Art and Charitable Donations

When I’m approached by charities to donate art, I turn to Chris Tyrell’s book  “Artist Survival Skills: how to make a living as a Canadian visual artist” for advice. It’s a great resource and I encourage you to buy it through Opus Framing or at a local bookstore.

The chapter “Donating to Charity” has five sections, and here’s a mini-summary of what Chris writes.

  • Artists empathize: artists are often generous and are approached often for donations for silent auctions. It’s good to consider what types of events you’ll support, and why, from a community-building perspective. From a financial perspective, the decision to donate should also be based on what type of art-buyers may be in attendance. Not all silent auctions attract the right art-buying crowd. If you donate to a charitable organization, you should be receipted for the full value of the work.
  • Some Statistics: fundraising contemporary art auctions in Vancouver raise a significant amount of money (case study during 6 weeks in 1999, over $730,000 was raised). Chris raises concerns about the expectation for artists to only donate work (which they cannot later sell to make a living), and about late receipting of the charitable donation. A creative suggestion to address charitable donation: negotiate that the charity publishes the work for the full value, and then the artist sends a cheque for 50% of the value. The artist therefore receives a charitable donation worth 100% of the work, as well as payment for 50% of the work’s value. It’s a great suggestion.
  • Terms: Some charitable auctions set minimum prices before the event. Agree to the terms in writing whenever possible. The book outlines good practices to protect artists.
  • Attending the Auction: this can be a benefit to the artist, whose presence adds value to the work, and is an opportunity for the artist to network with potential art-supporters later. The book gives an example of how artists can negotiate complimentary tickets so they can attend, especially if they’ve made a significant donation.
  • Tips for Artist-Donators: Chris gives many tips  – including ‘donate good work, not work that never sells’. For the rest of the tips, including “Comments by a Tax Expert”, pick up the book.



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