The Problem with Donating Artwork

Have you been asked to donate your art to a charitable cause? What did you do?


The Problem with Donating Artwork


The art community can be one of the most generous and supportive ones anywhere. And, individual artists are often very giving with their time, effort and work on behalf of causes they believe in as a charitable donation. Donating work can help raise money, and definitely gives a warm feeling to an artist who knows their generosity has made a difference.

At times, however, solicitations of artists’ work can be a sign of organizations, groups and even charities taking advantage of an artist’s good nature. There may be incentives, such as the promise of “exposure” which may or may not be the case. It sounds good, though, and many artists have made donations that never produced any benefit for them other than the knowledge that they have performed a kindness.

Donated artwork which is then subsequently auctioned is a big win for the organization running the event. Art collectors who make donations can take a tax deduction for the full value, up to 30% of their gross income. But the artist is the big loser tax-wise when it comes to making donations. Those who donate their work are limited by the IRS to basically writing off their materials (but not their time, which may be substantial.) The deduction may end up being negligible.

What can artists do when they are approached about donating work to a charity auction? There are options other than simply handing over more of your art for yet another event. Art advisor Maria Brophy suggests in this article that artists protect themselves (and the value of their art) by either asking for a reserve price and a portion of the earnings. Or, if they are truly interested in supporting the cause, an artist may simply want to donate money instead, which would be tax deductible for them.

Problems can arise, however, when artists who have made donations of their work are frequently solicited for artwork simply because an organization is searching for fundraising options. Your art has value, and artists, like everyone else, deserve to be paid. Balancing a charitable act with the opportunity to receiving earnings for one’s work may be the best answer.

Have you been asked to donate artwork or work for free? Did you perceive that as a problem? What solution did you come up with?


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  1. Donations to Fundraising Auctions continue to erode the art/craft marketplace which is already suffering from depressed pricing. Yet artists and makers continue to donate work out of the goodness of their heart rather than sound business practices. Fundraising Auctions of all kinds are imploding the value of art and craft.

    I understand wanting to support an arts organization, but their are far better options than giving your artwork to a fundraising auction.
    – Make a financial contribution. (If you can’t donate money, you can’t afford to donate your art or craft.)
    – Offer a fixed % off the next purchase (at your next studio event or craft show or local gallery.)
    – Consider offering to demonstrate a process or technique during the auction (This could be in lieu of a donation of artwork.)
    – Always set a Reserve Price (below which the work will not sell.)

    There are many alternatives, but donating your work so it “sells” at prices below retail affects both you and the galleries/stores that sell your work.

    In summary: The crafts market continues to get weaker. Retail prices are softening. Art and Craft galleries/ stores are closing. Fundraising auctions further erode the market for art and craft .

    More information at resources with the Professional Guidelines at:

    There are four documents about Fundraising Auctions:
    FUNDRAISING AUCTIONS: Issues and Checklist for Artists
    FUNDRAISING AUCTIONS: Issues and Recommendations for Collectors
    FUNDRAISING AUCTIONS: Issues and Impact on Galleries
    FUNDRAISING AUCTIONS: Issues and Alternatives for Art Organizations

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