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Donating Art: Art donations and charity auctions

by Brian Sherwin on 5/26/2013 5:24:33 PM

This article is by Brian Sherwin, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Conservative Punk, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint, Vandalog, COMPANY, artnet, WorldNetDaily (WND) and Art Fag City. Sherwin graduated from Illinois College (Jacksonville, Illinois) in 2003 -- he studied art and psychology extensively. If you want your blog posts listed in the FineArtViews newsletter with the possibility of being republished to our 23,000+ subscribers, consider blogging with FASO Artist Websites.  Disclaimer: This author's views are entirely his/her own and may not reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

It is not uncommon for organizations (specifically arts organizations) to hold fundraising auctions in order to secure extra funding. I applaud those efforts. However, these auctions often involve donated artwork – the result of a 'flood' of donation requests sent to various artists. There is only one problem with this process – several problems, actually. I will explore some of the typical problems below.


I ask that you, dear reader, place emotive reasons for donating aside long enough to explore these problems:


1.) Charity / fundraising auctions rarely, if ever, acknowledge donating artist directly. I base my opinion on hundreds of conversations I've had with artists over the years. Don't expect a press acknowledgement unless you push for it. In fact, don't expect to be mentioned anywhere by the organizer (aside from the when the work is offered) unless you really, really, really push for it.


2.) In most cases the organization never showed interest in the artists before. In fact, the donation request is often the first point of contact between the organization and the artist. That said, the same organization may hold exhibits of art throughout the year – yet the organization only approaches YOU when artwork donations are needed... why? The answer is simple. The organization wanted free art... and a good cause is clearly a good way to fill that need – all while ignoring the core of YOUR needs.


3.) The organization may be well funded for the most part. In some cases the organization may be in the position to purchase artwork directly from the artist for the auction – and start the bidding above that mark. In fact, the purchase would likely be tax deductible... it would be consider an expense for the organization. Point-blank, many of these organizations could likely buy the artwork outright with little to no loss after everything is said and done. Most organizations won't do that though... they know they can obtain artwork from various artists for free.


4.) Sometimes the bidder has no intention of actually keeping the artwork that he or she has won. He or she just wanted to take part in the auction – and be the top bidder in order to help raise funding, social standing, whatever. Unfortunately, organizations rarely have options for where the artwork will end up if in fact the bidder is not truly interested in the piece. Thus, the artwork may end up gathering dust in storage OR donated to a non-profit thrift store where it will likely be undervalued or damaged (Trust me on this... I thrift shop regularly – and have been told a story or three).


5.) Artists -- at least in the United States -- can't deduct the fair market value of their artwork when donating artwork to a charity auction. However, artists CAN deduct the expense of creating the piece – material costs, framing costs, and so on. Unfortunately, many organizations forget to mention these facts to donating artists OR provide misinformation that may land the artist in 'hot water' with the IRS. Again, I base my opinion on what hundreds of artists have told me over the years.


6.) Art collectors have a financial incentive for donating artwork. They can -- and DO -- take advantage of tax deductions that are simply not available to the creators of the artwork. In fact, many art collectors donate simply to take advantage of the tax break... organizations know AND accept this. Oddly enough, artists are often described as being 'parasitic' or 'opportunists' if they stress the desire for having the same tax incentive that art collectors enjoy when donating artwork. I, for one, think that artists deserve that incentive.


With the emotion-driven reasons for donating aside... what do YOU think? Should artists expect more from organizations when donating artwork? Should organizations do more to support the artists they approach? Again, I want YOU to explore these issues with emotion cast aside. I'm not looking for 'you should only donate if you believe in the cause' type of answers – because that is a given. Art collectors, for example, donate to causes they believe in... AND benefit from tax incentives -- shouldn't artists demand the same? Food for thought.


In closing, it goes without saying that an artist will only donate to a cause that he or she believes in, right? That does not mean the artist should allow himself or herself to be treated poorly by the charity / fundraising organizers. After all, these same organizations tend to bend over backwards in order to promote corporate or celebrity sponsors... so why not expect them to bend a little for artists who contribute toward the cause with their donated artwork? Share your experience and view on this issue. Discuss.


Take care, Stay true,


Brian Sherwin

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Related Posts:

Remember to Respect your Audience

How to Give Without Being Taken Part 2

Commissioned Artwork: What rules do you follow when accepting / pricing a commission?

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Album Cover Art: Fee or free?

An "Artful" Way to Cut Your Tax Bill

Fund Raisers That Do It Right

Uphold the integrity of your visual message

Art Is Not A Popularity Contest

Topics: advice for artists | art and society | art appreciation | art challenge | art collectors | art law | Art World | art world problems | Brian Sherwin | FineArtViews | Think Tank 

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Jean Roberts
Thank you for this one.

