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 reddotblog.com, 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.

6 Comments

  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?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.