The Charity Fundraiser: A good idea for artists?

Hello everyone,

I was asked by the Canadian Artists Representation of Ontario (CARFAC) to write about my experience in donating artwork for Charity Fundraisers. There has been considerable discussion about this topic over the past many years, pro and con, and I was very happy to throw my own opinions into the mix. You may have seen this article which has been circulating on Social Media. While I agree with many of the points in the article, I continue to donate in a way that is working for me. I would love to know what your experience is, and how you are dealing with the issues. Let’s have some discussion!

Here is the interview:

– What was your experience with fundraisers over the years?

I have donated work to all kinds of organizations with all kinds of setups for auctioning, from silent to live to online. Results varied wildly from my work being withdrawn for not reaching the starting bid, to selling way over its estimated value. I was getting up to a dozen requests per year (often still do). Over time, it became evident that saying Yes to each one was spreading my generosity a bit too thin.

I now participate in three kinds of fundraisers:

  1. One event  for which I make a special piece each year, because I believe in the organization and want to support it to my utmost
  2. Two to four yearly auctions that give back up to 50% of sales, for which I donate older works
  3. Timeraiser, that pays the full requested value of accepted works

I prefer donating my work to giving money – it’s a more personal way to give back to my community. Plus, I enjoy attending the auctions – when they are well done, they are a lot of fun.

St Ignatius Bean was made specially for the Ignatius Jesuit Centre Silent Auction in 2013

– Have you noticed any negative or positive effects of fundraisers on the sale and value of your artwork (outside of fundraisers)?

I am unconvinced that exposure via fundraisers is beneficial for my career, but by the same token I am equally unconvinced that by participating, I significantly reduce the value of my work. I do believe the public and collectors admire and value artists for their generosity, as they should.

I make a living from my work so I have a vested interest in maintaining its value. I have not noticed any effect from participating in fundraisers one way or the other. I’m secure in the value of my work, and I’m glad there are ways for people to possibly acquire a piece of mine if they can’t afford the full price. I make sure all parties know that I NEVER donate new work, except for the special event mentioned above. Many people have contacted me after auctions, filled with joy, which makes me happy too. Older work would otherwise go into storage, and what use is that to anyone?

Courage was in the Burlington Art Centre Live Auction 2014

– Over the years, did you notice any trends in fundraiser standards? 

Some organizations are aware they depend on a sector of society that can ill afford a constant flow of donations, so they are reimbursing framing costs, or offering a percentage of the proceeds. Of course, this raises their chances to acquire good work, so it’s a great incentive for them.

– Do you have suggestions about how to deal with organizations that are not considerate when it comes to fundraisers?  

It’s important to remember that organizers always have the best of intentions, and most are volunteers: they are passionate about their own cause but perhaps ill-informed about what happens from the artists’ side. When I explain that artists must submit the value of the piece as income, making the charitable receipt useless in most cases, they are astonished. So all I can say is, please remain polite and calm, give them the information needed to make their own decisions, and then say NO until you are comfortable with the situation.

– What advice can you give other artists considering donating artwork?

1. You can say NO whenever you want, guilt free.

2. Never donate new work. If the organization doesn’t like it, then they may quit asking. So be it. Are you embarrassed to donate old pieces? Think about it: if your new piece gets poor results, it will be even more awkward!

3. Be choosy. You don’t have to say YES to every request, even if it’s a good cause. They are all good causes! Get informed about their audience and promotion: what is the quality of the usual offerings? Are they sensitive to good display or will they simply prop your piece up amongst the fridge magnets in a dark corner? Will they include your contact information with their publicity?

4. Decide on your favourites and stick to them. If there’s any financial benefit to be had, it’s by repeating your presence so the audience looks forward to seeing your work each year. Repetition can pay off, with people remembering and contacting you later. Also, this makes it easier to turn down all the other requests.

5. Don’t donate expensive works to organizations that are auctioning off small items. In other words, find out the most common price point and choose your work accordingly. That way, both you and the organization will get the most out of your donation.

Fissure #4 was purchased by Timeraiser for Auction in 2013

Fissure #4 was purchased by Timeraiser for Auction in 2013

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