5 Best Practices for Submission Fees and Application Fees

Submittable’s integrated payment feature offers customers the ability to charge submission and application fees on any form. If you’re thinking about building fees into your business model, these are some of the best practices for submission fees that we encourage all of our clients to consider.

Be transparent

Submitters and applicants appreciate knowing what their funds are contributing to. Not only does transparency around fees build trust but it can also help eliminate money-related inquiries and damaging misconceptions. Even if charging an entry fee is the industry standard—as is often the case with awards, nominations, and prizes—you can set your organization apart by being explicit about the role fees play in your budget.

Examples of what Submittable organizations charge fees to support:

Compensation and honoraria for submitters and applicants
• Event and venue costs
• Employee time and reviewer compensation
• Prizes and awards (including cash, merchandise, and opportunities)
• PR, marketing, advertising, and publication costs
• Operational expenses and technical resources (including software)

Many groups will clearly state why they charge and what each fee goes toward on their website, submission form, or both.

Align with your mission

Your organization has unique goals and distinct measurements for success. Financial practices, especially around fee submissions or applications, are an important extension of this. The following are cases where strategy can help your submission process align with your mission.


For organizations hoping to giving back, it can be challenging to generate sufficient means. Inspiring submitters and applicants who can afford to share resources to do so can be a successful approach. For example, you might ask those enrolling in a course to optionally contribute an additional amount towards a scholarship for a student in need, or encourage artist residency applicants, who are able, to pay for otherwise included food in order to support less affluent residents.

Submitter compensation

Perhaps you are committed to paying accepted submitters or applicants, for their time, content, or effort. Charging a fee (in any form) can be a way to help generate the revenue required to do this. Clearly stating on your submission or application form that your fee collection goes toward paying, for example, published contributors, will encourage submitters to feel good about their spend (not to mention their chances of potentially being paid as well). If you are unable to pay accepted submitters but do offer other forms of compensation, be sure to say so.

Financial equity

It may be important to you that anyone who wants to apply for your opportunity or submit to your organization can, regardless of cost. There are plenty of ways to approach this, especially if your plan has limited free submissions.

Offer free submissions during certain periods and fee submissions otherwise
• Offer free submissions in combination with a “tip jar” option to encourage support and reserve more free submissions for those who need it
• Keep free submission open all the time—if you hit your plan limit, have a “tip jar” option ready to keep your submission or application call open
• Keep some submission or application calls free and charge a fee for others as needed. For example, a quarterly fee-based contest might allow you to support more free submissions year-round.

Reward and engage early birds

Many organizations offer tiered pricing based on timeline. Early submitters or applicants pay a lower fee than those who submit closer to the deadline. There are several ways to approach a similar fee schedule for your organization, with the added benefit that staggering submissions and applications can greatly help your team manage workload.

Set a “standard” fee to work from for submissions received on or near your deadline
• Create an early-bird option (or various pre-deadline options) to reward timeliness
• Offer late- or extended-deadline submissions (or multiple late options) for a higher fee

You might also consider the early birds on your own team. Are there reviewers who consistently finish the process ahead of time and offer smart critique? Consider engaging these individuals to offer submitters or applicants feedback for an additional charge.

Highlight your expertise and brand

It’s safe to assume that people who submit to or apply for your opportunity are interested in your organization. Why not take this chance to share more of what you’re about with them? Many Submittable clients use submission form fees and add-on payments to sell merchandise and services.

Ideas for featuring your organization’s wares while generating revenue:

Offer subscriptions and memberships
• Suggest services and opportunities, such as education, consultation, or critique
• Sale price your backstock, like media created as a result of past year’s events or contests
• Offer branded merchandise (tees, totes, pint glasses…the options are endless)
• Sell event entry and tickets, perhaps at a discount from other outlets

Hone in on what sets your organization apart and what you can offer that will allow individuals to represent, support, and better familiarize themselves with what you do.

Weigh your barriers to entry

Some organizations find that charging even a small submission or application fee improves their review process. How?

Submitters and applicants that are required to pay are more likely, for example, to double-check their responses and fine-tune their work sample. Because they want to get the most for their money, it behooves paying submitters to ensure they’re sending in the best possible work. Fees tend to dissuade inappropriate submissions and applicants that disregard guidelines. Individuals who have a serious interest in your opportunity are the ones more likely to submit or apply when a fee is involved.

This is not to say that people who are unable, for whatever reason, to pay a fee cannot or will not create a high-quality submission or application, one you want to receive. For this reason, if you do charge a fee, consider offering free or discounted entries on a case-by-case basis—many groups will ask that individuals with special circumstances reach out to them directly for this type of consideration.


Please be in touch anytime if you’d like to explore how Submittable software can serve your organization or if we can assist you in setting up forms with required fees or Add-on Payments. We can also help you integrate these best practices for submission fees into your submission or application process.

Rachel Mindell

Rachel Mindell is a Special Projects Editor at Submittable. She also writes and teaches poetry. Connect with her on LinkedIn.