Ask a Gallery Owner: Should I Donate My Art to Charity Events?

As an artist you could easily give away ten lifetimes’ worth of work to all of the charitable causes that would love to have one of your works in their silent auction. The question is, should you donate, and if so what should you keep in mind when making a donation? I recently received an email from an artist with some of these questions. Below is our conversation thread on the subject.

Original Email

Hi Jason,
What’s your opinion about donating pieces to charity auctions, and what should be the reserve or minimum value versus the commercial gallery price? Thanks.

My Response

Donations can be a great way to give back to the community and to get some exposure. Make sure the piece you donate is a good representation of your work and not an orphan piece. A reserve is a good idea, but the reserve can be lower than the gallery price.

Artist’s Response

Thanks, Jason. Good advice, but should the reserve value be 30%, 50%, 75%, from a gallery’s point of view.?

My Response

I’ve never really had too much of a concern with my artist’s donating work. I would be fine with the number being 30-50% of retail value. If you have a gallery in the local area it wouldn’t hurt to have a conversation with them about what they would be comfortable with. I have sold artwork to clients who missed out on bidding on an auction piece, so it was good exposure for us as well as the artist.

Some additional points to keep in mind:

  1. When making a donation, give only your best work. I know it’s tempting to go digging in the back corner of the attic to give away an orphaned piece of artwork, but remember that the attendees and a charitable event are likely your target customers. You want to show them your best work.
  2. Request that the charity give you the address information of anyone who bids on the work. While I would certainly understand that the charity might be reluctant to do this, I knew an artist who asked for this information once and was provided with addresses. Perhaps some junior charity worker didn’t know any better or perhaps it was the charity’s policy to provide this info. The artist sent out a low-key marketing piece saying something to the effect of “I understand you bid on my artwork at a recent auction and didn’t win it – I just wanted to let you know my studio is in the area and I would be happy to show you additional works that are currently available. Should you find one that you fall in love with, I will donate a portion of the proceeds to the charity.” He sold a painting as a result of this effort, and even though it was only a small one, he felt he built a great relationship with the buyer.
  3. Pick 2-3 charities or causes that you believe in and become a consistent supporter. This has two benefits: First, the more you participate the more likely you are to have the opportunity to serve on boards or committees where you can network with other volunteers, some of whom may be great community contacts for you. Second, once you’ve picked your causes you now have a great way to decline other invitations to donate – “I already support the American Diabetes association and Breast Cancer Awareness – while your cause is noble and important I’m afraid I can’t commit to any more causes.”
  4. Give out of the goodness of your heart. I realize all of the points made above talk about how you can optimize contributions to try and get a marketing advantage. I’m sure that most charities would be happy to see their contributors benefit from their participation; after all, you’re far likelier to donate again in the future. But this shouldn’t be your ultimate goal. While you should take advantage of any benefits available through your contribution, even if you don’t get any immediate advantage, you will have the satisfaction of knowing you have helped the community.

What do you think – do you donate to charities and community causes? How have you benefited from your participation? What advice would you give to an artist who has been asked to donate art to a cause? Leave your thoughts and advice in the comments below.

Did you Find this Article Helpful?

Be sure and join our mailing list. You will receive notifications when new art business information is posted to the this blog.

Join our Mailing List!

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.


  1. Great article! One thing I’d like to add is that in some jurisdictions the artist may have some tax issues where the artist must pay sales tax out of their own pockets even if the work is given to charity. The artist is responsable for thé full taxes on the amount on the final bid at the charity auction. They should check with their accountant

  2. I really appreciate your insights. I have donated some pieces but have turned away most requests. I want to be able to give back to causes that I care about but artists can only donate the material costs of a piece; this makes it seem that our time and talents are considered worthless.

  3. I have donated to events and find that bidders that do not win and who do win, will contact me and want to come to my studio. And as you say, I have only a small list of charities to which I contribute,

  4. Wow, this is a great topic for me right now as some other artists and I want to arrange a charity donation to a specific cause. It has opened a whole lot of questions that we do not have answers to yet. How to ensure legitimacy, does the Red Cross or other Organizations have permits for groups to donate? Do we need a website or is a facebook page enough? The tax issue – If it is going directly to a charity, do we have to collect tax? All of our artists have agreed to totally donate a work, should we charge clients shipping on top so that we are at least not out of pocket. The list goes on so any knowledge or experiences from this group would be welcome.

