Artists Giving to Charities – To Give or Not to Give

I have been donating my work to a number of charities for many years. Each year, I get at least a dozen requests to contribute photographs for charity auctions. I have selected three charities that I strongly believe in, and gladly contribute to their annual charity auctions. I know many other artists who do the same thing. While the IRS doesn’t make this very attractive for the artist, I don’t care. I want to help support good causes where I know the people involved and where I am trying to help them in their efforts.

I just read a somewhat controversial article in the Huffington Post by art critic Mat Gleason about this topic, and although I don’t plan to change what I do, I’m very interested in what you think. Please post your comments below.

The photograph at the beginning of this post was recently donated to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).


4 thoughts on “Artists Giving to Charities – To Give or Not to Give”

  1. After many years of donating I have come to the conclusion that it let to nothing.
    The only thing that I have gotten out of it is more requests for donations. I will continue to donate work to what I consider important charities. Cast your bread upon the water and get a call for more bread please.

  2. As a photographer AND someone who recently co-chaired just such an auction, I read this with great interest. IMO, I don’t think any donor necessarily gets much business out of their donations, no matter what they donate. People buy either because they perceive they’re getting a deal on the item or because they want to spend a certain amount of money to support the cause and the item falls within their budget. Once they have the item in hand, it’s “out of sight, out of mind.”

    I do take issue with Gleason’s point about art donations going for nothing, though. Well-run auctions do not allow someone to walk away with a $1000 image for $50. Typically, the minimum starting bid is 50% of fair market value, if not more. Bid intervals also can be set to ensure a fair price is paid for the item.

    Auctions do raise a substantial amount of money for charities so I hope you’ll continue to donate to the 2-3 causes you value most. Even if your donation doesn’t make a difference to your business, it’s making a difference to someone (not to mention adding beauty to wherever your image ends up….I should be so lucky as to win a Sislen at an event!).

  3. Although I haven’t ever been approached to donate any of my images to charity auctions, I used to be asked to give my landscape design services to various school auctions. As Maureen suggests, I learned to require a minimum bid of about 50% of the value of preparing a plan (which often requires 15-20 hours of work) or instead to offer a garden consultation. Sometimes no one bought the plan; the garden consultations almost always were purchased. The schools involved (except for the one my sons attended) were not ones to which I had a close personal connection so I have not had a continuing relationship with them and do not regret the approach I took. But each of us must decide how we want to support the causes we believe in. The article you shared, Alan, is thought-provoking but strident. I think your response is the right one.

  4. As a Board member of the C&O Canal Trust I understand how critical it is for non-profits to be able to raise funds. The best approaches are when donors feel like they are getting something in return. Auctions can be really effective events since all parties win.

    I give about 8 books a year to charities for auctions, and they always sell because of the modest price compared to other auction items. I learned decades ago not to expect anything back in terms of new business, contacts, etc., when you give stuff away for free. But the whole point is to help the charity, not yourself.

    Regarding Mat Gleason’s article, I think it crosses into the Bah, Humbug zone.

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