I am participating in a small local show that is a charity event. We as participants are expected to donate 5 percent of our proceeds to said charity. There is no cost to participate. I had considered donating a piece to the auction, now I will do my best to sell what I bring and make as many connections as I can.


Donna M Gordon
Like most professional artists, I get asked to donate my sculpture all the time. My solution is to tell them to set a minimum dollar amount, which is what they will pay me. Anything over that they can keep. Sometimes they take me up on it, sometimes not. And if they do, worst case I pick up my art at the end of the event.

Jean Roberts
Great tip Donna! thanks! :-)

Kathy O'Leary
This is a good topic for artists to discuss. It has never seemed very fair for charitable organizations to request that those with such comparatively small incomes donate the results of their hard work to raise funds from. Therefore, several years ago I set a rule for myself. I only donate a painting when the organization is one I support, and two, is willing to share the take from the auction/sale. Usually it is 50 percent split, Just as it is with my galleries. Other than this arrangement, I decline. With no feelings of guilt. And I find that many organizations will do this. It just requires some organization, for paying the artist, etc. on their end.

Brian Sherwin
Jean -- It is great that they allow you to keep a percentage. I see nothing wrong with that. In fact, my guess is that more artists would be willing to help a cause with art if a policy like that is implemented.

Donna -- Negotiating terms can be a good route to take. Some events / organizations refuse to negotiate though. I think the key point here is that these groups need to realize that artists have to make a living as well. The situation would be different if artists were able to deduct fair market value... but they can't.

Kathy -- We also need to remember that charitable organizations tend to pay their workers (at least those higher up the chain). In some cases you have people in key positions earning $75,000 a year. If they can do that... they should be able to throw artists a few bones. :)

Brian Sherwin
Donna, Kathy -- You both mentioned negotiating terms with charity organizers. A few questions: Would you say that those organizers made exceptions in your case? Should artists ask for specific terms even if the policy clearly dictates a standard?

mona ruby
i am working with a non profit organization,our aim is to provide a better life,education to needy people. charity donations

mona ruby
am working with a non profit organization,our aim is to provide a better life,education to needy people. charity donations

Brian Sherwin
Mona -- Did you read the article? Would you like to address some of the issues I've raised? Do you agree -- considering the disadvantages artist face compared to other forms of donations -- that charity organizers should do all they can to promote donating artists? Shouldn't it be a bit more than a 'thank you for the art, bye!' scenario?

janessica n
Thank you! This is very interesting and useful information.

Katarzyna Lappin
Great article. I do believe that the value of art starts with the artist respecting his/her artwork. More artists would vigorously and unconditionally give their work for free for so called "exposure" more bitter experience will follow.

I would be happier to see more awareness among those who request art donations that artists spend time, energy and a lot of money to do what they do.

Very often (I witnessed such an arrogant attitude) there is this idea that artist would be thrilled to give for free, that the payment is the fact that somebody would like it or use it. (urgh!)

I am not against the donations. I myself donated three artworks in the last two years and just recently I was asked for a piece of work for a prestigious fundraising event, which I accepted. In all these cases something good happened for me in return. It brought results of faithful support of people in the local community. In the consequence I sold some paintings later.

I am for donations if everybody wins. If the artist provides an artwork for a fundraiser, and then is sold for good cause, then in my opinion artist is the one who should gain the appreciation not less than the buyer or the organization in charge.

This is always a matter of negotiations. In many cases the organizations who ask for donations can afford meeting some conditions and requirements from artists (great tips in people's comments on this article, thanks) but if the artist does not firmly stand for his interest, no one else will.

OK, so I'm very interested in commissioning art for a charity auction, but I'm very interested in marketing it to the extent that it would bring in a fair sum for the artists. What percentage of the profit going to the charity would be fair enough to persuade an artist to participate? I really want to do this right, so that the charity and the artists benefit, make money, and generate publicity. I am willing to hear that this may be an unrealistic fantasy, but I'm optimistic about the concept if I can make it work

Thank you for this information!

janessica n
Thank you! This is very interesting and useful information.

Chris Meyer
I have read in some places (such as that if the donated art is auctioned, that the artist can then use the auction price for the artwork rather than the material cost. But I don't know if that's just more heresy - anyone know definitively?

BTW, as mentioned above, for our community art shows we also donate a percent to a chosen local charity (as otherwise we'd be giving a percent to a gallery etc.); that seems to work well all around.


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