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Compensating Project Partners

We need you…to do work for free. 

Everyone wants to be needed, and it is true, volunteers make incredible amounts of work possible for populations in need and communities worldwide every day.

When you are designing a new bridge in town, do you ask the architect to build one for free? Nope. Your work is just as important as that bridge, don’t devalue the currency of your efforts!

Would you show up to your work if they weren’t paying you? Nope. Would you take off of work without pay to help volunteer with your local post office? Nope. So, how would you feel about being asked to spend 10-50 hours over several months helping a major employer in town with a project to enhance their products and services…for free? Exactly.

When you are asking for someone to participate in a project, especially something that significantly improves your service delivery or shapes a new project, you aren’t looking for a volunteer to perform a generic task – you are looking for a subject matter expert. When you bring a patient on a project, you are asking them to share their expertise from having day-to-day observations of a particular disease state, their own.


Just compensation. 

A few tips for finding viability on the path to just compensation for your project team:

  1. When establishing the project budget, prioritize compensation to all partners, recognizing external partners at the same time you create the financial impact report for the internal staff involved in the project.
  2. Recognize the years of expertise of the patient in the subject of their health and compensate the patient accordingly for that expertise, equal to that of their clinician colleagues on the project. You value that expertise in both audiences, a minimum-wage employee is not there as a minimum-wage patient.
  3. Share compensation information transparently.
  4. Compensation does not always have to mean cash. Be creative!

Recognize promises of “exposure” no longer have currency in the contemporary market. Everyone has exposure with social media. To put this another way, your project has a greater value than a single tweet or blog post. Push beyond this pitch and find something more meaningful to the individual.

Remember how it felt when you friends asked you to help them move and promised beer and pizza in exchange for 5 hours of hard labor? Yeah, not great. We can all agree, pizza nights should stay with your dorm room in college and couple/family fun nights. Again, framing this another way, your project intends to have greater impact and value than a slice of pizza and a beer, right?

This project is being worked on by your organization to create lasting impact and change. It will likely improve your processes, lower turnover and burnout rates, and create a positive impact on your revenues. Define and recognize the project’s value across all of your engagements.


Think quirky.

I talk a lot about the need to meet people where they are when working with groups.

I often use the metaphor of picturing a home with a set of cocktail parties in full swing. You arrive and see folks are gathered in the kitchen, maybe by the fireplace in the living room and another cluster is out on the back deck. You know folks in all three locations. Perhaps you hop between them to say hello and then you engage with a colleague who needs to meet your friend in the other room. You don’t shout until they show up in your room, the two of you walk over to say hello in their room.

When setting out to look for creative solutions, I always tell folks to dream big and think quirky. 

What has value to the person you hope to engage with on this project? How might you support their business development and work? How might you elevate them in their industry? Perhaps cutting a paycheck isn’t possible but offering funding for travel and presentation of the project at an industry meeting is a possibility. Perhaps paying $1000 for the 10-15 hours of work they will do for the project creates some accounting headaches, but you could easily offer $2000 in local advertising through your contact at the local paper or underwrite a sponsorship at your annual gala. Providing an editorial team to support a formal publication of the findings and giving the person authorship or co-authorship on a future journal article has currency for an academic-linked individual.

Be gracious and considerate when engaging with folks to work with you on a project, transparency about the terms and capacity for compensation will avoid hurt feelings later and encourage collaboration from the start.