HOW TO: Asking Artists for Donations

Every person who has ever helped to organize a fundraiser has asked a business for gift cards or donations. You want your raffle table or silent auction options to look diverse, enticing and interesting enough for people to buy tickets and bid. Art is one of the most popular items to put among your spa gift cards, power tool sets and wine bottle baskets. That art may help you raise some money, but it isn't ethical to ask artists to donate the same way you ask other businesses to donate. Here are some of the reasons why:

1.) The value of the artist's work can be compromised.

Art patrons treat art as an investment. Artwork's value is dependent on many factors, and one of those factors is a work's sale price. Winning artwork from a low bid at auction or as a $5 raffle prize can lower the value of piece of artwork. For example, if an individual pays $4,000 for a painting in a gallery show, and work by the same artist of the same size and caliber is sold at a fundraiser for $500, not only is the art investor upset, but it also harms the value of that artist's work. A $5 raffle ticket winner only spent $5 on that art; there is no way that an artist would sell their work for so little. It devalues the work. These practices hurt artist's careers and art patron's investments.

Tip: NEVER put artwork in a raffle. It is never ethical. Artwork in a silent auction must have a minimum bid set by the artist. Should the art fail to reach that minimum bid, the artwork should be returned to the artist.

2.) Every piece of art artists are asked to donate undermines the health of the artist's small business.

When a golf course, large spa, company or restaurant donates a gift card or product, their gift does not have the same financial implications as a gift from an artist. Their business model is based on low priced goods or services sold in high quantity. Artists depend on a lower number of clients spending at a higher price point. Whether it is an original work or a print, the time an artist spends on producing a single image requires compensation for their business to remain solvent. Remember, artists are a small business of one; They make the product, market the product and sell the product themselves. A majority of artists cannot afford to give their work away. Donating to your cause undermines their financial model, and it really hurts their bottom line.

Tip: PURCHASE work from the artist. Ask an artist for a discount, and garauntee the work will be sold at full price in the auction. Some artists sell prints or reproductions; it is easier for them to discount these than an original work. Consider requesting to purchase reproductions.

3.) Exposure is not compensation.

No matter how big your event or the number of high rollers on your guest list, there is no garauntee that seeing an artist's work at the event will result in attendees choosing to seek out the artist later and purchase their work. It almost never works that way. You are not doing artists any favors by adding their artwork to the pile of zoo ticket packages, lotion caddies, and wine baskets.

Tip: INVITE the artist to your fundraiser. People underestimate how much more likely bidders are to compete for artwork when they are given an opportunity to socialize with the artist. Artists in attendance are also more likely to make meaningful connections that will result in future sales of their work; so even if they lost money donating to your cause, they may make up the difference by being at the fundraiser.

At the very least, if you cannot invite the artist to attend, make it easier for potential patrons to find an artist's information. Always make sure that the artist's name and website are posted by the auction item. Put the artist's business cards or information by the artwork. If you have an auction catalog, list the artist's name and website.

4.) Stop asking artists to paint things for free.

Your cause may be the whales drowning in a sea of plastic, babies born premature, or cancer research. I want to support what you do. I applaud your company/organization for choosing to have a fundraiser for that cause. I applaud you for volunteering your time to orchestrate a fundraiser for that cause. Still, artists are constantly asked to create for free. People wants us to paint-live, paint a piece for a specific event, lead a class or paint a novelty item for a cause. We cannot afford to spend our time and energy on your event or project; it is not because we do not care, but because it is a larger financial sacrifice than you realize.

TIP: If you are planning an event or project, set aside funds for an artist stipend. Artists must be compensated, regardless of your cause.

Creatives are the smallest of small businesses, and we make less than most of the community. If you want to live among a thriving community of artists, you must consider their interests when you are championing for your cause. Avoid these mistakes, follow these tips, and artists will be happy to work with you!

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