Pros and Cons of Donating Art

Artists are often approached by charities asking them to donate art, either directly or through an auction. Is donating art a good idea? Read on.

Artists are often approached by charities asking them to donate art, either directly or through an auction. This may be particularly true during the holiday season – and, in the seasonal spirit of giving, many artists are attracted by the idea. There is something nice about being able to donate through your personal creations, rather than simply with money. Yet although being asked for a donation of art is a common occurrence – and one that generally becomes more common as artists become increasingly well-known – it’s not discussed that frequently from the artist’s perspective, and at Agora Gallery we’re used to getting questions from our represented artists about this possibility. What they want to know, essentially, is whether it is a good idea.

Jennifer Contini Enderby, Her Love
Jennifer Contini Enderby, Her Love

Practical Benefits of Donating Artwork

Donating art can be a wonderful way to support a charity or a cause that you believe in. It’s more personal than giving money, so you feel more of a special connection giving artwork to an auction rather than a check. And if the aim is to collect artwork to enliven and improve the ambiance of a school, children’s home, hospital, or other institution, your creations might genuinely make a difference to people’s lives. A hospital ward without artwork might seem drab and dreary, but with the right pieces, it can take on a whole new atmosphere.

Donating artwork to the right places can help get your art where it can be seen by people who might become collectors, and the piece has the potential to be a promotional asset. Similarly with art auctions, the marketing done to promote the auction can benefit you and your work, as can the exposure you gain to a new market of potential collectors. The process of the donation can help you to build up contacts who may come in useful later on, from reporters to local advocates for your work.

Adam Kiger Donating Art
Adam Kiger recently donated one of his atmospheric and thought-provoking works to Habitat for Humanity.

4 Risks to Consider When Donating Artwork

  1. Artists are regularly approached by a number of charities and organizations. If you received twenty requests like this in a month, for example, and you said yes to all of them, you’d quickly become a bankrupt artist! Remember that there are costs involved here, to you as the giver. However wonderful it is to donate a piece of your work, you are giving away something of value, and it’s important to remember this, and to make sure that the organization knows it too. You are, after all, giving away something that took materials, time and energy to create – and you won’t be receiving the payment you would normally expect when you give up one of your works.
  2. You might not get the promotional benefits you expect, either. Sometimes charities are happy to promise advertising for you and your work, but their ideas of what that means and your ideas are not necessarily the same. If it’s an auction, they might consider putting your piece among the list of works in the catalog to be enough, while you were anticipating a mention as part of the wider advertising campaign for the auction itself. Or, if you’re donating the artwork to a hospital, they might add your name to a board of people who have donated, but not make any kind of connection to the art – meaning that visitors and passersby will be unaware of the artist when they admire the piece.
  3. There’s also the danger that spreading your work out too widely for charitable purposes will end up by devaluing the works that you intend to sell, and even those already purchased in the past. Auctions can raise enormous amounts for the charities they seek to benefit, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your artwork will be valued at its true worth by the people who happen to be in that room. Collectors of your work might be more than willing to pay $2000 for one of your creations – but at auction night, the piece you donated might only go for $1000. Now, it’s wonderful that you’ve just raised $1000 for that charity. But look at this from a business perspective. One of your artworks has just been sold, very publicly, for half of what you usually charge. This isn’t something you want happening on a regular basis.
  4. Because of the risks involved, some artists who would like to donate their works but don’t want to lose out too much in the process tend to donate artworks that have proven unlikely to sell, or pieces that they consider to be poorer examples of their style. This might seem like a sensible approach, but actually here, too, there is a hidden risk. After all, whether it’s an auction or a donation to brighten up the corridor of a local school, you’re placing your artwork in a context where it will be seen by many people. Do you really want them exposed to what you can do through the medium of one of the works you yourself consider to be of lower quality? Of course you don’t. What kind of advertising would that be? It gives completely the wrong impression to people who might have otherwise turned into collectors in the future.
heart-matters-by-wendy-carmichael-bauld-12-x-12-mixed-media-295-001
Wendy Carmichael-Bauld brings social change through beauty by donating her art. (heart-matters,mixed media)

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So what can you do?

Well, if you’d like to donate, but don’t want to expose yourself to these kinds of risks, the important thing is to be clear, right from the start, about what the process means to you and what you expect to get out of it. You need to be clear with yourself, and also clear with the people you’re donating to.