  5. I donated 2 Limited Edition prints to a large charity but didn’t request a fee as I am passionate about their cause. Together the prints generated $2,000 but when I offered to donate an original and requested 25% of my usual price as a reserve I was turned down but that’s OK and I respected their response.

    I’ve never in 10 years of full time working as a fine artist ever been asked to donate anything, but I have been turned down alot by charities I approached as event organisers usually say they get inundated with unsolicited art….other places I sent art and prints to never replied or acknowledged receipt.

    I guess it’s a matter of trying and seeing what is a good fit for you perhaps?

  6. I have a few causes I’ve donated works to. I discovered that an artist can only claim as charitable contributions, the cost of materials used to make the piece on their taxes and not the retail price. Good to know!

  7. Once again Jason you hit on another great discussion topic. For years, I have been donating my artwork to a few charities that are near and dear to me. I am up front with my artwork buyers in that I tell them that all “profits” go to charity after I subtract from the purchase price: the cost of materials and supplies, shipping and taxes. In so doing my company does not take a monetary loss, and there are some tax benefits to the company for charitable contributions.

    Recently I have been working on a large oil painting for a charity and hope to sell the original painting at auction and follow that up with limited edition Giclee prints of the painting (different size prints). I start by displaying the original painting various ways: website, social media, targeted events that focus on painted subject, etc.; and ask viewers that see the displayed painting to fill out and return a form indicating their interest in bidding on the artwork (note the starting price is provided on this form). Then when the auction occurs later, I make sure they are invited to participate. I also have order forms available at the showing for those that wish to purchase a Giclee print of the original painting.

    Hoping to finish the painting before first showing in May… gotta go… May will be here before you know it…….

    Good luck fellow artist. I welcome all constructive comments…

  8. I have asked organizations to BUY the piece from me — as in “I get to write this as a sale.” I have told the organization they can sell it for whatever price they want. And, when a person buys art from a non-profit organization, s/he can write of the amount paid as a tax donation.
    Win #1 I get a sale
    Win# 2 The organization can say they support local artists buy actually buying the art.
    Win #3. The most recent buyer can write off the expense.
    Win # 4 Gala attendees see my art, with my contact info attached (a requirement of purchase) and connect with me directly.

    When I have donated art, rather than selling it, I can write off ONLY the cost of the materials needed to created the art. I refrain from this option.

    Another, though, more complicated option which I have used is to SELL the art to the organization. I document the sale. I then donate an agreed upon CASH amount back to the organization, which I can use for a tax write off for cash donation to a charitable organization.

    1. It is my understanding that the artist gets practically nothing as compensation and the buyer cannot take a deduction if he gets something (the art) in return. Before you give them your art, ask if they have approached a local attorney for 3 hours of free consultation, or the tire store for 2 or 4 new tires.

  9. Hello Jason, so comforting to know I was doing the right thing by donating to a few charitable organizations. One experience allowed me to have my painting hanging along side famous Quebec painters such as Riopelle and Vaillancourt. People attending the vernisage were from the political, medical, law and other environments. My painting (30×48) was sold on that night to an accounting firm. I was very pleased with that and it was a very satisfying opportunity for high visibility. I will attend again next year.

  10. It is my mission to make a positive difference with my art, whether for charities or to bring joy to collector. I dont seek tax breaks for any donation. Afterwards I often receive compliments on my works, and future collectors.

  11. I tell fellow artists to NEVER give a piece of their art to a cause, no matter how good that cause may be. I think Linda Snouffer’s approach is similar to mine, I tell the organization that is sponsoring the auction to have one of their supporters buy the art from the artist and they can then donate the artwork to the auction. Artists are usually professionals who survive on the sales of their artwork and I normally find that organizations have no compunction about asking for free art, but then they pay for a hall, and food and refreshments, and the person asking for the free art is usually a paid employee of the organization. And the most degrading part of the request is that in most instances the organization won’t even give a ticket to the event to the artist.

    Beyond the disrespect of the artists’ time and talent, many times the art is won at a less than market price which devalues the artists’ works and the possibility of having the artist pay the sales tax on a donated piece is ridiculous. Most charities don’t like to put reserves on the works and don’t care if the art sells for spit because they have no investment in a donated piece, it’s just money to them and something is better than nothing.

