with your due diligence

Read the speaker’s published work. Is it authoritative and reliably accurate? Does the speaker have commercial ventures or interests that might conflict with the library’s commitment to serving the needs and best interests of the audience it seeks to help?

Ask the speaker to share examples of prior presentations (video clips, presentation slides, handouts), and take the time to review them. If the library has a policy that sets out standards of conduct for guest speakers, share this with the speaker and verify that the speaker is willing to adhere to the policy.

Consult best practices

ALA’s Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) has prepared guidelines and best practices for Financial Literacy Education in Libraries. The report is an excellent place to begin when shaping a successful financial education program at your library.

Alexandra Hauser is a Business Librarian at Michigan State University Libraries. This blog post is part of a series written by ALA's Financial Literacy Interest Group and sponsored by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation.