Please, Give ’til it Hurts

Routinely I get requests from incredibly deserving, right-up-my-alley organizations for a piece of my art for a fundraising auction they’re holding. Almost without fail I love the organization, their mission and the person contacting me. Half the time we’re acquainted personally, friends, even. They know me, know my work and know I’m usually not swimming in gold bouillon and figure my donating my work will create the perfect win win situation.

But it doesn’t. What happens is I usually have to choose to donate something:

  • I’m not currently marketing, so it’s probably not my latest work – and so might not be the best example to be putting in front of fresh eyes or
  • Is a small more production piece, again not my best work.


If it is a recent more valuable piece – the kind I do want a wider audience to see and love –  then what happens is during the auction it usually goes for a lot less than normal retail, the prices I get at shows, in galleries or in my online store. So, say a felted purse I usually get $150 for goes for $80 or $90 – it’s just been clearly demonstrated to the entire bidding audience apparently what the local market will bear (however misconstrued) for my work! Yikes! Not at all what I want to have happen! Suddenly my regular prices (painstakingly calculated based on my materials, time to make and time to market and source) seem completely out of whack. I can’t afford to have that happen.


  • Offer to buy the artist’s work at his or her regular wholesale price and be ready to hold out until you get a solid retail price in your auction or
  • Be a regular customer yourself so you can clearly and candidly speak to the awesomeness of the artist (and they feel a little connected, maybe even a little beholden or
  • Invent a new way of attracting artists’ donations that creates more of a special market for them and for your organization!

Special Project?

Horse Mania Horses

Make your auction into a one-of-a-kind themed show. If your equine based – distribute small horse models and ask your participant artists to decorate them however they like – kind of like the much bigger “Horse Mania” pieces they had sprinkled throughout Lexington, KY during the World Equestrian Games held there in 2010 (or the Chicago Cows on Parade, Big Pig Gig in Cincinnati, those awesome Pianos on the streets of NYC in 2011).

Artists love this!

For us doing something like this is playful and fun and doesn’t jeopardize the value of our regular work. We get the right kind of positive exposure we crave.

Organizations love this because your fundraiser becomes a very special event, and the items you’re auctioning now a truly unique and one-of-a-kind!

Case Study

In Fairbanks Alaska, their Arts Association switched to this format using wooden bowls. Here’s an excerpt from a recap written by one of the participants:

Artists outdid themselves. Bowls were carved, painted, quilted, cut, and reassembled. Each piece was unique and each was the work of sought-after-artists, whose works in galleries were not being devalued by sale of the auction piece. Quite the reverse – artists were being discovered by a new audience and their gallery sales were enhanced.

The idea, now in it’s 13th year, has continued successfully with each event featuring a different object: shoes, restaurant platters, books, hard hats, tote bags, and metal hardware cloth. The resulting artwork is a delightful surprise and the annual event is one our most popular fundraisers.

Contributing businesses receive extra benefit by hosting a pre-auction art exhibit one week prior to the fundraiser, where they receive public recognition of their participation. Many times a photo with an accompanying article has been on the front page of the newspaper or on the local evening news.

More Ideas:

Another artist has created this response to help her educate those requesting donations:

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


And this one:

Thank you for the opportunity to donate art to your organization. I have heard such good things about the work you do and I would be honored to have my name associated with yours. However, because the current U.S. tax laws are unfavorable to artist donations, I am only able to donate to those organizations in which the organization returns a percentage of the work back to the artists. I urge you to consider this as an option as you will receive better quality artwork. That way the artist is given a percentage of the art they create, the buyer gets the tax write off and you receive a donation.

If your policy changes to address my concerns, I would be glad to participate.