    If as an artist you want to support a good cause write a check, or man the venue the night of the event or sweep up after the event but don’t devalue your work and neglect your family’s comfort and your professional goals to support a good cause.

    1. Sounds like good sound advice and just what I was thinking, just sell the piece yourself and donate the amount of cash you would like to donate. I would like to add, do your homework, just because an organization is a charity organization does not mean it is not a moneymaker for those at the top earning six figure salaries from your donations. I just follow biblical precepts and donate 10% of all money I receive.

    2. I agree with you totally! I’m sick of getting requests for donating my art, and like you stated, they won’t even give you a free ticket to the event. Protect your work and your time!

  12. I am the Co-Chairman of my local artist’s association annual fundraiser which is coming up this weekend. For our fundraiser, our association members donate artwork which are numbered, and displayed. The tickets are numbered with a tear-off stub, which goes into a hat. When the numbers are pulled from the hat, whoever has that number gets to choose any piece of art.

    I challenged our members to donate a piece of art that they were especially proud of creating, and I committed to donate a 24″ x 30″ pallet knife landscape painting that I had just created. Artists who donated work, are given a free admission ticket, and are urged to hang out near their artwork, and engage with the attendees. We want them to look at it as an opportunity to develop collectors for their work.

    When I decided to donate my painting, I posted a picture of it onto my community’s “News and Happenings” Facebook page. The next day, a gentleman visited my association’s gallery, looking to buy the painting. Because I had already committed to donate the painting, I was unwilling to sell it to him. So, he commissioned me to do another one, that was similar in style to the original, but was changed to look more like his property. I created a new 9″ x 15″ painting specifically for him, and earned $1100.00.

    Now that I have experienced being co-chair for our event, my goal for next year is to reach out to more community business owners, and urge them to attend. Since our members create art that is as beautiful as any artwork created elsewhere, we want to develop the notion that art should be considered as collectible.

  13. I mailed paintings to a friend’s favourite charity on three occasions believing them to be auctioned, then later learned they were raffled off. I was silently unhappy about this. I feel they could have ended up in the back of someone’s closet for all I know. I would never donate in the future unless I was assured my work would be auctioned. I’ve not had that assurance from my friend, so I’ve not sent one since. I want people to want my work, not something that was foisted upon them.

  14. I have donated my work for a number of fundraisers, but I had to share one experience that, although unpleasant, is rather amusing now.

    I donated a charcoal portrait to my church as part of a silent auction. It had previously been featured in a local museum show, and prominently at that. My card was taped to the back, and the final bid at the church was far less that what I would have sold it for..

    The next morning, I received a phone call from the purchaser, asking if I would buy it back from her. When I asked why, she said, “well, it isn’t anyone I know. I bought the piece to benefit the church. I don’t really want it.”

    I said, “why didn’t you just give them the money, then?”

    She couldn’t answer that. I said, “I donated that piece to benefit the church also. It represents an investment in time and materials for me. I wasn’t paid for the work.”

    She said, “If I buy an artwork from JC Penney, I can return it if I change my mind.”

    I replied, “Well, thank you though, for making the purchase, and liking the work enough to benefit the church”.

    I half expected to find it smashed on my front porch.

  15. This information was very helpful as I am exploring donating my artwork for others to enjoy and to contribute to a not for profit or charity. Thank you. Jane

  16. I donate a few pieces every year to various events. In my opinion, it can’t be about anything but charity. If the charity raises money for their cause, that’s great. My work always comes with a COA and a card or sticker attached to the back. The buyer always knows where it came from. The only time I was disappointed was an auction for charity given by a car club and the members or attendees just lowballed everything. I donated a framed piece that I would normally sell for $500 +/- and I don’t think they received more than $100. Normally my pieces go at these benefits for three to four times my price. It is for charity after all.

  17. Great tips! Linda S. suggestions are wonderful, too. I had always been asked to donate my bronzes in my career. Whether it was Ducks Unlimited, The Lions, The Negev in Israel, local charities, etc. I said “Yes”. However, I told them that they would have to pay the foundry costs and any shipping. I couldn’t afford to contribute those costs. Some agreed and some didn’t. It was a good marketing thing for me and did help me get state wide recognition.
    BTW, at a local Ducks Unlimited banquet, in the early 80’s, I was asked to donate a bronze of 5 mallards landing on a pond. They agreed to pay my request for the foundry cost –I hand delivered it so no shipping costs. Then, the kicker: I asked if could attend the banquet. It was an “all mens group” then and I was told this. So, I told this person that it seemed wrong that they ask all os women to donate (as well as men) but we couldn’t attend. I took out my donation. I was a duck hunter, dog and all, but that was the biggest, most ridiculous request I ever had!