If you are approached by many charities and you don’t want to give too many pieces away, don’t feel bad. This is an extremely reasonable position. They are your creations, and your livelihood. Think of it like being asked for money directly; you’ll give to some charities, those you want to support, but not to all, and you might not even consider an organization that is not a registered charity. Likewise here, then:

Decide which Causes or Organizations you’d like to Support

Think about it and decide which causes or organizations you’d like to support, and then focus your efforts there. You might decide that you would always like to help out charities that protect children at risk, or charities that combat breast cancer, or the local animal shelter – and so when you are approached by one of these, you will always try to donate artwork or help in some other way. But otherwise, you might well say no, unless there’s some other pressing reason to help – you think it would be a good fit for what you want to achieve for your art career at the moment, or right now that particular cause has special resonance for you, for example.

Decide in Advance How Much you Can Donate

In the same way, set aside a rough amount each year or each quarter that you’re comfortable giving away. Remember that your artwork represents potential income. If you’re open to giving it away, you need to have worked out beforehand how much you’re willing to give. It’s just like with a regular donation – don’t let the fact that art is involved confuse you.

agora gallery artists donating art
Agora artists created a collection of small works specifically made to honor little hearts all over the world.

What if a charity approaches you which doesn’t fall into your favorite categories, or you’ve ‘spent’ as much as you had allotted for the period but it’s something that you feel you would really like to do?

You can see if they’re open to alternative arrangements to the ones they suggested. Perhaps the auction would consider giving you half of the sales proceeds, for example – in that case, you could justify the donation. This is not an uncommon way for auctions to work, incidentally, so for times when you’d like to give or think the promotion could be valuable, but you don’t want to give that much or it’s not one of your chosen causes, this sort of arrangement can suit both sides. Or maybe the school could welcome you to their annual fair with the chance to sell your works, and include the news of your donation in their newsletter and mention it in assembly. Perhaps a print of your art would do instead (especially for a small or local charity). You could offer to arrange a show in support of their work – the artworks illustrating this article were shown as part of ‘Art To Heart’, an exhibition organized by Agora Gallery to benefit the Children’s Heart Foundation. Or you could offer a percentage of the sales from a particular upcoming exhibition or fair. Bear in mind that you can negotiate. Just because you’re being asked to give, and you’d like to do so, doesn’t mean that you have to give on their terms.

Be Clear with the Other Party

  • When you want to say yes to an opportunity to donate, be clear in advance about what you expect them to provide in return. You can even draft a letter that you can use as a standard template for you to refer to, so that you have an answer ready when you need it.
  • For instance, for those charities which would like to display one of your works to improve the look and feel of one of their rooms or halls, you might like to explain from the start that you’re willing to donate the piece, but not to take care of framing, or that if you give them an artwork you expect them to provide a card or plaque next to the piece giving you credit as the artist, and including your website address, in case people who see it should want to contact you.
  • Similarly, if you’re approached by an organization which would like to auction off one of your pieces, you can explain about the importance of not devaluing your work, and request that a minimum or reserve price be set, below which the piece will not be sold. That can actually add to the excitement of the bidding, and it sets the artwork concerned apart at once as a valuable object. You can reasonably insist that the name and contact details of the buyer be passed on to you, as well as the information about the sum your work sold for.
  • Don’t be afraid to discuss advertising with them – if you’re donating partly because of the promotional value, you’ll want to check what they mean by ‘promoting your work’ and be sure that they intend to include you and the piece in the pre-auction advertising as well as mentions on the night. If you’ve agreed to do some live painting there and then, which will result in the piece which is to be auctioned off, you can make sure that this is promoted as an event – which it is.

donate art

  • Don’t be shy to stand up for yourself and make sure that everything is mutually understood and acceptable. Explain why certain things are important to you, and that to you artwork represents time and money. Yes, they’re a charity, but you’re representing your business and your brand – you owe it to your collectors to be firm about the details that matter. And everyone involved will end up feeling much happier about the experience if all these matters have been decided and agreed upon right at the start, so that there is no misunderstanding or resentment later.

So, might donating be a good idea for you, as an artist?

Yes, perhaps. You should consider what you would want to get out of the donation, and be clear from the start about the parameters of the gift, both with yourself, and with the charity who would like your work. Read this Interview with two artists who donate art to charity.

With over 30 years of experience, Agora Gallery offers artists the opportunity to present their work to a broad range of national and international art collectors and buyers. Looking for an opportunity to enhance your career? Visit our Gallery Representation And Artist Promotion page for more information.

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