THE GIVE AND TAKE ISSUE
Last year I was asked by a cancer survivor who I know to donate a painting to a major fund-raising gala held annually by the BC Cancer Foundation. Finding treatments and cures for cancer is a cause worthy of support, and knowing how important this was to the person that asked me, because he had recently been successfully treated, I agreed to make the donation. It wasn't an easy decision because the painting he selected was worth $1,850 based on my standard pricing scale, and it was one of my most recent and favourite works. As an extra I included a hardcover copy of my book "Celebration of Sight" and a set of greeting cards with the image of the painting.
This charity, as is the case with most charities, offers the artist no compensation whatsoever and takes 100% of any sale proceeds. Now, I can already hear the clucking of tongues from those of you that think an act of charity should not be undertaken with any expectation of compensation, but here's something for you to think about. Artists are constantly being asked to donate their work for charity events and yet artists are amongst the lowest income earners on the planet. I'm lucky to have a well-paying full-time job, but even for me giving away almost $2,000 was a huge sacrifice and not one I'm likely to make again. Not a single surgeon offered a tumor removal to the highest bidder at this fundraiser. No lawyer auctioned off handling one divorce proceeding. But organizations don't seem to think twice about asking an artist to donate what could be a month's work and a significant proportion of their annual income.
I think it is high time charitable organizations started to work with the artist community for their mutual benefit and employ a better way of taking artwork donations such that these organizations are not exploiting artists who, I remind you again, are amongst the lowest paid members of our society. There are better ways this can be handled.
First, let's analyze my donation. I, the artist, (a relatively poor person) was out $1,850 in lost income. The successful bidder (undoubtedly a high income earner) who paid $740 for the painting got a bargain at 40% of retail value, and the Cancer Foundation pocketed $740.
Now, using all the same numbers, let's say the Cancer Foundation or the artist found a benefactor willing to buy the painting from the artist for the purpose of donating it to the Foundation. I, the artist, would be happy to sell the painting at half price, pocketing $925 but forfeiting an equal amount in potential income. The benefactor, who is most likely to be in a 50% tax bracket, gets back half the cost of the donated painting as an income tax credit, meaning it only costs him about $412 in actual cash while being recognized for donating a $1,850 painting and gaining a reputation as a supporter of the local arts community as well as the charity. The charity still makes $740 on the sale of the painting at auction, and the successful bidder still ends up with a bargain on the painting at 60% off the regular price. The advantage of this sort of arrangement is that the financial burden placed on the shoulders of the starving artist, while still the heaviest of all the participants, is half of what it was with a straight donation of the artwork while the benefit to the charity is unchanged. The artist is therefore much more likely to participate in these events and less likely to go hungry for another month. He may even be willing to make higher quality works available, making for a more prestigious art auction event and possibly higher returns for the charity.
There are other ways as well. A minimum price at which the bidding must start could be set on any artwork, such amount being paid to the artist on the understanding that any amount realized above that minimum goes to the charity. Or it could simply be agreed that the proceeds of the sale are split 50/50 with the artist up to a set maximum, with any excess going to the charity. With a bit of imagination many ways can be found to make the taking of artwork donations by charitable organizations much less burdensome for the artists doing the giving while still benefiting the charities that rely on them. The next time you are asked to donate a piece of artwork, instead of declining let them know you would be delighted if certain conditions are met. And if you are involved with organizing a fundraising event that relies on artwork donations for a charitable organization, figure out a way to secure those donations in a way that does not kill the goose that lays the golden egg. If you want to take, be prepared to give at the same time in order to nurture your source of supply.
I have a Charitable Donations Guideline form I'm happy to share with anyone for the asking, that documents terms under which the artist will donate work. The more artists that start to use this approach, the more likely are the practices of the charity industry to change for the mutual benefit of both the art donor and the recipient.