  18. I’ve had great experience donating my art for charity auctions. In fact it was a donated piece that first confirmed my sense of myself as an artist. When I entered the event and told the fellow at the door my name, he asked if I was the artist who had donated the painting. I said I was and he went on to say how much he liked it and why. Great confirmation early in the game.

    I only donate to organizations I want to support. I don’t have the money to make financial contributions at the level the work brings in, so I really enjoy being able to do this. As far as I’m concerned, sharing the gift I’ve been allotted means a great deal. That’s just me. Each to his or her own.
    Blessings all.

  19. For many years, I happily donated artworks of my former husband’s work to charities for auctions. And I didn’t care too much about the prices they ended up attaining. I figured it was good exposure, and his work didn’t cost all that much. Plus, we were in Boca Raton, FL, and we went to black tie charity events at least once a week. It is the charity capitol of the southeast. However, as his prices rose, this began to not work so well. The disparity between normal market prices and the auction prices became greater and greater. Today, it would be ridiculous. And no charity would ever accept the kind of reserve I would have to set, even at 70%. And no purchaser would bid. Because ultimately, charity auction bidders are looking for bargains or just to put out some money – not too much – to support a cause and get a tax deduction. So if the prices of your artwork are too high, the auction prices will indeed disparage your art. Your hard work turns into bargain art. But if they’re low, it might well be good exposure. MG

  20. I donated a painting to my grandkids school for a fundraiser. My son said a number of people who did not have the winning bid asked if I have a website so it raised money for the school as well provided an opportunity for people to view my art.

  21. For the last 2 years, I have served as Co-chairman of the fundraiser for my local artist’s association. Thus, I experience first-hand, the artist who is donating work, and the organization that is receiving the donated work.

    Here’s how our fundraiser works…our member/artists donate artork (mostly paintings, but there are ceramics, and some other 3-d pieces) which are numbered, and exhibited at a large venue the evening of our event. We sell general admission tickets, with the option to upgrade to art tickets. The art tickets have a numbered stub. During our most recent event, we had 100 pieces of art. The attendees enjoyed a pleasant evening of good food, drink and music. During the last hour, the numbers were drawn. When the attendee’s number was drawn, that person had the choice of any piece of art still on display.

    The event can be quite exciting during the lottery style drawing. Obviously, the attendees are hoping that they get first choice, and the artists hope that their art is selected first.

    I actually challenged our members to contribute a piece of their best artwork. I postied to our Facebook page, the art that I was donating. I look at it as a great way to get my name out there.

    As an artist, I want my painting to be on of the first ones selected. This year, my painting was selected first. Last year, my painting was selected 2nd. (Both paintings were chosen by the person who was currently President of our association!)

    I’ll put the quality of our local art up against ay other groups. Our event set a record this year, in both attendance and earnings, and we have a goal of selling 25 more art tickets next year.

  22. In January of 2020, I was asked by an acquaintance who saw my artwork if I would donate something to a charity event she was coordinating.

    Since it was a cause I felt passionate about anyway, I said yes and took it a step further. I painted something especially for it that went along with the event theme.

    I had only two conditions; that they agree to set the opening bid at 40% of retail value, and return the painting to me if it did not sell. They agreed eagerly and expressed their gratitude and enthusiasm.

    Then Covid put us all in lockdown and the elegant fund-raiser event was cancelled.
    My friend contacted me and said that she and her husband had fallen in love with the painting and asked to buy it for themselves.

    I told them I was honored that they felt this way. I asked that instead of paying me, they would donate the price of the painting to the charity, since it was probably experiencing even greater need because of the pandemic. A week later, she sent me proof of the donation and a photo of her husband and her in their home next to the painting.

    This couple have bought thousands worth of artwork from me since.
    I never dreamed it would turn out this way.

    The moral of the story? Once you decide to donate, get behind it with your whole heart.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *