Educate Those Who Ask for Donations of Your Art

Guest blogger: Fiona Purdy

There is one sure thing that will happen to every artist who sells their work. You will be constantly approached by organizations asking for a donation for their good cause.

Fiona Purdy, Stepping Out
©Fiona Purdy, Stepping Out. Acrylic on canvas, 36 x 24 inches.

There are four ways to deal with donation requests.
1.    You can donate.
2.    You can ignore the request.
3.    You can decline the request.
4.    You can offer another solution, and explain why you are offering it.

Instead of getting annoyed by another begging letter, email or phone call for my work, promising me big exposure that never eventuates, I opt for #4.

To be fair, most fundraisers are unaware of what it means for artists who donate their artwork. 

I believe it is our responsibility to gently & diplomatically educate them.  If enough of us do this, maybe sometime in the future we won’t be bombarded as much – and maybe the charity will make a lot more money.

Here is a reply that I sent recently to an organization requesting I donate a painting or a portrait gift certificate.

Dear M,
Thank you for contacting me regarding your event. The  “X” Zoo is a wonderful place.

When a patron purchases a piece of artwork at a fundraising event, they can claim the entire purchase price as a charitable deduction.

However, when an artist donates a piece of artwork, they cannot claim the retail price of it as charitable contribution. An artist can only claim the cost of the materials, which normally is a fraction of the price of the finished artwork.

A piece of art is different than say a vacation, or a spa visit, or donation of that kind. Artwork has an intrinsic value, especially portraits, a deeper value than say a golf package.

After donating many paintings (or portraits), I’ve come to realize that many of the people that attend these events expect to get a “deal,” to be able to purchase artwork at less than market value. This devalues my artwork and it is extremely unfair to my clients who have paid full price for my work.

I would never do this to my clients. It is unacceptable to me.

In light of this I no longer donate my artwork outright to any charity.

I do want to help you in your fundraising efforts however, and there is a way that we can still do this.

You can purchase one of my paintings at full price, and then offer it in the auction, where you will be able to price it at more than the cost to you. You could also get the attendees to understand that the event is a fund raising venture and they should get behind the Zoo by bidding big to raise as much money as possible for this worthwhile cause.

Please let me know if you would like to pursue this avenue.

Fiona Purdy

So the next time you are approached to donate your artwork, please feel free to use this letter and modify as you wish!!

Alyson's note: Here's another letter you can adapt from artist Alicia Leeke.

Fiona PurdyAbout the Guest Blogger
Fiona Purdy makes vibrant, contemporary animal paintings and portraits that portray her passion and deep love for her subjects. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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35 thoughts on “Educate Those Who Ask for Donations of Your Art”

  1. Brilliant!! THANK YOU for this fabulous way of handling these types of requests. I get a lot of them and I’m always frustrated by it: I either give small pieces and feel a little guilty for not giving enough to make much of a difference, or I’ve given major pieces that end up going for a devalued price. There are a lot of worthy causes to support and I want to help, but at what cost to me as an artist? Your idea makes it a win for both parties.

  2. I love this treatment of donations . . . I’ve had limited success having someone buy my quilts for subsequent donation.
    This article ties in with the discussion of a couple days ago . . . Thanks for a workable solution!!

  3. Your post offers some very good advice on how to handle a request. It is always a challenge explaining how the tax code works for artists. I think there is one thing that is not correct and can create confusion. The statement “When a patron purchases a piece of artwork at a fundraising event, they can claim the entire purchase price as a charitable deduction” is incorrect. If a person receives anything of value in return for their contribution; there is no charitable contribution. There is a very good article by Bill Frazier (an attorney) on this very topic in Nov/Dec 2011 Art of the West Magazine.

  4. Another great post on the subject of donations! Another item that I sometimes suggest is an “art experience” : a talk or visit to my studio, or watching a printmaking demonstration. Unfortunately, the auction organizers rarely take me up on that offer. It’s not that we don’t want to support worthy causes, but as you say, the “benefits of exposure” never seem to materialize. I do make exceptions, but there has to be a good reason (for me). One good experience I have had with a local charity is that I donate a piece as a “premium” (think NPR coffee cups) for a donation that is at least 2 to 10 times the value of the piece offered. More bang for my buck, for both me and the charity.

  5. I love this solution, and I agree that if more artists did this, it could have a big impact on those making these requests. It seems that it would lead to more creativity all around, solutions that benefit the artists as well.

  6. An awesome solution in every way. I have been asked to donate to may events.
    Every word that Fiona says is true, and I think I’ll try that next time. Thanks
    so much for this.

  7. Thank you for the tip. I certainly agree with you all. Our artwork is too often not fully appreciated. Artists themselves are quilty of feeling the need to ‘give away’ their work. I don’t know why, but I have always somehow felt awkward about asking what my work is worth. I have to struggle with that. Good points. I make my living off my work, so I have come to the conclusion I have to get what it is worth in order to ‘survive’ and pay my bills. What is it about us…:-) Many of my artist friends are the same way. Thanks again!

  8. I work with an organization that asks for a donation of a fixed value. The ticket price is set at that same value. That way the artist can be assured that the piece will not go for less than its value. Some artists have chosen to donate items in excess of the fixed value, but that is entirely up to them.
    As Cindy noted above, the statement about deductibility to the patron contained in the letter is incorrect. If the patron pays more than the fair market value of the piece, they may be able to deduct the excess as a charitable contribution. If they pay less than or the equivalent of the fair market value, there is no charitable contribution, and therefore no deduction. (CPA, here).

    1. I’d love to talk with you about it, Alyson. Right now, catching up on all of your great posts… 😉

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  10. I am very happy that this post has garnered such a positive response. This is a way for us to educate in a kind manner and it also helps us to not feel guilty about not donating!
    Anne: I love your idea about a talk by you or a visit to your studio. Roxanne: I too look forward to hearing more about your guide
    Cindy & Carole: thanks so much for the clarification on the fact that the person purchasing the item can not claim it as a charitable deduction. I did not know that. But now that I do I think it really underscores the fact that the attendees are indeed just looking to score a bargain. Sadly this way of thinking is so detrimental to the organization that they say they are supporting. I know that they do pay to attend – but even then the charity does not receive the full amount -especially if a meal is included.
    I first started thinking about this back in 2008 when I read an intriguing post by Seth Godin. This paragraph stuck in my mind:
    “If you’re only willing to bid $19 to buy a $20 bill at this auction, you’re not doing charity, you’re bargain hunting. There’s nothing wrong with bargain hunting, it’s fun, but it’s not philanthropy. I think bargain hunting for a good cause is just fine, but wouldn’t it be great if the event could raise far more money and change the way people view the organization?”
    You can read the whole post here:
    If more charities got on board with this – then I wouldn’t mind donating!

  11. Thank you for writing this Fiona and opening up this discussion. From my experience supporting a non profit with your art can certainly be a win-win. I put donated artwork in my marketing budget and then plan where I will spend those dollars strategically. (once you’ve depleted your marketing budget saying no to an event is pretty simple, there simply is no more in the marketing budget)
    The first thing I consider when donating art is whether the attendees of this event are my target market. If so, getting my art in front of them is valuable. Just having my artwork sitting there isn’t enough though. I definitely want to get a complimentary ticket to the event and be there representing my art. I’ll go to the event, talk to people,hand out cards and get interested people on my mailing list so I can follow up. I view it the same way as an art fair. People don’t always buy immediately but if they are on my mailing list and they like my work there is generally a sale down the road.
    Additional items that can make working with a non profit valuable is if they have an online presence. You can have them link to your website, like you on Facebook and follow you on Twitter.
    As a sole proprietor with a limited marketing budget I have found non profit events to be a very cost effective way in generating sales leads and ultimately sales. Add to that the awareness that you are helping do good in the world and it’s a winning formula.

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  13. Hi Fiona, I’ve had a limited edition print sell over value. I’ve had a small portrait commission certificate go for just under stated value ( the buyers ultimately traded it in and paid more for a larger portrait ) and I’ve had original art go for way more than I would have sold it for ( thanks to a gallery owner in the room who shared how much she thought it was worth) I typically just do local events where I can be present. The comical thing with the giclee print is the couple who purchased it knew they could easily order a print from me at the regular price but there was a bidding war going on and it became a matter of winning at all costs. I think that’s the way these events go. It really it isn’t about value or bargains it’s a game. I’ve seen a $25.00 cheesecake go for thousands of dollars…seriously a cheesecake… and I don’t think it even had a topping! 😉

  14. The charities you associate with are doing it right. It’s nice to know that there are people out there that understand what these events are all about. Unfortunately I have never ever had that happen to any artwork I have donated, be it an original, portrait or print. The winning bid has always been for far less than what they were actually worth. And I was at the events and spoke to many people about my items.
    I actually had one charity tell me that they typically get 80% of what the actual value of the item, and they were perfectly happy with that!! Needless to say I don’t donate to them any more.

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  17. Hi Fiona – Matt Suess here from the AZ Expo – how has Celebration been?
    Thank you for your letter and for all of the great comments from everyone. I had just received yet another charity request and found this page via a google search looking for just how to respond.
    I ended up making my own version of your letter. I took my favorite parts of yours, combined it with some info from the comments here, and added in some of my own text and thoughts.
    I emailed my letter to the charity, and wouldn’t you know a few hours later they were emailing me back and are considering purchasing a piece from the lower end of my price scale.
    Thanks so much for writing and sharing your letter Fiona!!
    Here is a copy of the letter I am now using – feel free everyone to use and/or modify as needed. If we all help each other out, perhaps we can start changing the way charities view us artists and possibly create sales for us as well (in addition to helping out the charity).
    Here is my letter:
    Thank you for the opportunity to donate my artwork to your event and charity ______(fill in charity name here).
    As you might imagine I get a number of such donation requests each year. Each with their own unique, important, and worthy causes.
    Unfortunately I have had to stop donating my artwork to charities. Please let me explain why I am unable to donate a piece, but also please allow me to follow it up with a possible solution to help raise money with my artwork at your event nonetheless.
    It has been my experience that when donating a piece of artwork, the selling price of the piece more often than not ends up being far less than the normal selling price.
    I’ve come to realize that many of those who attend these events expect to get a “deal,” and to be able to purchase artwork at less than market value. This unfortunately devalues my artwork and is extremely unfair to my collectors who have paid the full price for my work.
    I would never do this to my collectors. It is unacceptable to me.
    Donating a piece also presents a couple other issues – first for the patron.
    From what I understand (and I am certainly not a tax professional) in order for a patron to claim it as a charitable contribution and receive a tax deduction, they must purchase the piece for more than the fair market value – or normal selling price – of the piece. They can then deduct the amount extra they paid. If they pay less than or the equivalent of the fair market value, there is no charitable contribution, and therefore no deduction.
    The other issue is for the artist.
    When an artist donates a piece of artwork, they cannot claim the full retail price of it as a charitable contribution. An artist can only claim the cost of the materials, which is not only normally a fraction of the price of the finished artwork, but the cost of materials are deducted anyways in the normal course of business.
    Further, a piece of art is different than say a vacation, or a spa visit, or other donation of that kind. Artwork has an intrinsic value – much deeper than a golf package.
    Here is my solution.
    I would like to help you and others in fundraising efforts so I have developed these guidelines for donation requests:
    1) Your organization can purchase one of my pieces at my gallery price, which is 40% off regular prices, and agree to start the bidding within 20% of the regular selling price. This helps guarantee a profit for your organization with the first bid and also helps retain the value of my artwork for my collectors as well as for your winning bidder.
    2) The organization also agrees to send me full contact information of the winning bidder and the winning price to allow me to properly record the photo and edition # for my records as well as the purchaser.
    Bidders can be encouraged to bid more than retail for the tax benefits (consult your own tax professionals first). You could also get the attendees to understand that the event is a fund raising venture and they should get behind your organization by bidding big to raise as much money as possible for this worthwhile cause.
    I have pieces available in price for any budget – from $50 to tens of thousands – and can help you select the perfect photo and framing for your particular event.
    Please let me know if you would like to discuss this further, and best wishes for you and your organization.

  18. Hi Matt, I’m so glad that my post helped you.
    Thanks for posting your letter, it’s wonderful. I’m going to take parts of yours and add it to mine! I think it’s really great. How cool that the charity is considering purchasing one of your fabulous fine art photographs. This just shows that educating charities is a good thing!
    The Celebration show has been great – hope Expo has been good for you.

  19. Once again, Alyson, I find great gems in your blog and website. THANK YOU for helping us artists.
    Special thanks to the last two commentators here in this thread: Matt and Fiona (who authored of two of the original letters).
    I will be using judiciously!

  20. You are actually one perfect incorrect and quite honestly should be careful when making statements about tax deductions. A patron in no way can deduct 100% of the purchased item. They can only donate what was paid above the value. Education probably needs to go both ways it would seem.

    1. Looking into this and will make noted corrections to Fiona’s message as needed. Thank you, Carrie.

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