What You Need to Know When Donating Your Art

Artwork Archive | November 9, 2016 (Updated April 12, 2021)

Charitable donations of artwork can create a positive impact where it matters

Nonprofits and charity organizations often look to artists and other creatives to donate artwork for silent auctions and events. As an artist, what is the best way to contribute to causes you care about? 

There are ways to maximize both your contribution and ensure that you are making informed decisions about the future of your business. Make sure your charitable contribution goes the furthest by keeping these things in mind:

Donate Something Awesome

The item you choose to donate should be something you're excited about and brings you pride. Your selection will be a representation to all those attending about your quality of work and generosity.

Think carefully about what you donate, but know that it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece you’ve poured thousands of hours into.

Inquire about what other types of art will be featured and try to get a handle on the show's aesthetic. Perhaps you even have a piece that is topically related to the cause—for example, depictions of nature for an environmental charity.

Do Your Research

Make sure your generosity is informed. To ensure an organization will make the most of your donation, use a website like Charity Watch or Charity Navigator to learn more about them. These resources provide insight into charities’ internal structure and spending. Taking the time to look into a charities’ practices is an important part of effective philanthropy.

In addition, research the event itself. Don’t hesitate to ask the organizers about everything from the expected attendance to how your work will be displayed.

Use It for Feedback

In some ways, the pressure is off when it comes to donating artwork. If you are an early career artist, use this opportunity to explore how people respond to your work. If you are more established, use it as an opportunity to try out a new aesthetic on a group of interested buyers.

Donating artwork can give you a chance to experiment, increase word-of-mouth exposure, and gain feedback from a large group of people. In fact, donating artwork was the launching ground for artist Anne Marie Zanetti!

Price it Right

Pricing items for a charity auction can be challenging. It can be a blow to your ego to see empty bid sheets and unsold inventory to collect at the end of the night. You’ll want to set the price low enough to invite the first bids, but high enough that the work isn’t undervalued.

Tip: In general, price the item at or near the market price and rely on a sense of competition and charity to open people’s wallets. It’s also a good idea to ask those coordinating the auction about a suggested price range. Remember, they also want your piece to sell for the highest possible price!

Not sure how to price your work? Get some concrete formulas here and read up on the do’s and don’ts of pricing your donation.

Capitalize on Promotion

There’s a reason you don’t see many artists anonymously donating original works of art. Charities rely on your art to help promote the event, and it's okay for the event to promote your art! Donating art is an opportunity to grow your audience. That's part of what makes collaboration between artists and charitable organizations so rewarding.

The cause your art is supporting also communicates to potential patrons that you share common values. Even if they don’t win a bidding war over your piece, they’ll certainly recognize your work in a gallery or at an art fair in the future.

Tip: While many organizations promise exposure for donations, make sure you get specifics on how this will happen and how you can help. Ask about their mailing list, if they need any images for promotional materials, and send them all the links to your website and places that their attendees can find out more about you.

Think Locally

Local charities often have the greatest need for donors and serve those in your immediate community. You may even have firsthand knowledge about their impact, so this can be a good way to contribute to something you’re really passionate about. In addition, local organizations often prefer to feature artists who hail from the area.

The Bottom Line

Art is your work and livelihood, so make sure that charitable giving is a sensible proposition for your business — including when it comes to taxes. Unfortunately, when donating a piece directly to charity artists can only deduct the cost of materials, instead of the market value of the piece. If you’d like to donate to charity and also need to maximize your deductions, consider donating the profits from the sale of one of your pieces instead of the piece itself. This allows you to deduct the entire value of the piece as sold at market value.

Don’t be afraid to use this strategic approach to charitable giving. Inquire if you can get the contact details of the buyer from the organization from which you donated. Attend the event if possible and network with those in attendance. While there, be open to the feedback you hear (and bask in the compliments). Above all, know that you’re giving back to something you care about and take pride in knowing that you’re making a difference.

Trying to decide which piece to donate to that event next month? Easily review your entire catalog and pick something perfect using Artwork Archive’s organizing tools for artists.

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